There is something wonderfully optimistic about mail-order bride stories. The idea that a single woman would cross a continent in search of a good man, a loving husband and a bright, new future. It's a concept full of hope, which not only represents the American frontier, but humans the world over.
Reality was very different from the romantic notion of traveling west to find a soulmate. Desperation was the driving force for many of the women who answered various advertisements posted by men looking for wives. There were few men left in the East, and even less after the Civil War. There was a great deal of pressure on women to marry, and being a single lady was nearly unimaginable for most. The concept was both foreign and frightening, leaving a woman vulnerable and without economic support.
Like the women left behind, the men who'd packed their bags and moved west in search of gold, or just better prospects for their life, were also desperate. Men far outnumbered women on the American frontier and they had needs-like a good meal and clean clothes, to say nothing of nighttime activities that otherwise would have them waiting in line for the next available brothel employee. For a price that often left their advertisements extremely succinct in wording, men posted their need of a 'help-mate,' someone who would share in their lives and make their homes a little more organized. These men would bear the financial burden of bringing the women west with the expectation that their investment would pay off in the near future.
As a testament to human adaptability and determination, many of these types of marriages worked out very well for both parties. Generally, history suggests that people were honest with each other about their expectations and needs, as well as appearance and financial stability. Through the letters they exchanged, a man and his prospective wife often built a foundation for a strong marriage.
But not always.
History also suggests that there were a fair number of both men and women who misrepresented themselves. Perhaps they exaggerated their success, their bank account balances, their occupations or their appearances. Sometimes these matches just didn't work out for whatever reason, and the bride found a new groom, or the groom found a new bride. There is some evidence that enough women lied about their circumstances to give the frontier court systems cause to hear charges of fraud brought against them.
And when I learned that, Outrageous Offer rolled out in my imagination so fast that I had a complete story concept almost instantaneously.
Outrageous Offer starts moments after Hyacinth Woodley is rejected by the man she expected to marry-for the second time in her life. She has no money and no family. She'd previously allowed herself to be seduced as a former beau marched off to war, thinking he'd return and marry her-only to have him come home and spread tales of their private activities before he married another.
She is truly one of the desperate in search of a new start, but life doesn't always go according to plan. After traveling west with the hope of finally finding stability in her life, Hyacinth is mocked and abandoned, and in spite of the lack of women in town, only one man offers to help the lady out. She's got a choice-work in the saloon or become that man's unpaid mistress.
Offer O'Neal swoops in with his unheroic proposition to save the day. He doesn't want a wife but he'll take a clean woman in his bed, so long as she also helps out with the never-ending chores around his newly acquired, ramshackle ranch, The Double O. He's put every penny he's ever earned into his ranch, but it's not paying off and the bills are piling up. Stress is a way of life for him, and his new housemate only adds to that.
Remember that misrepresentation problem? Hyacinth was rejected by her groom on the grounds that she lied about her appearance. Ernest Horsham wanted a young girl, and holds deep superstitions concerning Hyacinth's two-toned eyes. He wants his money back, and when both Offer and Hyacinth refuse, Horsham takes legal action.
Outrageous Offer isn't your typical mail-order bride story. But I love mail-order bride stories. I love the idea that a woman filled with excitement and fear could be gutsy enough to leave behind everything familiar to her in search of a better future. I love the idea of a man feeling the same excitement and fear, but having the courage to stake his money and his home on a woman, sight unseen (except for maybe a photograph). These stories are full of courage and hope and, of course, romance, as two people learn to love each other.
Set in the American west just after the Civil War, Outrageous Offer is a story about courage and compromise, desperation and determination. It's a story about two people learning to love, and learning the value of love when the price of everything else seems too high.
Above all, Outrageous Offer is a story of hope.