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Authors: Geralyn Dawson

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The Bad Luck Wedding Dress

BOOK: The Bad Luck Wedding Dress
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THE BAD LUCK WEDDING DRESS

by

Geralyn Dawson

Copyright © 1996, 2011 by Geralyn Dawson

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this work may be reproduced in any fashion without the express, written consent of the copyright holder.

The Bad Luck Wedding Dress is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed herein are fictitious and are not based on any real persons living or dead.

Cover art by Stephanie Knautz

Dedication

For my father, John E. Dawson, the greatest storyteller I know. And for my mother, Pauline Dawson. Thanks, Mom, for everything.

And, as always, for Steve. My own Texan hero.

Acknowledgements

I thank Kenneth W. Davis and the University of North Texas Press for the use of material from Black Cats, Hoot Owls, and Water Witches (edited by Kenneth W. Davis and Everett Gillis, 1989).

I also owe special thanks to Sharon Rowe, Jeff Buehner, and Karen Powell for their insightful critique and to Pat Cody and Linda Nichols, my Monday-night buddies who came to the rescue time and again. And, I want to thank my sister, Mary Lou Jarrell, for reading a romance when she’d rather read a mystery.

To cut out a dress on Friday and not finish it brings bad luck.

CHAPTER 1

FORT WORTH, TEXAS, 1879

JENNY FORTUNE WATCHED THE newspaper columnist descend in a cloud of calico and spite and wished herself miles away. Wilhemina Peters wrote the daily “Talk about Town” commentary in her husband’s
Daily Democrat
, and she considered it her civic and professional duty to sniff out every scrap of gossip making the rounds in the frontier city. From the moment she spotted Jenny at the Tuesday-morning meeting of the Fort Worth Literary Society, she’d been a bloodhound on a scent.

Mother must have been up to her shenanigans again, Jenny thought. Or perhaps this was about her father. Mrs. Peters might have heard about Richard Fortune’s most recent scientific paper and the controversial theories proposed therein. Jenny bit back a sigh. Either one boded ill for her peace of mind. After this latest fuss involving the Bailey daughters, she didn’t have the heart to deal with yet another scandal.

“Miss Fortune,” Wilhemina said, her predatory smile displaying a particularly wide gap between her front teeth. “I’m surprised to see you here this morning. I know your work has kept you too busy to join us for the past few months. Ever since the first Bailey wedding, I believe.” She shook her head and clicked her tongue, adding, “It just goes to show. These clouds do have their silver linings. Perhaps now we’ll see you on a more regular basis.”

Despite the cloying heat in the second-floor meeting room of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a cold chill inched up Jenny’s spine. She waited for Mrs. Peters to swoop in for the kill. It didn’t take long.

“In fact, I’m so glad you’ve joined us today.” Wilhemina lowered her bulk into a ladder-back chair, arranged her skirts, then set her fan to fluttering. “My effort toward seeing to the establishment of public schools in town has me extremely busy right now. The opportunity to speak with you here this morning saves me a trip to your shop this afternoon.”

Always thankful for small favors, Jenny’s mouth lifted in a genuine smile. “How nice it has worked out this way. I came to watch Emma McBride recite her poem. Wasn’t she wonderful?”

“Well…” Wilhemina nibbled at her lips in obvious indecision. Emma McBride, along with her sisters Maribeth and Katrina, made regular appearances in “Talk about Town,” usually under the headline “McBride Menaces Strike Again.”

Having broached the subject of the girls, Jenny fully expected Mrs. Peters to launch into one of her usual diatribes against the trio. But after a moment, the woman simply gave her head a shake and said, “Yes, Emma was fine.”

Jenny knew then she was in trouble.

The matron’s pitying little smile confirmed it. “I hate to do this, dear, but under the circumstances, I’m certain you’ll understand.” She raised her voice loud enough to carry. “I want to cancel my latest dress order.”

Jenny’s heart sank as every bonneted head in the room turned toward her. Mrs. Peters leaned forward, the air around her alive with anticipation, and Jenny sensed there was more at stake than the loss of a dress commission. She spoke quickly, hoping to get through the moment with as little damage as possible. “Very well. Consider your order cancelled, Mrs. Peters.”

She rose to leave, but the other woman caught her arm. “You do understand, don’t you? I mean, after the news about Ellen Bailey it would be foolish of me to take the risk.”

The news about Ellen Bailey
. Jenny definitely did not want to listen to Wilhemina Peters’s friendly little bombshell. She shut her eyes and winced, longing for a way to close her ears.

“You have heard about poor Ellen, have you not? I was so distressed to learn the news. Imagine, a rider of her skill falling off her horse and breaking her leg.”

By now a crowd had encircled them. Jenny gazed with longing toward the door.

“That makes three of the Bailey brides to suffer an accident, doesn’t it, Jenny dear? All within mere months of their weddings.” Wilhemina ticked off the names on her fingers. ‘First Electra with that hive of honey bees, then Margaret and the collapsing wall, and now Ellen. Why poor Mary Rose must be trembling in her slippers. She was the first to wear the dress at her wedding, wasn’t she? The dress you made?”

Jenny closed her eyes awaiting the words which were bound to come next. She’d first heard the whispers weeks ago, but at the time she’d dismissed the silliness with a laugh. The Bad Luck Wedding Dress. Whoever heard of such a foolish idea as a dress causing the travails of the woman who wore it?

Half of Texas, she was beginning to fear.

Wilhemina Peters’s voice rang out loud and shrill. “After this, I don’t see how any lady will dare wear a dress from Fortune’s Design, no matter how lovely it is. I’m afraid your business is doomed to failure, my dear.” She touched Jenny’s knee and added, “You must be terribly distressed.”

Jenny clenched her fist to keep from slapping Mrs. Peters’s hand away. She smiled tightly. “Fortune’s Design will be fine, I’m sure. These murmurings about bad luck will fade in no time at all.”

“Do you think so?” Wilhemina’s face was a picture of innocence, a look that practically guaranteed the mention of the Bad Luck Wedding Dress in “Talk about Town” for all the citizens of Fort Worth to read.

“Yes, I do think so,” Jenny lied. Standing, she continued, “Now, if you and the other ladies will excuse me, I’ve a half-dozen orders to fill before the end of the month and I simply must get back to work.”

Two lies in two sentences, she thought ruefully as she eased her way down the row of chairs to the aisle. It must be a record of sorts.

She delayed her departure long enough to give Emma McBride a congratulatory comment for a job well done. “Thank you so much for coming,” the young girl said, her eyes shining with gratitude.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thank you for inviting me.”

While twisting a long auburn pigtail, Emma looked at the floor and said, “The other girls all have mothers in the audience. Since my mama is dead, you’re the closest I have to one of those.”

“Oh, Emma.” Jenny wrapped her arms around the child and gave her a hug. In the two months of their acquaintance, Emma and her sisters had captured a piece of her heart. “I’m honored to stand in for your mother any time you like.”

The girl’s smile could have lit the sky. She hugged Jenny back, saying, “I’m so glad you moved your shop into my papa’s building. We didn’t have anyone before you came. You’re wonderful, MissFortune.”

Jenny’s stomach sank at the way Emma ran her name together. All she needed was for Wilhemina to overhear and make a connection between The Bad Luck Wedding Dress and Misfortune’s Design. “I think you’re wonderful, too. Now, I must get back to work. Why don’t you and your sisters stop by my shop this afternoon. I brought a plate of cookies from home and I need someone to help me eat them.”

Wilhemina Peters sidled up next to them. “Miss Fortune, about that wedding dress—”

“Do excuse me, Mrs. Peters,” Jenny interrupted. “I am running late. Isn’t life simply too much of a hustle-bustle these days?” With her head held high and shoulders squared, she took leave of the Tuesday morning meeting of the Fort Worth Literary Society.

Once in the hallway, she stopped abruptly. She’d left her purse on the floor beside her chair. As she debated whether to retrieve the bag containing only a handkerchief and a solitary dollar, she heard Mrs. Peters’s satisfied voice carry from inside the room full of women. “You know, ladies, as much as I like Miss Fortune, I believe it is my duty to warn the women of this city—and of the entire state, for that matter—about the potential danger. After all, the trouble may not be limited to the Bailey dress. There’s no telling what harm might befell a woman who wears a Jenny Fortune gown.”

“Now, Wilhemina,” a voice protested.

“No, it’s true, Delia. I had an interesting discussion about it with Big Jack Bailey just last night.”

“Big Jack Bailey is a superstitious fool,” a voice said. “The man doesn’t settle for eating black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day. He eats them every morning for breakfast!”

Wilhemina sniffed. “True, he may be a bit peculiar about such things, but he is right about the Bad Luck Wedding Dress. Look at the havoc it has wreaked so far. Look at his daughters, and even Miss Fortune herself. I certainly won’t be ordering any more gowns from the woman. In fact, just to be safe, I’ll no longer wear the ones I already own. Mark my words, ladies, within a month, Fortune’s Design will have closed its door. One more victim of The Bad Luck Wedding Dress.”

Forget the purse, Jenny thought, her limbs trembling with anger. Any more of this and she’d be written up in the
Fort Worth Daily Democrat
under “Dressmaker Assaults Prominent Citizen.” Fleeing down the staircase, she exited the hotel.

It was summer in Fort Worth—cattle season—and the moist odor of manure hung on the air like an invisible fog. Although still early in the day, the heat was stifling. Nausea churned in Jenny’s stomach as she walked the dust-filled streets, the busybody’s words echoing in her mind.

Wilhemina Peters didn’t know the half of it. More than her business was at stake. She’d made a promise to her father. If she failed in her attempt to make Fortune’s Design a success, she’d sworn to return to Richard Fortune’s East Texas home and resume her work as his research assistant.

That was absolutely the last thing she wanted to do.

Worry assailed her as she walked toward her shop. She hardly heard the bustle of the busy town—the whinny of horses, the rattle of wagons, the streams of conversation flowing past her. Jenny’s thoughts were concentrated on her troubles. Was Mrs. Peters right? Would enough of her customers believe these ridiculous rumors and destroy her business as a result?

Maybe. Probably. Oh, bother.

A freight wagon pulled by a pair of giant oxen rumbled by, sending clouds of dust into the air. Jenny watched the brown dirt, picturing instead the lush vegetation of the Big Thicket where Richard Fortune made his home. As much as she loved her father, Jenny wanted more from life than to be his assistant, making notes on the plants and flowers he gathered on his treks through the forests and swamps. The study of medicinal herbs and plants was her father’s vocation, his life. Just as art and the whirl of the Dallas social scene was her mother’s.

A frustrated sigh escaped her lips as she turned a corner. She wanted her own life, her own dreams. Her gaze sought the sign on a building halfway down the block, the nameplate that represented those dreams—Fortune’s Design.

As the only child of two such distinctive personalities as Richard Fortune and Monique Day, Jenny was a unique blend of scientific substance and artistic fancy. Designing dresses and dealing with customers offered her the perfect outlet to combine her talents.

Even more important, Fortune’s Design provided her something few women enjoyed. Her business gave her independence. Security.

She couldn’t bear the thought of losing it.

A lump of emotion hung in her throat, but she determinedly swallowed it. It wouldn’t happen. She wouldn’t lose her shop. She’d fight this ridiculous rumor for all she was worth and she’d win. She’d win despite the Baileys, and despite busybody women like Wilhemina Peters.

Thus fortified, Jenny’s heart lightened. She even hummed a song beneath her breath as she walked the last block toward her shop. Drawing near, she spotted a heap of white lying on the stoop. A sheet? Had the younger McBride girls been hanging from the windows again?

She shuddered at the image. Their father had best get better supervision for the girls before they hurt themselves. Perhaps she should mention it to the man.

She pictured herself approaching Mr. Trace McBride with advice on how to raise his daughters. He’d likely throw back those broad, muscular shoulders, brace his large hands on his hips, and glare at her through narrowed, emerald eyes. A lock of wavy dark hair might fall across his brow. His voice would surely resonate with offense as he told her to mind her own business.

Grimacing, she decided that upon reflection, discussing the Menaces with their father probably wasn’t a good idea. The saloon owner didn’t appear to be the type to appreciate interference in family matters, no matter how well intentioned.

Jenny had met Trace McBride a little over two months ago when her business had outgrown the confines of the west-side cottage where she lived and worked since her arrival in Fort Worth some seven months earlier. Her search for commercial shop space had led her to the Rankin Building, a three-story structure on Throckmorton Street. At street level, an attorney’s office occupied one-half of the building, while the other half had been available for rent.

Jenny had taken one look at the space and known it was perfect for her needs. She’d negotiated and signed a lease with the ruggedly attractive Mr. McBride before learning he was a widower and that he and his three young daughters lived above the shop in an upstairs apartment that occupied the second and third floors.

At the time she hadn’t known whether to curse her bad luck or count her blessings.

Two months later, she found herself cursing the very idea of bad luck, but that had nothing to do with the girls or the secret fancy she harbored for their father. The sisters’ near constant presence in her shop had proven to be a joy rather than the trial she first feared. Upon making the connection between the three little girls and the McBride Menaces so often mentioned in the
Democrat
, Jenny had been a trifle concerned. But they’d never given her a bit of trouble. Well, almost never. And could there be any nicer background music to work by than the laughter so often ringing from the upper floors? Jenny didn’t think so.

Still, the man needed to do something about his daughters’ mischievous streak. Although Trace McBride gave every appearance of being an excellent father in most regards, he failed miserably when the girls took the notion to display the Menace side of their natures. Lately, their pranks had gotten out of hand. These sheets-from-the-window incidents were a perfect example. Jenny worried the girls might end up seriously hurt.

BOOK: The Bad Luck Wedding Dress
12.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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