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About the author:
Cherie Mitchell has ghostwritten over 150 successful Wild West Mail Order Bride romance e-books and has recently released several books under her own name. Bella Cummings, Wild West Madam is a novel in the Wild West Mail Order Bride genre but with the added spice of sex scenes based on Bella's choice of profession. Cherie is currently working on a second book, Fallen Angel, which follows the life of one of Bella's more notable "girls".
What inspired you to write your book?
After writing multiple books based in the days of the California gold rush I developed a deep understanding of just how difficult life was for women in what was very much a man's world. My research uncovered a lot of information about women who were successful, especially the infamous Wild West Madams who opened brothels and bordellos to support the very real needs of men in a place and time when women were scarce. My book is the result of what I have learned about these long ago ladies and the lives that they led.
Here is a short sample from the book:
"Where are you off to on this fine day? A pretty young woman traveling solo might get a little lonely. Or are you looking for some company? My friend and I would be happy to provide all the company a woman such as yourself can handle." One of the ruffians had stepped over to where Bella waited and was now standing close, far too close. Close enough for her to see the pockmarks on his skin and the black holes where his front teeth should be.
Bella took an involuntary step backwards. In one quick movement, she stooped to pick up her travel bag and turn away, marching determinedly down the station platform to where a well-dressed middle-aged man and his wife waited for the train. She gave the couple a pleasant smile and placed her bag at her feet just a short distance away from them. She darted a glance back down the platform to where the two unsavory men now stood together, both of them eyeing her with a combination of undisguised lust and annoyance.
The married couple exchanged a look before the man cleared his throat and peered at Bella over the top of his rimless round spectacles. "Where are you headed, Miss?"
"California, Sir. I'm traveling West to find a new life for meself." Bella held her head high. She had nothing to be ashamed of for, after all, she had her betrothed waiting for her in San Francisco and would soon be a respectable married woman.
He looked over to where the pair of vagabonds were now whispering to each other, their heads held close together in an obvious attitude of suspicion and underhandedness. "And, um, your friends..?"
"They aint no friends of mine, Sir. I never seen them before in me life." Which wasn't entirely true, but Bella was prepared to let a little white lie slip through here and there. Jack O'Riley and Shaun Mason weren't friends of hers by any stretch of the imagination but she had certainly seen them before. On more than one occasion, and quite often both at the same time.
The woman peeped around her husband, seemingly anxious not to get too close to Bella. "Aren't you Bella Cummings?" she asked in a hushed tone, her voice bordering on outrage but carrying just enough uncertainty for Bella to grasp it with both hands and use it to her advantage.
"No, Ma'am. Me name is Bella, you’ve got that right, but Cummings aint me last name. Me last name is Arnold." Bella glanced at the duty board beside the ticket master's office and selected the first name she saw there. "But that will be changing soon enough. Me betrothed is called 'Arry Williams and once we are wed I'll be Mrs. Williams. He's a goldminer, ‘e is. Making it rich on the Californian goldfields." Bella said the last with more than a hint of pride.
The woman narrowed her eyes and pushed her mouth into a tight little pursed shape. Her husband looked at Bella with renewed interest. "He's a goldminer, you say? Has he had any luck? I must say I was very keen to give it a go myself but…," he glanced at his wife and then quickly away again. "It wasn't to be."
"He said he's found 'imself a lucky strike. Up north. A place called Yreka. He's coming to San Francisco to meet my train and marry me then we're going to make a new life together." Bella played with the silky ribbon of her bonnet, entwining it round and round her fingers as she looked dreamily across the tracks. "He's determined to make an honest woman of me before 'e shares me bed."
The woman gasped in shock and laid a gloved hand on her husband's arm. The man gave Bella long look and Bella caught something in his eyes, something she had no problem in recognizing. She'd seen that look a hundred times before and she fully expected to see it many times again. She lowered her lashes before her own large blue eyes sent back an answer of their own accord, an answer which could only lead to trouble. "I do apologize," she murmured prettily. "Sometimes me mouth runs away on me."
The woman dabbed at her own mouth with a fine lace handkerchief while her husband kept darting Bella puzzled looks, as if he was trying to remember her from somewhere. Bella stared ahead, to where the empty train tracks disappeared around the bend, and prayed that the train would soon arrive. All she wanted was to mind her own business, get herself settled into a seat on the train, and continue looking forward to the new life which surely must be waiting for her across the country.
The train chugged into the station a few minutes later and Bella gratefully picked up her bag and stepped towards it. Soon she would say goodbye to New York City forever and her farewell would certainly carry no regrets. Bella looked down the platform to where the woman was now hurrying her husband towards a different carriage, a carriage much further up the train than the one which Bella waited by. She decided she didn't care. She was used to people looking down their noses at her and that was their problem, not hers. She saw that Jack and Shaun were making their way towards the last carriage and she was pleased about that, too. The last thing she needed was a couple of her old clients harassing her and making things difficult.
The voice in her ear nearly made her jump right out of her skin. Bella whirled around to see the grinning face of Tom Evans right behind her. "Tom! You nearly made me 'ave an 'eart attack." Bella pushed her hand into her chest, inadvertently pushing her full breasts higher above the neckline of her gown, and she caught Tom's admiring glance as his eyes fixated on her bosom. "What are you doing 'ere, Tom?" she said flatly.
"I couldn't let the most accommodating young lady in all of New York City leave without a goodbye," he said. He caught her gaze and held it. "I'm going to miss you, Bella."
Bella tossed her head. "You 'ad your chance, Tom Evans. But you weren't prepared to put a ring around the fingers you profess to be so fond of. I'm 'eading West to be married now and that life will all be behind me."
"I am very fond of your fingers," Tom agreed. His gaze dropped to her mouth. "And your lips. And your…."
The train whistle suddenly sounded and Bella tightened her grip on the handle of her travel bag. "Goodbye, Tom," she said with finality as she stepped over the narrow gap between the platform and the train and completed her first step into her new life.
Bella settled herself into a window seat and stared out the window at the soot-stained ticket office and platform. She would not be sorry to say goodbye to the only town she'd ever known and the sooner it was out of sight the better. New York City had given her more sorrow than she could have ever imagined, despite her recent successes, and she’d vowed she would never return to its grimy, busy streets.
Tom suddenly tapped on the window beside her, startling her once again. He pressed his face close to the dusty pane of glass and blew a kiss and Bella pointedly looked away. As she'd said to him a moment ago, Tom had had his chance and he'd chosen not to take it. He'd happily paid his money for services rendered but he'd not been willing to take things a step further and make her his wife. And Bella knew she deserved that title. She'd always known she deserved that title, but life was tough and a woman had to use whatever means she had to make a living for herself. And luckily for Bella, the Lord had blessed her with a very fine set of means.
The train whistle blew again and the train slowly pulled away from the platform. Bella allowed herself to let out a sigh of relief she hadn't even been aware she'd been holding in. "Goodbye, New York," she whispered under her breath, "And goodbye to the old Bella Cummings."
As the train settled into a gentle bump and sway Bella looked around the carriage at her other traveling companions. The trip across the country would take nearly a week and she wondered how many of her fellow travelers would also be making the entire journey to the West. There were plenty of stop-off places along the route but California was the destination on everyone's lips these days, the very sound of the word appearing bright and golden as it fell from the lips of all who uttered it. From what she could see from her unobtrusive viewpoint, most of the other occupants of the carriage appeared to be couples or small groups of men. She was certainly the only single female traveler, on this carriage at least, and the thought made her a little uneasy. Not because she wasn't capable of looking after herself, of course, but more because she did not want to draw too much attention to her lone state and supposed vulnerability. Life wasn’t easy for a single woman and she knew that better than anyone.
She searched in her bag for her battered copy of a children's educational reader a client had left behind and she opened it to the last page she'd read, sliding her finger under the dog eared corner she'd folded into place to mark her spot. Bella planned to make the most of her weeks' worth of traveling and work on her elocution. She knew that she didn't always speak like a lady but she was determined to improve herself in any way that she could in preparation for her new life. Aside from her physical assets, Bella knew that her most useful attributes were her drive and determination. And as her dear Pappy used to tell her, a person who set their mind to something would surely eventually succeed even if reaching the goal sometimes took a little longer than expected.
Here, here, here. She mouthed the words to herself. Here not 'ere. He, not 'e. My, not me. Though sometimes you do need to say me, it just depends on the context. She crinkled her brow. The English language was so confusing at times!
"Tickets please, Miss."
Bella looked up into the young face of Clarence Mortimer and they both recoiled in shock. Clarence Mortimer had lost his virginity in a few seconds of urgent fumbling between Bella's pale and creamy thighs this past summer and seeing him here in front of her now, smartly dressed in a conductor's uniform, was more than a little unexpected. Bella gave him a polite smile, signaling with her eyes that she was not about to embarrass him or acknowledge him on any other level, and she passed across her ticket for him to inspect and clip.
"Thank you, Ma'am. You have a safe and pleasant journey, now." Clarence handed her ticket back with obvious relief plastered across his smooth young face and carried on his way down the aisle.
Bella turned her attention back to her book but her mind was no longer on it. This was part of the reason she'd applied to an advertisement in the newspaper for gold miners seeking brides – she was beginning to bump into too many people here in New York City who she knew on far too intimate a level. Bella knew that her reputation here would prevent any man from taking her for his wife and she knew that her reputation was continuing to spread as easily as her legs did. Bella was good at what she did, she knew that for a fact, but she also knew that she was capable of a lot more than lying on her back or on her stomach while men sweated above her.
'Arry Williams (Harry, she corrected herself) had written an advertisement which had caught her eye as soon as she saw it. She knew the advertisement word for word and she ran it through her mind again now, still thrilling at the all possibilities that one simple paragraph had carried. "Gold miner, 35 years of age with own hair and own teeth, seeking fulsome bride. Must be aged between 21 and 25, slim of build, strong, and adventurous enough to travel to California for marriage. In return I can offer a stable and secure future, companionship, and loyalty."
The words which had jumped out at Bella were "stable and secure" and "loyalty", all of them sadly lacking in the life she had made for herself in New York City. She didn't mind if Harry Williams had his own hair and teeth, she didn't even care much about his age, for she had learnt long ago that a man's outward appearance had little to do with his kindness or his consideration for others. But she did hold stability, security, and loyalty very dear.
"Shaun is waiting in the bathroom for ye. Don't make a fuss. Just get up quietly and follow me or I'll tell the entire carriage your dirty little secret."
Bella stared at Jack, appalled, her mind scrambling to understand how he’d managed to silently slide into the seat beside her. She looked around the carriage frantically but no-one was paying them the slightest bit of attention. "Go away," she hissed.