Ticket to Bride
Scroll down to read the first chapter of TICKET TO BRIDE!
Navy Richards is thirty-five years of tired–tired of dating the same men, working a demanding job, and getting her heart broken over and over again. Her aunt has always spoken highly of the matchmaker in Bride, Texas, and Navy knows the legends of the statue there like the back of her hand.
So she takes a six-month sabbatical from her high-stress job as a pediatric nurse, hops on a bus with a ticket to Bride, and dances around the statue of Ellora Shepherd the very night she arrives. The next day, she meets with the matchmaker and then meets her grandson, Gavin Redd. He’s handsome, he’s hardworking, and he’s a cowboy. But is he an Aquarius too? Navy’s not making a move until she knows for sure.
Gavin hates everything about the legend of Bride. The statue. The stupid bus station. The blondes who come to town believing in such ridiculous things. As if a silly dance and a simple visit with his eighty-three-year-old grandmother are going to help a woman find a man.
So maybe he’s had his heart broken a time or two. Or five. Or maybe he’s too focused on caring for his grandparents to date. Or maybe, just maybe, he needs a little bit of the Bride magic to make him realize that just because Navy believes in the legends he hates doesn’t mean she’s not the one for him. Can Gavin and Navy navigate their differences to discover they could be a perfect match?
Liz Isaacson is the pen name for USA Today bestselling author, Elana Johnson, as she writes inspirational romances. She loves all things cowboys, and will write romance in Texas, Montana, and anywhere else she can find horses and mountains. Find her at http://lizisaacson.com.
Navy Richards drew in a deep breath as the ticket attendant made his way toward her. He seemed nice, fatherly, probably bored to death. He punched tickets and made small talk, but Navy didn’t feel any of the man’s calm energy. She gripped her ticket to Bride, Texas for all she was worth, wondering for the hundredth time if she’d decided correctly.
Yes, she thought, reassuring herself for the hundred and first time. She needed a break from her insane job as a pediatric nurse. Needed a break from the dozens of dating apps she had uninstalled just the previous night. Needed a break from her perfect younger sister, her gorgeous husband, and their new baby—which Navy had helped deliver and then care for while her sister sat in the hospital bed like a celebrity.
Familiar jealousy, bitterness, and frustration rose through her throat, and Navy didn’t like it. She didn’t want to feel that way about her only sister. About anyone. She’d prayed more often than she’d doubted her decision to take the leave of absence and move five hundred miles south for six months.
Her feelings would subside for a few days, and then they came back—seemingly stronger and louder than before.
Navy pulled herself from her thoughts and extended her ticket toward the attendant. She had to force her fingers to loosen so he could take it and punch it. He didn’t linger with her, didn’t ask her why she was going to Bride on a bus, didn’t ask her how long she was staying. A sting started behind her heart, and Navy sighed as she leaned her head against the window and watched the Texas wilderness roll by.
She couldn’t help her fantasies of finding and marrying a good man. She’d been working hard at it, going out with everyone who asked, signing up for every available dating app, kept as many evenings free as possible. At this point, she’d probably been out with every available bachelor in Amarillo.
“Time for a change,” she whispered to her faint reflection in the glass. And so what if the change she wanted included a matchmaker? Why did Lexie get to dictate to Navy how she found her perfect catch? But her younger sister had definitely had plenty to say about Navy’s decision to travel to Bride and meet with an eighty-three-year-old matchmaker. None of it was nice. Or supportive. Or what Navy wanted to hear.
After all, not everyone could get married, live in a quaint brick home with a white picket fence, and have a baby whenever they wanted by age twenty-eight. Oh, no. Navy was several years older than that and had practically handed Lexie her husband on a silver platter.
She eradicated the thought of Scott before it could sour her mood further. She drew in another breath, prepared for anything once she arrived in Bride.
Eight hours and two very stiff legs later, Navy disembarked from the bus in Bride, Texas. The heat and humidity in the night air was wonderful. As was the bright lights of the bus station before her. And the bubbling fountain across the street.
Navy beamed at the water, where a statue of a young woman like her stood resolutely. This was the whole reason Navy had come. That statue and that wishing well would incite the change Navy needed in her life. Legend or not. Myth or not. Fantasy or fact. Navy didn’t care. She believed in the magic of this place, and she wasn’t going to let Lexie’s poisoned lectures influence her.
The bus rumbled away, leaving Navy alone on the sidewalk, all of her bags with her. Reality descended, and she put on her backpack, shouldered her purse and then another bag, and tilted the wheeled suitcase behind her. The fact that she could fit her whole life into a few bags had surprised and saddened her, but now she felt liberated. She crossed the street without looking for traffic, because it seemed the downtown area where she’d arrived had already closed for the evening.
As she arrived at the fountain, she did notice one establishment with bright lights still on. The Stable also boasted loud country music when the front doors opened and a couple spilled onto the street. They didn’t glance in her direction, and in the next moment, the lights dimmed and left Navy to herself.
And the statue. She gazed up at Ellora Shepherd, at the way she seemed to watch the horizon for any sign of her true love. Navy’s heard softened for the bride who’d been jilted and then decided to stay right where God had put her. The town of Bride thrived now, just as Ellora had hoped, and the stories about how women came here to find their true love had given Navy more hope than she’d had in five years.
Her own aunt had convinced her that the trip to Bride was warranted. She’d found her husband after a dance around this very statue and a meeting with the very person Navy had an appointment with the following day.
A smile stole across Navy’s face, and she unburdened herself from her baggage. She cast a quick glance around to see if anyone was watching. She didn’t think nine-thirty was late, but apparently for this small town, and it being a weeknight, it was.
She twirled and danced her way around the statue, a low hum in the back of her throat. A sense of wonderment and magic infected her, and she just knew tonight was the first night of the rest of her life. That she’d just finally done something to find the right person.
A gasp of desperation ended her dance and she stilled next to her suitcases. She didn’t want millions of dollars. She didn’t need a big mansion. She spent fifty hours a week cradling and caring for babies, and she wanted one of her own. She wanted a husband to gaze at her with so much love, the way the new dads did in labor and delivery. They could live in a basement for all she cared.
Please let this work, she said to the stars before bending and collecting her belongings. She’d told the people she was renting a cottage from she’d be there by ten, and she had a few blocks to walk before arriving.
Thank you, she thought through every step. Thank you for giving me this opportunity in Bride, Texas.
* * *
The following morning further proved to Navy that she’d moved into a shack. Last night, the darkness had obscured the grime, the fact that the linoleum cracked in front of the stove and peeled where it met the carpet.
She’d rented the “cottage” from Ellora’s ancestors for further luck in her quest to find a husband. The Shepherd’s had met her on the front porch and helped her carry her bags out to the cottage, which sat in a corner of their large, impressive yard. A rutted dirt lane led back to the cottage, and Navy needed to find some mode of transportation besides her feet.
Or maybe she wouldn’t. She had her laptop, and the cottage did have electricity and Internet, so she was pretty set. She wasn’t planning to work while in Bride, as she’d only be here for six months. Really, she needed an escape from her life, a vacation to reset herself. So that when she returned to Amarillo she’d be ready to be the kind of woman a man couldn’t resist.
She left the cottage and it’s lukewarm showers in favor of the late March Texas sunshine. Nothing could ruin today. Because today, Navy was meeting with Nancy Redd, the matchmaker who had promised Aunt Izzie that she’d marry a cowboy and live on a ranch. Navy wasn’t sure if ranch life was what she wanted, necessarily, but she believed Nancy could give her a push in the right direction.
Aunt Izzie and Uncle Marvin had lived here in Bride for about a decade after their wedding. He’d worked at Sterling Ranch before it became a popular wedding destination, before they moved to Three Rivers, a small town about an hour west of Amarillo, to be closer to family. Uncle Marvin had worked at Three Rivers Ranch, which Navy’s cousin Heidi owned.
As she approached the address she’d been given, Navy’s heart pounded with anticipation. Her footsteps slowed as she contemplated what Nancy would tell her. Her throat turned dry at the horrifying thought that perhaps there wasn’t a match for her on this earth.
The house came into view, and it was obviously well kept. Clipped, green grass went right up to the street, where a mailbox stood straight and strong. A two-story house in pale blue boasted a bright red star above the front window. Rose bushes lined the sidewalk to the porch and along the front of the house. The only thing that seemed out of place was a birdhouse that looked like it had been put together by a bottle of Elmer’s glue, a vat of popsicle sticks, and gallons of finger paint.
She gave the ugly lawn decoration a wary glance. Something drew her toward it and she stepped across the grass to examine it further. It sat up between a rose bush bearing peachy-colored blossoms and one with pink the color of lemonade. She couldn’t quite reach the birdhouse, but she didn’t really want to touch it.
“You like that birdhouse?”
Navy spun toward the masculine voice and took in the form of a man several inches taller than her and wide enough to block the sun. He wore a cowboy hat the color of graphite and a dark beard salted with loads of gray. Instant attraction sprang through her system at his maturity, at the scent of his cologne as it stuck in the air surrounding them.
He watched her with a pair of dark, dangerous eyes, clearly waiting for something.
She jolted to attention as embarrassment rushed to her face, heating it to the color of the red roses at the end of the line. “Oh, the birdhouse.” She looked at the hideous thing again. “It’s…did their grandson make it?”
He tilted his head to the side, confusion evident in his expression. “What do you mean?”
Navy got the impression that she’d said all the wrong things. “It looks…unique.”
He crossed his arms, which only served to make his muscles that much more impressive. “It is unique. One of a kind, in fact.”
“That’s a relief.” Navy added a short burst of laughter to her statement in an attempt to smooth things over with this man. “Well, I have an appointment, so I should get going.” She hooked her thumb over her shoulder and backed away from the man for a few steps before turning around completely.
She felt the weight of his stare on her back, but she hadn’t come here to impress a surly cowboy with strange questions about a clearly dysfunctional birdhouse.
No, she’d come here to find her soul mate, and there was only one person who could help her do that. So with a determined breath, she rounded the house and entered the door on the side, just as instructed.