EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Carol Cox’s A Bride So Fair (Barbour Publishing).

Chapter 1

September 1893

“Stop, thief!” The commanding bellow cut through the pleasant chatter of the crowds strolling the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Emily Ralston shielded her eyes against the noonday sun and scanned the gaily dressed fairgoers on Government Plaza, trying to spot the source of the commotion.

A lanky youth burst through a cluster of women and children on the far side of the plaza, scattering them like tenpins. Shrill exclamations followed him as he bolted past the ladies to the middle of the open area, where he slowed and glanced quickly from one end of its broad expanse to the other.

A stocky man in shirtsleeves charged through the same group, evoking more outraged squawks. He stopped short, gasping like a winded horse while he scanned the crowd.

“Hey, you!” he bellowed and started off in hot pursuit of the boy. In his haste, he collided with a young matron holding a small girl in her arms, nearly toppling them to the ground. The man halted long enough to steady the pair, although the infuriated look he cast in the boy’s direction showed his longing to continue the chase.

At the man’s angry shout, the fleeing youth looked over his shoulder and picked up speed. Emily saw him snap his hand to one side and watched a paper container arc through the air and disappear behind a potted palm.

Emily recognized the signs of someone doing something he shouldn’t. She balanced on the balls of her feet, poised for action. She could never keep up with the long-legged adolescent if she tried to follow him across the fairgrounds, but there was more than one way to foil a troublemaker.

The boy changed course and pounded across the pavement in her direction. Emily smiled. She waited until the last instant before he reached the spot where she stood then stepped into his path.

“Stop right there!” she demanded.

The boy’s eyes flared wide when he saw her blocking his escape. His feet scrambled for purchase as he veered abruptly to the right. Just as he passed, Emily darted forward and nabbed him by the ear.

“Ow!” The lad looked down at Emily with an astonished expression. “Leggo my ear!” He made as if to wrench himself out of her grasp, but a quick twist of her wrist brought him to his knees.

Emily allowed herself a brief moment of smugness. It wasn’t the first time she had been victorious against an opponent larger than herself. Growing up at the Collier Children’s Home had given her plenty of time to learn how to equalize a difference in size.

The stocky man raced up to them, puffing like a steam engine.

“Thank you, miss,” he gasped. “That was quite a catch.”

Taking command of Emily’s captive, he seized the boy by his upper arm and jerked him to his feet. “Where are the goods you stole, you young guttersnipe?”

The look of alarm slid off the boy’s face, to be replaced by a cocky grin. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not,” the man mocked. “Why were you running, if you hadn’t just stolen a package of Cracker Jacks right off the counter of my stand?”

Emily felt her jaw go slack. Cracker Jacks? She had risked her own safety for nothing more than a container of the new popcorn, peanuts, and molasses confection?

Looking more confident by the second, the boy shook his head. “I was just walking along, and you started shouting and chasing me.” He shrugged. “I thought you must be crazy. No one could blame me for running when someone so much bigger than me was on my tail.”