A Tailor-Made Bride
by Karen Witemeyer
A Tailor-Made Bride
By Kim Witemeyer
Stomach fluttering, Hannah gazed upon the simple clapboard structure that represented her future. It had a lovely false front and windows facing the street. Ideas blossomed about where she should position the mannequins to be seen from passersby and which dresses she would use to entice them into her shop. Perhaps the lavender morning dress or the olive polonaise costume she made up last month. Both reflected the latest styles and techniques while not inhibiting everyday duties. No sheaths that wrapped so snugly around the knees that a woman had to take mincing steps. No flowing trains to collect dirt and mud from the unpaved roads and country lanes. Minimal use of silks and velvets or any fabric that wouldn't hold up to normal wear in a western town.
"Do you want a hand down or not?"
Hannah jumped at the growling voice, caught up as she was in the intricate web of her business strategies.
"Oh! Of course." Heat warmed her cheeks. She stood and set a foot atop the raised side of the wagon then reached out to the irascible Mr. Tucker. Her hands pressed against the corded muscles of his shoulders at the same time his encircled her waist. A frisson of awareness coursed through her as she sunk slowly to the ground, secure in his capable grip. This close, she could smell a bit of horse on him mixed with harness oil. Masculine scents.
"Thank you." She avoided his penetrating gaze and fumbled with the ball clasp on her handbag. "I'll just get the key and unlock the front door."
Hannah extracted a nickel plated key from the pocket in the lining of her purse and stepped onto the boardwalk. She paused outside the door and pressed a trembling hand to her abdomen. Taking a deep breath, she fit the key into the lock and twisted. A satisfying click sounded, and the door swung open. Looking past the dirt and grime that had accumulated while the store stood vacant, Hannah crossed the threshold, her artistic mind awhirl with possibilities. A counter jutted out into the room from the left wall about halfway back. It would make a lovely display for her pattern catalogues and fashion magazines. She could put in some shelves along the right wall to showcase her fabrics, stacking complementary bolts together to help her customers visualize the final effects she could achieve for them by blending patterns and colors. The coat rack and wardrobe hangers for her pre-made dresses could be mounted on the left wall leaving plenty of room for ladies to wander about.
Hannah's boot heels thunked against the bare floor as she made her way behind the counter. She was pleased to discover the cubbyholes that could be used to store her till, ledger, and fabric swatches. It appeared there'd be sufficient room for her sewing machine back here as well, which meant she wouldn't have to hide in the back room. She could save that space for fittings and project storage.
Yes, this little shop would accommodate her quite well.
A shuffle sounded behind her. She turned to see Tom and Mr. Tucker standing inside the doorway, each with a trunk balanced on one shoulder.
"If you're done woolgathering, you might show us where you want this stuff," the liveryman groused.
She supposed he had a right to be a testy. With all the excitement of the new shop, she'd completely forgotten about the men. Thankfully, she had thought to label the trunks. Colored ribbons tied to the handles indicated which ones contained dress shop items and which held her personal belongings.
"Let's see." She approached the men and fingered the thin strip of grosgrain silk that hung near Mr. Tucker's hand, careful not to touch the man himself. "The ones with blue ribbons can be left down here behind the counter. The ones with pink ribbons need to go upstairs in my personal quarters."
Hannah lifted her chin to meet his gaze and suddenly found it difficult to breathe.
"What color's mine, J.T.? I can't see it."
Mr. Tucker looked away and Hannah drew in a deep breath, willing her stomach to stop its silly fluttering. The man was as prickly as a cactus. Just because he had eyes the color of melting honey didn't mean she had to go all soft over him.
The man gestured with a jerk of his head for Tom to move past them. "Yours is blue. Go put it over yonder then head back to the wagon and look for other ones with blue ribbons. I'll haul this one upstairs." He raised a brow at Hannah. "Whenever Miss Richards decides she's ready."
Riled at his insinuation that she was some kind of lollygagger, Hannah thrust out her chin and marched out the door. "If you'll follow me, Mr. Tucker?"
The nerve of that man. Hannah fumed as she rounded the corner of the building to reach the exterior stairs on the north side. She hoped he carried one of the heavier trunks. It'd serve him right if he ended up with a permanent crease in his collar and a crick in his neck. Any person seeing their home or place of business for the first time was bound to need a minute or two to soak it all in. Why she'd bet a dollar of profits that when he walked into his livery stable for the first time, he gawked like a boy in a gun shop.
Irritation fueling her steps, Hannah slammed her foot onto each stair as she made her way to the top. She clutched the key in her left hand, disregarding the hand rail. Pausing before the second to last step, she peeked over her shoulder to gauge Mr. Tucker's progress. He'd had to switch the trunk to the opposite shoulder in order to grip the railing, and was only about a third of the way up.
"Are you coming?" she taunted in a sugar-sweet voice.
The brim of his hat lifted, allowing her to see his scowl. Satisfaction surged through her as her foot pounded down on the next step.
A crack shouted like thunder in her ear. The board beneath her gave way, and with a surprised squeak, she plummeted feet-first through the yawning hole.