Sunday, August 10, 2014

No Such Thing - Excerpt

I'm excited to share the first three chapters of Book Two in the Gold Rush Romances series. This book is titled No Such Thing, and
focuses on Lily's story, something that was only hinted at in Book One, where I concentrated on telling Sarah's story.
I hope you'll leave me a note after you read it. I love to get feedback at this stage. You can comment either here, or on my facebook page at:

No SuchThing

Chapter One

San Francisco Harbor. October 1849
The razor gleamed in the pale, thin light that seeped in through the windows of the captain’s cabin. Lily stopped pacing and picked it up, her delicate fingers tracing the now familiar outline. How many times had she held it, forcing her hands to remain steady as she shaved the captain’s pockmarked face?
She flicked it open and ran her thumb along the sharp edge, watching dispassionately as a fine line of blood welled up in the cut. She’d known that the razor was finely honed; after all, she was the one who sharpened it every day before using it. And every time she’d performed the routine task she’d wondered if this would be the day she would break... if she’d give in to the almost uncontrollable temptation to slit the captain’s throat.
It would have been so easy, she thought now, flicking the razor closed with one hand. But her desire to go on living was stronger. The captain was well aware of the direction of her thoughts, and he seemed to enjoy watching her struggle with temptation as she wielded the razor. But while she shaved the vulnerable area below his chin, he’d taken great pleasure in pointing out that the crew would know of his demise within hours, and then what? She’d be at their mercy. Not satisfied to point out her tenuous position, he’d told her in chilling detail what would befall her when the crew began to fight over her. Momentarily defeated, she had closed her mind to the disturbing images, biding her time until the ship reached San Francisco.
Born in the Year of the Tiger, Lily was a fighter. At least that’s what her Baba had told her. Thank goodness he couldn’t see her now, her spirit broken and terrified about what the future might bring. She glanced at the locked cabin door, wondering if she should end it now, or if she could reach deep down and find one last reservoir of courage. Because it would take courage to face what was about to walk through that door. Yes, she told herself. For her father, if for no other reason, she would survive.
A key rattled in the lock. Lily replaced the razor and stood by the table, bracing herself against the edge. She may be strong in spirit, but she was wise enough to be afraid. The captain had bought her in Shanghai, telling her that he intended to sell her when they reached San Francisco. That time had come, and she stood unblinking as he entered the cabin with another man.
“What did I tell you?” The captain’s lust-filled gaze raked over her. “A little beauty.”
The man’s eyes narrowed. “She’s small.” He approached, and she looked directly at him, determined not to show fear. An ugly scar ran down the side of his face, the scar tissue shiny in the subdued light.
“What’s your name, girl?” he demanded.
She remained silent and he turned to the captain. “I thought you said she speaks English.”
“She does. Answer him, Lily.”
“You’ll answer me when I speak to you.” The man backhanded her so fast she scarcely saw it coming. Her head snapped around and in that moment, she realized that her situation had gone from bad to worse. The man glaring at her was evil; she’d need all her wits about her if she had any hope of getting away from him.
“My name is Lily,” she said, fighting back the tears that stung behind her eyes.
“Take off that... that thing,” he said, pointing to her tunic and loose pants.
She glanced at the captain, who nodded. Lily assessed her chances of grabbing the razor and slashing her way out of the cabin. Tempting as it was, logic told her to bide her time until she was on land.
As she removed her clothes, she blocked out reality by willing herself back in time. Back to Shanghai, and the lush tropical gardens where she had worked with her father. Standing naked, she was vaguely aware of the man studying her, his eyes devoid of emotion. She braced herself for his touch, determined not to react, but it didn’t come. After a moment, he grunted his approval.
“She’ll bring big money,” he announced, waving for her to put her clothes back on. “I think I’ll place her in my number one bordello. Ruby will know how to get the most out of her.”
Lily had heard about bordellos, and her hands trembled as she pulled her clothes back on. For one irrational moment she wondered if she should have killed herself while she had the chance, but once more she saw her father’s face and her resolve strengthened.
“Get your things, girl.” The man turned his back on her and she gathered up her one change of clothes. Everything she held dear had been taken from her and presumably sold before she left Shanghai. Nothing remained of her former life. Not the jade bracelet handed down from her mother. Not the gold pendant her father had given her on her eighteenth birthday. No tangible evidence of happier times. All she had were the precious memories she guarded in her heart.
She forced her thoughts back to the present, aware that the man was completing his business with the captain. Money and paper changed hands, as well as several blocks of what Lily knew to be opium. She picked up the razor and slid it into her pocket. She had earned it, and it was unlikely that the captain would miss it for several days. She clutched her meagre belongings to her chest and prepared for what was to come.
 “Let’s go.” The man preceded her out the door and she followed onto the deck, blinking in the light of day.
Her first impression was of a forest of masts shrouded in mist. It was impossible to take it all in, but she was aware of boats of various sizes ferrying to and from the moored ships, unloading cargo and people, and depositing them on shore. Men called to each other in strange languages, their voices loud and urgent. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere and she wondered if this was what gold fever sounded like.
The man – she refused to think of him as her owner – motioned for her to climb down the rope ladder. A small boat waited below, two men at the oars. She clambered down the ladder and took a seat in the rear of the boat.
One man cleared his throat and spat overboard. “I see you got her,” he said, leering in Lily’s direction. “You sure know how to pick ‘em, Boss.”
The other man waited until everyone was settled and then turned the boat with a flick of the oars. “So, Hiram. Where are you going to put her? I’ve a mind to try her out myself.”
So that was his name.
Hiram gave a short laugh, but there was no mirth in it. “She’s not for the likes of you, laddie.” He studied Lily openly, and nodded to himself. “She may be a Celestial, but there’s something about her that will appeal to our richest clientele. When Ruby is finished with her, she’ll bring top money.” He sat back and lit a cigar. “Ever since Ah Toy came to town, the miners have been demanding variety.”
Sitting in the back of the rowboat, Lily studied the shoreline as they approached. Cargo of all kinds was stacked in what seemed like haphazard piles. As soon as a pile was loaded into a cart, another took its place. The waterfront appeared to be complete chaos, and yet the carts continued to load and move out, while more goods arrived.
The boat bumped against a small pier. One of the men got out, and Hiram motioned for her to follow. “Get in,” he said, indicating a horse-drawn cart. The two men sat up front, and Hiram sat beside her in the back. The mist had turned to a fine rain. She was cold and wet, but she needed to stay alert, as this was the only time she’d have to take note of her surroundings. The driver called to the horses and the cart lurched forward, freeing the wheels from mud that was almost a foot deep. On the dock, a man cursed the rain, and tossed a sheet of canvas over several large sacks of what appeared to be flour. This waterfront was nothing like the one in Shanghai, where cargo moved in and out of the warehouses in an orderly fashion. She watched it all with interest, noting that what San Francisco lacked in organization, it made up for in vibrancy. Men on the streets tipped their hats to one another, or exchanged a few quick words, but none lingered. They walked with purpose in their stride; the excitement was contagious, and she longed to be part of it.
The man holding the reins turned. “Are we going to Ruby’s, Boss?” He didn’t notice the man with a cart rounding the corner in front of him. Head down, the man pulled his cart into their path, and the horse closest to the man reared, tilting the wagon and spilling everyone except the driver into the mud.
Lily watched in horror as Hiram dragged himself to his feet. He’d landed in a pile of horse dung, and swore mightily as he tried to brush the offending material from his trousers and jacket. The other man attempted to stand, but he seemed to have injured his ankle, and could only drag himself out of the way and onto the wooden sidewalk that ran beside the road.
Realizing that she was wasting a precious opportunity, Lily jumped down from the wagon and glanced around. A narrow alleyway ran beside the building to her right. She darted down it and looked around frantically, but cover was scarce.
What am I thinking? She asked herself. I can’t hide here; this is the first place they’ll look. She continued to run, scurrying between buildings, getting farther from the main square every moment. Here the buildings weren’t so close together, and cover was difficult to come by. She paused and forced herself to think. Fear of discovery coupled with lack of exercise over the long voyage left her weak and trembling. It was now raining steadily; she needed to find somewhere to shelter. Up ahead, two men were loading tools into a cart. Other than the two workmen, the street appeared deserted. A partly-constructed building huddled forlornly on a small lot, new wood gleaming through the mist.
“That’s all we can do for now.” The taller of the men spoke. “The owner says we can expect another lumber delivery tomorrow morning.”
“I hope so,” his partner grumbled. “I could have been working out in Happy Valley.” They trundled off.
Lily waited until they were out of sight, and then crept into the building. Fearful and cold, she huddled under a stairwell and took stock of her situation. Foolishly, she hadn’t eaten for the past three or four days, nervous about her imminent arrival in San Francisco. But at this point, hunger was the least of her problems. She had to find somewhere to hide; somewhere safe. In the meantime, she spotted a piece of dry canvas, pulled it over her head and curled up under the stairs. Just a moment’s rest was all she needed...
The sky was the color of old pewter when she woke. Had she really slept through the night? She tentatively moved her limbs. If her aches and pains were anything to go by, she’d slept without moving the entire night. Her stomach rumbled, and she staggered to her feet. With no money, no shelter, and nowhere to turn for help, she hadn’t the faintest idea how she would survive. But first things first. The workers had mentioned another shipment of lumber today; she had to get out of here and find somewhere else to stay.
She took a few tentative steps into the street and stopped. A delicious smell reached her on the morning breeze. It was the smell of fresh bread, and her mouth watered as she imagined biting into a warm piece of bread slathered with butter and preserves. It seemed like only yesterday that she’d shared this special treat with her friend Julia after their day’s lessons.
Stop that, she told herself, taking a few more steps to test her strength. That was a long time ago, and memories won’t fill an empty stomach. Even so, she followed the smell, and found herself outside another two-storey house. Whoever lived here got up early to bake the bread; she watched shadows form and fade as someone moved past a flickering candle. A white tent occupied most of the space between the house and the street. One broad tent flap was rolled up, leaving it open to the street, and she looked inside. A table with benches on either side ran the length of the tent, and she surmised that it was some sort of eating place. If she could find somewhere to hide, perhaps there would be left-over food. Unlikely, but at the moment it was her best option, and daylight was fast approaching.
She slipped past the tent and continued to edge her way behind the house. A neatly stacked pile of firewood rested against the side of the house, once again covered by a sheet of canvas. She huddled beside the wood pile, on the opposite side from where the residents had been taking wood, and waited.
* * *
Lily lifted her face to the sun and sighed with contentment. She and Julia were perched on the edge of the tiled fountain, dabbling their feet in the cool water. They’d just completed their first week of French language instruction.
“I still don’t know why we have to learn French.” Lily wrinkled her nose. “I’ll never use it.” She glanced sideways at her friend. “Will you?”
“Possibly,” said Julia. “I might marry an Ambassador or something. It could be helpful.”
Lily stared at her friend. “Is that how you see the rest of your life?”
Julia bristled. “There’s nothing wrong with marrying an Ambassador.”
“No, of course not” Lily shrugged. “It’s just that I’ve never considered anything other than working beside my father.” She lifted her feet out of the water and watched the droplets fall. “I was so surprised when he agreed to let me take lessons with you. I’d never have learned English otherwise.” She paused for a moment. “He’s only letting me learn to please your parents... because you wanted me to keep you company.”
“Haven’t you enjoyed it?” Julia looked confused.
“Oh, yes, I’ve learned a lot.” Lily’s thoughts turned inward. “But I’m the only family my father has left. It’s my duty to help him.”
“Then I guess it’s lucky for you that you enjoy gardening.” Julia paused. “You do, don’t you?”
Lily’s expression softened. “Yes. There’s something about making things grow that gives me great pleasure.”
Julia shook her head. “You’re funny, Lily.”
She splashed water against Lily’s legs, careful not to wet her trousers. “Because you could do anything you want with your life. You’re so beautiful... surely you must know that by now.”
Lily ducked her head. She didn’t like people commenting on her looks, even though it was usually a compliment. She would rather be known for her bravery, or her hard work.
“What I look like on the outside has nothing to do with who I am on the inside,” she said, not for the first time. “But thank you.”
* * *
“Thank you...” Lily awoke with the words on her lips, and for a moment she didn’t know where she was. Fear and hunger were making her hallucinate; she tried to stand up, but almost fell over. Darkness was falling and if she was going to move, now was the time to do it. She shivered violently and resumed her crouched position. Perhaps just a few more minutes, and she’d try again.

Chapter Two

“Is someone there?” A woman’s voice filtered into Lily’s consciousness and she struggled to open her eyes. She supposed it had to happen eventually; at least she’d been found by a woman.
“Please come out. I can help you if you need medical attention.”
Clutching at the woodpile for support, Lily attempted to stand.
“Hello,” the woman said, bending at the waist. “Can I help you?”
They were the words Lily had been longing to hear. She couldn’t make out the woman’s face in the dark, but she reached out toward her. “Please,” she whimpered, just as her legs gave out and everything went black.
Angry voices broke into her consciousness. A man had joined in the conversation and she shrank back. He was arguing with the woman about taking a man into the house and it took her a moment to realize that they were speaking about her. Moments later, she felt herself being picked up. The warmth of the man’s body felt so good against her chilled flesh; she really should thank him, but then she remembered the last time a man had touched her and her eyes flew open. She struggled to get free and found him looking at her in the strangest way. Had the last few days been in vain? Was he planning to take her back to Hiram? The thought was unbearable, but she was too weak to fight any more. With a defeated sigh, she closed her eyes.
* * *
Time had lost its meaning. Lily opened her eyes, not knowing how many minutes had passed. She was alone in a room, lying on a bed. A candle flickered softly on a bedside table, but there was no adornment in the room. She swung her feet over the side of the bed, but she doubted that she had the strength to stand.
The door opened. “Hello.” The woman from before entered; she hadn’t seen her clearly enough to recognize her, but she could tell by her voice. The woman carried a basin of water which she set on the bedside table. A small bar of sweetly scented soap followed and she recognized it as lavender. She almost swooned at the idea of washing her face and hands, but the woman was saying something.
“Do you speak English?”
“Yes.” She silently thanked Julia for the years of friendship.
The woman smiled. “My name is Sarah Howard, and this is my house. I’d like you to know that you’re welcome to stay.”
Lily considered the woman’s words. “I have no money.”
“Oh, no. I didn’t mean it like that. You’re welcome to stay here for free.”
“Why?” She voiced her thoughts. “Nothing is free.”
Sarah sucked in a breath. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Lily. I’m tired and maybe even a bit cranky, but when I say you can stay here for free, I mean it.”
The woman called Sarah was angry, and she had a right to be. Shame washed over Lily as she realized how her words must have sounded. She lowered her eyes so the other woman wouldn’t see the tears that threatened to fall. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t deserve your kindness.”
Sarah studied her silently for several moments, and then seemed to come to a decision. “Listen,” she said. “We’re a houseful of women and we’ve all had problems of one sort or another. Anna’s husband died shortly before her son was born, and Addie was beaten by a man when she refused to work for him as a prostitute.”
A chill crept down Lily’s back. “Hiram!” she said.
Sarah pulled back. “How did you know?”
“Because he bought me. He threatened to beat me if I didn’t go to work in one of his bordellos.”
Sarah shook her head. Could this possibly be true? She needed to ask Addie. “Let’s not talk about this anymore tonight. You must be hungry, right?”
“I’m starving. I haven’t eaten for something like five days.”
“Then wash up if you like, and I’ll get you some broth and bread. You’re welcome to come out and eat with the others if you’d like.”
“No thank you.” Lily eyed the basin of water. “Something to eat and sleep is what I need more than anything.”
Sarah returned a few moments later with a large bowl of rich broth and two thick slices of bread. Lily waited until she left the room and then forced herself to eat slowly. Had her luck changed? She desperately wanted to believe it, but hope was a tenuous commodity since her father had died. The woman Sarah seemed almost too good to be true... kind and understanding, with no apparent ulterior motive. She set down the empty bowl and fought against the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm her. She couldn’t possibly lie down on the clean sheets until she’d rid herself of the worst of the dirt.
She picked up the small bar of scented soap and her thoughts drifted back to the first time she’d met Julia. Her life hadn’t always been easy, but when compared with the present, those days had been innocent and carefree...
* * *
 “Hello. Are you one of the gardeners?” A girl of about fourteen appeared out of nowhere, blocking the afternoon sun. Lily’s first impression was of blonde hair peeking out from under a broad-brimmed hat.
Lily scrambled to her feet. She’d been taught to stand when confronted by one of the household members. “Yes, I am,” she said, thinking that it was a rather silly question. Why else would she be on her knees, weeding around the lavender? Bees buzzed around the heavily-scented plant.
“What’s your name?”
This girl was certainly direct, but Lily had heard that lo fan were like that. “I’m Lily,” she said, looking the other girl in the eye.
“What’s your Chinese name?”
Lily’s hand tightened on her gardening tool. “Yang Li,” she said, her chin tilting up ever so slightly.
“Yang Li,” repeated the girl. “I like Lily better.”
Lily said nothing.
“I came out to get some flowers for my bedroom.” She eyed the lavender.
Lily’s dismay must have shown on her face, because the girl stepped back. “I suppose that would ruin the look of this beautiful plant, though. Do you have any other ideas?”
Using her limited English vocabulary, Lily led the girl to the cutting garden beside the new glass greenhouse. The girl gathered a small bouquet, chattering the entire time. Lily understood most of what she was saying, but she found herself wishing that she could enter into the conversation. The girl was obviously spoiled by her rich family, but she was bright and cheerful. It was a long time since Lily had had a friend, and she began to relax as the girl talked.
After a while, she seemed to run out of words. “My name’s Julia, by the way.” She offered Lily an impish grin. “Would you like to be friends?”
Lily frowned. Had this girl read her mind?
“Listen.” Julia’s tone was conspiratorial. “I know you probably don’t understand every word I say, but you understand most of it, don’t you?”
Lily nodded, and Julia beamed. “I have an idea. What if I could arrange for you to come to classes with me?” Lily could almost see the gears turning inside her head. “I have a tutor who comes every morning for a few hours. Daddy wants me to learn to speak Mandarin. I can tell him that you’re helping me learn Mandarin, and in the meantime, you can learn English. What do you say? I’ll have Daddy ask your father.”
Lily was surprised by how much she wanted to be friends with this bright creature. She reminded Lily of a butterfly, flitting from one subject to another. And yet, she was sweet, and as far as Lily could tell, she had no ulterior motive in wanting to be friends.
“Okay,” she said, hesitant to let her enthusiasm show. But Julia had been sincere, and within a week, they were attending classes together, building the foundation of their friendship.
Julia’s father had built an impressive estate in Shanghai’s American settlement a few years prior, and Lily’s father had been the head gardener since the beginning. Most of the staff lived outside the fortress-like walls of the estate, but Lily’s father occupied a position of importance in this rapidly changing society where appearances were everything. An influential trader with his own fleet of ships, Frederick Reed reveled in his position. He frequently showed off his gardens to the members of the International Settlement, and was often heard to brag that his gardener lived on site.
Lily’s mother had died in childbirth many years ago, her presence little more than a faint memory. As she’d grown older, Lily wondered if her parents had loved each other, but she didn’t dare ask her father. He never spoke of her mother, and, and hadn’t shown any interest in remarrying. Father and daughter occupied a small cottage on a corner of the estate, their future secure.
That is until six months ago, when the fabric of Lily’s life started to unravel.
* * *
“Guess what?” Julia was almost vibrating with excitement. “Mummy’s taking me to Hong Kong. We’re going on one of Daddy’s ships.” She grabbed Lily’s hands. “I’ll miss you, but think how much fun I’ll have looking for something to bring back for you.” She frowned. “What would you like?”
Lily laughed. “Nothing, Julia. Just have a good time and bring back your memories. How long will you be gone?”
“About six months. Will you miss me?”
“Of course.” It was the truth. After more than four years, the girls had become best of friends, and saw each other every day. “But you’ll be home before you know it.”
Lily slipped easily back into her work routine with her father. A quiet man, he rarely praised her efforts, but she knew that he was proud to have her at his side as they tended the gardens together. In spite of the fact that the Reed family would be gone for an extended period of time, her father maintained the gardens to his usual exacting standards.
* * *
Lily paused in the act of clearing the dishes after the evening meal. “Father, what’s that on your arm?”
Her father looked listlessly at the freckle-like rash on his arm. “I don’t know,” he said. “It appeared two days ago when I was digging out that nest of voles.” He tried to stand up, then eased himself back down.
She looked at him more closely. His forehead was beaded with perspiration and yet he shivered, as though overcome with a sudden chill.
Fear gripped her. “You don’t look well. I’m going to the big house for Liang Yan. She took care of Julia when she got sick last year.” She rushed from the room over her father’s protests, sensing that there was something seriously wrong.
She was right.
The healer took one look at her father and ordered her from the room. When she came out some time later, her expression was grim. “I’m sorry, Li, but your father has bubonic plague.”
Lily’s stomach plummeted. Very few escaped the plague alive. “How bad?” she asked, dreading the answer.
Yan shook her head. “He already has lumps in his neck and armpits.” She shook her head.
Lily walked toward the door, but Yan held her back. “No,” she said firmly. “This is a highly contagious disease, and we can’t risk spreading it.”
“But Baba...” Lily looked toward the little house she’d shared so happily with her father.
“He asked me to keep you away.” Yan’s voice broke. “He asked me to tell you that he loves you, and he doesn’t want to risk infecting you or anyone else. He said it would break his heart if anything happened to you.”
* * *
Lily’s worst fears were realized two days later when her father died. She had been sleeping on a cot in a small alcove off the kitchen and was awakened by the housekeeper. “Come,” she said, her tone brusque. “Your father has gone to be with his ancestors. We must bury him right away in a special section of the cemetery.”
Lily dressed in white – the color of death – and followed the cart to the cemetery, where a quick ceremony was performed. Shocked at the speed of her Baba’s death, the words barely registered. The only people in attendance were the housekeeper and her mother’s sister. As a cooling rain fell, she tried to remember anything about the aunt she barely recognized, but nothing came to mind. After her mother’s death, the woman had disappeared from her life. She had no idea why her aunt was here now, especially since the woman scarcely looked at her.
Eyes dulled with pain, Lily followed the housekeeper to the cart, but was surprised when the woman laid a hand on her arm.
“I’m sorry, Lily. You won’t be coming back to the estate.”
Taken off guard, Lily gave her a blank look. “Why not?”
“Because we need to clean out the cottage and prepare it for the new gardener.”
Lily had been too worried about her father to consider what would happen to her; the announcement came as a shock. “But where will I go?”
The housekeeper looked away, and for a moment Lily thought she saw pity in her expression. “Your aunt has offered to take you in,” she said, nodding toward the unsmiling woman. “We have packed up your personal items from the cottage and she has them.”
“But Julia...” Lily was grasping at straws, but she didn’t care; there was something about her aunt that frightened her. She felt helpless, as though she was being swept away by a raging river. “How will she know where to find me?”
The housekeeper’s expression softened. “I’m sure you will always be welcome to visit, but Mr. and Mrs. Reed won’t be back for another four months. You should be thankful that your aunt has offered to take you. Run along now.” She walked away, her back stiff and unyielding.

Chapter Three

Lily’s aunt started in on her as soon as the housekeeper was out of earshot.
“Foolish girl! What makes you think the lo fan will want to see you when they come back? You are nothing to them.”
Lily considered answering back, but the housekeeper was right... she was lucky to have somewhere to stay. She took the surprisingly small package of personal goods from her aunt and lowered her eyes. It wouldn’t do to let this unpleasant woman know how she felt... at least not yet.
* * *
Lily unpacked her meagre belongings the next morning and let out a cry of despair. Her jade bracelet, passed down to her from her mother, and her gold necklace were missing, as were all of her good clothes. All that remained were cheap cotton tunics and slacks... the attire of the lowliest servants.
“Where are my things?” she inquired, trying to keep her voice even. “My jewellery and my good clothes?”
Her aunt’s eyes narrowed. “Those trinkets?” she hissed. “I sold them. Did you think I was going to feed you and house you for nothing?”
Tears sprang to Lily’s eyes. “But those were given to me by my parents. You had no right to take them.” She stood her ground, her body trembling with anger.
Her aunt glared at her and for the first time in her life, Lily saw pure evil. “I have every right,” she hissed. “You are nothing more to me than another mouth to feed... an inconvenience.”
Lily considered running away, but her aunt lived in a part of Shanghai she didn’t know. It had never occurred to her that by living with her father on the estate, she was effectively shut off from the rest of the world. Her forays outside the compound had been to nearby markets to purchase food and other necessities; beyond that, she was a stranger in her own town.
Lily’s aunt ran a small noodle shop near her home. Lily didn’t mind the hard work, but no matter how hard she tried, her aunt found fault. Business was improving daily, with more and more laborers frequenting their stand and trying to engage Lily in conversation. Lily was polite, but she didn’t encourage them, aware of her aunt’s gaze constantly on her. There was something sinister in the way her aunt watched the men fawning over her. More than once she had noticed the woman whispering with strange men and looking in her direction.
“Come,” her aunt said one afternoon, closing the shop early. Lily followed, curious as to what tragedy had befallen her aunt that she needed to close early... an unheard of occurrence.
Her aunt wound her way through a warren of narrow streets, coming out at a section of docks along the Whampoa River. It was an area Lily recognized, having travelled there with Julia to see one of her father’s new ships.
“Where are we going?” she asked at last.
Her aunt ignored her, eventually stopping at an ocean-going ship. The gangplank tilted at a steep angle, and she pushed Lily ahead, puffing breathlessly as she followed.
Once on deck, they were greeted by a rough-looking seaman who stared at Lily as though he had never seen a woman before.
“Captain Jeremiah Briggs,” Lily’s aunt demanded, mangling the pronunciation of the last name.
The man continued to ogle at Lily. “I’ll take you to him,” he said, leading them down the companionway and aft to the captain’s cabin. He rapped sharply. “Come,” a voice answered, and he opened the door.
Lily’s heart started to pound as she looked around the cabin. Something didn’t feel right here, and she turned questioning eyes on her aunt.
“So you’ve brought her.” The man studied her openly. “I was told she’s eighteen, but she looks younger.” He stroked a rapidly growing erection through the front of his trousers. “I like them young.”
Lily turned terrified eyes to her aunt, who refused to meet her gaze.
“All right,” he said, tossing a bundle of bills to Lily’s aunt. “I’ll take her. She’ll keep me company on the way to San Francisco, and I can sell her there at a nice profit.”
Lily’s aunt grabbed the money and scurried out the door, leaving Lily stunned and alone with the captain.
A cunning grin caught at the corner of his mouth. “You didn’t know about this, did you?”
Lily shook her head. Maybe it was all a mistake and he would let her go. Somehow she didn’t think so.
“Better that way,” he said, lighting a cigar. “Less time to object.” He rose and circled her. “So you speak English.”
Lily considered not responding, but she’d already indicated she understood him. She nodded.
“Good,” he said, as though they were conducting a business negotiation. “Here’s what’s going to happen. This ship sets sail for San Francisco tonight.” He gave a chuckle that set the fine hairs on the back of her neck on end. “Don’t get too attached to me, because I’ll be selling you when we get there.” He paused and lifted her heavy hair. She could feel his breath on her neck and she was almost overcome with nausea. “You should bring a fine price.”
He continued pacing. “If you behave, I’ll let you out on deck once a week, depending on the weather. The rest of the time, you’ll be in here.” He paused dramatically. “With the door locked.”
Lily looked toward the door.
“Don’t think about trying to get away.” He stopped and pretended to think. “And don’t think about trying to harm me. If you were foolish enough to do that, my men would take turns with you for the rest of the voyage.” He made a tutting noise. “Trust me, that would not be pleasant.”
He adjusted the bulge in the front of his trousers. “Much as I’d like to see what I’ve bought, I have to get this ship underway.” He glanced toward the bunk. “There will be plenty of time for that later.”
* * *
The captain made good on his promise. He took her virginity roughly, seemingly unaware of the tears streaming silently down her cheeks. After that, she learned to turn off her mind each night while he rutted on top of her, then rolled over and snored loudly while she roamed silently around the cabin, wondering if she would ever climb out of the black hole that was now her life. Her pride would not permit her to beg him to leave her alone. Besides, she knew it would do no good.
Her one foray out onto the deck ended badly. The seamen all stopped what they were doing and stared at her, many making lewd gestures in her direction. Terrified, she ran back to the cabin, thankful for the locked door.
As the days and weeks went by, Lily’s heart hardened. The captain had taken more than her virginity... he’d shattered every illusion she’d ever had about tenderness between a man and a woman. Looking back, she recognized the romantic, whispered dreams she’d shared with Julia as nothing more than the fantasies of two silly girls. This was real life. She may be broken, but somehow she was determined to survive.
The only break in her routine came about a third of the way through the voyage, when the captain invited several of his officers into his cabin for a game of cards. At the captain’s insistence, she sat quietly behind him, watching the game progress. She did not recognize the game, nor the cards, but to amuse herself, she started observing the reactions of the men when they won, as well as when they lost. When she mentioned to the captain that the first mate tugged at his beard when he had a good hand, he looked at her curiously, but said nothing. The games took place more frequently after that, and he encouraged her to report to him when she saw other telltale signs. Pleased with his winnings, he presented her with a change of clothes. Her new outfit was a simple tunic and pants, but the fabric was finely woven, reminding her of her former life. But she harbored no illusions about what would happen when they arrived in San Francisco.
* * *
“Bollocks!” The captain turned away from the mirror, where he had been shaving. Lily had noticed a slow improvement in his appearance in the past few weeks, including reducing his beard to a strip of hair that rimmed his chin.
He swished the razor in a basin of water. “Have you ever shaved anyone?” he asked, watching her reaction closely.
“No,” she said, her gaze fastened on the sharp blade.
He passed her the razor and indicated the nicks on his face. “You can’t do worse than this.”
Lily turned the blade this way and that, catching the light. He was right; he’d made a mess of his face. She approached cautiously, wondering if this was a test.
Within a few days, she had mastered the art of shaving him. He enjoyed the attention, but she was careful not to look in his eyes, unable to hide the hatred that simmered just below the surface. Just when she thought she couldn’t stand him another moment, he’d remind her of her fate if something were to happen to him. As they neared San Francisco, she resigned herself to the fact that she’d do nothing... at least not while she was on board.
* * *
The faint scent of lavender brought Lily back to the present. Her life these past few months had been one long nightmare... and almost as unbelievable. She splashed water on her face and gave a prayer of thanks. Was it possible that she could find peace in this house full of women? She stretched out on the bed with an exhausted sigh. She would certainly try.
* * *
Devon walked aimlessly. He knew that Addie meant well, and he appreciated her concern, but she couldn’t possibly understand what had happened to him when he looked into the woman’s eyes. His friends had called him a confirmed bachelor for many years now, and in spite of his oft-expressed desire to remain unattached, he was growing tired of the single life. In quiet times alone, he’d frequently found himself wondering if he would ever find a woman to love. And now that he had, she was beyond his reach. He didn’t need Addie to tell him that. He’d seen it for himself in the way she looked at him, breaking his heart even as he gazed into her eyes and fell deeply in love.
He found himself at the waterfront and looked into the darkness. Masts creaked as ships rocked at anchor, and disembodied voices drifted over the water. Here and there, a soft light glowed from a ship’s interior, but the harbor was mostly quiet.

The ship she had arrived on was out there somewhere. He wondered if he would ever learn what had terrified her... or if he even wanted to know. If the fear in her eyes was anything to go by, her story might be better off left untold. Would time erase whatever had made her tremble in his arms? He ached to hold her again, to help her forget the terrors of her past. But only time could do that. Time and patience. He would need plenty of both, he thought with a wry smile, then turned and walked back toward the house.

No Such Thing is scheduled for release 15 September, 2014.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Now in Kindle Unlimited

This has always been one of my favorite stories. Perhaps because it was inspired by an actual dance hall on the Canadian prairies. I just knew that a love story had unfolded in that historic building, but it took me something like eight years to get around to writing the story.

Former Title:  Moonlight Dancer
City girl Charlie Mitchell travels to the Canadian prairies, only to find herself completely out of her element. To make matters worse, she’s attracted to Jason, the practical but appealing rancher next door. He’s brash, confident, and very easy on the eyes! In spite of a bitter breakup with a girl from the city, Jason finds himself falling for Charlie. As the attraction deepens, Charlie learns that her ancestor Charlotte suffered heartbreak right here on the family farm, and she vows to help re-unite Charlotte with the man she’s never stopped loving. A practical man, Jason wants to believe in Charlie’s quest, but he can’t. Can the two lovers from the past prove to Charlie and Jason that love is forever? A delightful modern romance with gentle, ghostly elements.

Buy at Amazon, or get it free with Kindle Unlimited:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Now Live Everywhere

Wait a minute! That sounds like something out of Frankenstein... "It's alive!!!"

I must be punchy... maybe it's the rollercoaster effect of having just released a book, getting out the word, and gearing up to write Book Two in the series (which is going to be great, by the way).

Anyway, folks, Restless Hearts is now available at all of the following locations, plus all Amazon countries. You know how to modify the links for your country.

Cool Stuff

Did you know that Kobo has a cool feature, especially for readers who enjoy reading series. They call it First Free in Series, which means you can try the first book FREE, and see if you'd like to buy subsequent books in the series. It's conveniently divided into categories. Scroll down to Romance, and you'll see my book Loving From Afar in there. 
Here's the link:

Monday, July 7, 2014

Coming Soon - Restless Hearts

This is an exciting time. I'm about ten days away from publishing Book One in a new series. This is my first foray into Historical Romance, and I've chosen a setting which has always interested me - Gold Rush San Francisco. The series will feature three determined and yet distinctly different women. As with my series The Women of Independence, their stories will be stand-alone, and yet their lives intersect throughout the series. It's a fun concept and I've enjoyed writing the first one, titled Restless Hearts.  At the end of the excerpt, you'll find a link where you can sign up for my MailChimp mailings, notifying you when the book is released. I don't send out much, unless I have something a) On Sale, b) Free, or c) New Release.  I hope you enjoy this excerpt, and I welcome any comments.

Restless Hearts

Chapter One

Boston Harbor. May, 1849
Sarah stood at the ship’s rail and tried unsuccessfully to make out the buildings clustered along the shore. The foghorn bleated its mournful warning and she peered into the shifting white mist, trying to pinpoint the familiar landmark. Odd that the sound should startle her now. The foghorn had been part of her life for as long as she could remember, and on a normal day it barely registered.
But there was nothing normal about today. In a few hours she would be leaving her familiar life behind. It was exciting and terrifying at the same time, but she’d made her decision. In her mind, there’d been no other option. She couldn’t imagine living the rest of her life in Boston, where nothing in the foreseeable future was likely to change. Staring into the fog, she gave a silent prayer, hoping that her instincts were right; that leaping off this precipice into the unknown would fulfil her in a way that life in proper Boston never could.
The captain had assured her that the fog would lift and that they would depart as scheduled on the afternoon tide. She was inclined to believe him. Captain Samuel Johnson radiated confidence. He wasn’t much taller than Sarah, but her first impression when she’d boarded the ship a few hours ago was of a man who was an extension of his ship. As solidly built as WindSprite, he’d greeted her with a firm handshake, his feet spread apart as though they were already on the high seas. She was lucky to have found this passage, and she knew it.
Built as a cargo ship, WindSprite hadn’t originally been intended to carry passengers, but these days with more and more people clamoring for transportation to San Francisco, the ship’s owners had made some slight modifications, carving out space for what she now knew would be four other passengers. At least she’d have some company on the long voyage, although she had her doubts that Anna Taylor would provide much company. The woman had embarked shortly after Sarah with her daughter, and the moment she’d stepped on board, her gaze had cast about wildly, as though she was going to be ill. Not surprisingly, the little girl had stayed on deck, wide-eyed and excited as her mother went below to get settled.
The familiar sound of oars clanking in oarlocks drew her attention and once again she peered out into the fog. The ship’s dory came into view, rowed by one of the crew members, but it was the man standing in the bow that drew her attention. He stood easily, one foot braced on a thwart as he surveyed the ship with interest. Sarah looked down at him as the dory drew closer, fascinated by the air of casual confidence that swirled around him. Dark, curly hair and long, stylish sideburns framed a face that could only be described as handsome. Her breath caught in her chest as he looked up at her and nodded, a faint smile on his lips.
Sarah glanced down at the ring on her left hand, and for the first time since she’d hatched this crazy plan, she regretted her decision to pose as a married woman.
A fanciful thought, to be sure. A man who looked like that would be married. She studied him surreptitiously; curious as to why she didn’t know him. She didn’t know everyone in Boston, but society had its limitations, and a man like this would surely be discussed among the unmarried women of the town. The married ones too, for that matter.
“Hello, what’s your name?” The young girl appeared at Sarah’s side. “My name’s Melissa, but my friends call me Missy.” Bright eyes studied her for a moment. “You can call me Missy.”
“Why thank you, Missy. My name is Sarah.”
The child’s attention switched to the dory, which bumped gently against the ship and was made fast by a crew member.
It was only then that Sarah noticed the other passenger in the dory. A woman had been sitting in the back and she rose unsteadily, a voluminous bag clutched in her hands. This must be Lucy Davis, Sarah’s cabin companion. Her trunk had arrived earlier, and had been delivered to the small cabin, her name prominently displayed. A woman in her mid forties, her figure could best be described as generously proportioned. Fully loaded, the ship was sitting low in the water. As with her own arrival, the climb for the new passengers would be manageable.
The man extended a hand, and murmured something to the woman. She nodded, and passed him the bag. She didn’t seem daunted by the fact that she had to scramble up the ladder. As a matter of fact, her eyes sparkled with the challenge, and she was soon standing on deck, smoothing down her skirts and taking in her surroundings.
“So,” she said, striding toward Sarah with a hand extended. “The adventure begins. I’m Lucy Davis. Please call me Lucy.”
Sarah returned the other woman’s smile. “Sarah Howard. Delighted to meet you.”
Missy had watched Lucy’s ascent, and studied her openly.
“Your daughter?” Lucy’s eyebrows rose slightly.
The question caught Sarah by surprise, and she glanced quickly at the man before responding. “What? Heavens no. This is Miss Melissa Taylor. She gestured toward the companionway. “Her mother is below, getting settled.”
Lucy touched young Melissa on the head and the child smiled brightly at the unexpected attention. “I suppose I should do the same thing.” She bent over and spoke quietly to Missy, who was partially hidden behind Sarah’s skirts. “I’ll see you later, Miss Melissa.”
The child said nothing, but she released her hold on Sarah’s skirt and stepped forward. There was something about Lucy Davis that engendered trust, and Sarah gave silent thanks that the woman would be her cabin mate. It had been too much to hope that she would get a cabin to herself; she was keenly aware that an unpleasant traveling companion would make the long voyage even more tedious. Her luck was holding, and she gave a sigh of relief. The show over, the child drifted away to explore the myriad nooks and crannies on the deck. She’d heard the captain tell Mrs. Taylor that the girl would be confined to a limited area once the ship was under way. The child was wisely taking advantage of the opportunity to explore now.
Sarah turned to introduce herself to the man, but he wasn’t there. She scanned the deck and spotted him near the main hatch, speaking to one of the crew. Whatever they were discussing, he looked comfortable, and as she observed, he threw back his head and laughed, white teeth flashing in contrast with his tanned face. This man was a study in contrasts. He was urbane and well dressed. Elegant, even, and yet he talked comfortably with the crew member. Judging by his comfort in the dory and his tanned appearance, he spent a fair amount of time outdoors.
He glanced over as she studied him, and for the first time she could remember, she didn’t look away when a man looked at her directly. That was the old Sarah, and although the new Sarah was, as far as the world knew, a married woman, she was also independent and forward thinking. The notion was liberating, and she found herself straightening her spine as he strode toward her, moving across the deck as though he owned it.
“Mrs. Howard?” He offered his hand and she took it, not surprised by the jolt of energy that passed between them. “I’m Jamie Thompson.” Eyes that were somewhere between grey and blue studied her, and she found herself wondering what color they’d be on a sunny day. His gaze shifted briefly to her left hand, then returned to her face. “Pardon me for being so bold, but since we’ll be traveling in rather close company for the next little while...” He shrugged amiably.
He looked beyond her, and indicated with a tilt of his chin that she should turn. “The fog is lifting, just as the captain predicted. We should get underway right on schedule.”
Sarah twisted the ring around her finger, but he appeared not to notice. “So,” he continued, glancing into the rigging. “It’s a beautiful little ship, wouldn’t you say?”
Sarah found her voice. “I don’t know a lot about ships, but it seems sturdy, and was recommended.”
Jamie nodded. “Thankfully. As you must know, this isn’t the best time of year to round the Cape, but I for one didn’t want to wait until the fall.”
“It’s a difficult concept to grasp,” she mused, almost to herself. “The fact that it’s winter down there while we enjoy summer up here.” She looked to him for reassurance. “We’ll be at our most southerly point in the middle of their winter, right?”
“Yes.” He sauntered over to the mainmast and looked up into the rigging again. “But I have every faith in Captain Johnson.”
He turned back and spoke casually. “Your husband is already in California, I take it?”
Sarah nodded. “Yes, he’s...” She paused. How could she not have made up an occupation for this fictional husband? “He’s a doctor.” At least she could speak with some confidence about the medical profession, as her father was a respected Boston doctor.
His face lit up with an almost boyish enthusiasm. “Have you heard from him? How is everything out there?” He ducked his head in what she assumed was an apology. “Sorry to pester you with questions, but so little news has filtered back.”
“So true,” Sarah murmured to herself.
“Sorry, what did you say?” He moved closer.
She raised her eyes. Lord, but he was a good looking man. Thank goodness she was a married woman. The thought almost made her laugh.
“He’s only been there a few months. He was getting ready to leave when President Polk made his speech.” She was getting warmed up now. “Unfortunately, he didn’t give me very much news, just asked me to get the first available ship. It was the only letter I’ve received, but I understand that mail service is rather sporadic.”
Jamie’s gaze swept over her and a knowing smile hitched up the corner of his mouth. “I can understand why your husband would want you to join him.”
He’d said nothing wrong, and yet there’d been a flash of something in his eyes. She’d love to explore it further, to find out what he’d been thinking, but she reminded herself of her marital status.
Jamie’s generous lips narrowed. “I’ve heard similar reports about the mail service. It seems that everyone is so busy making their pile that they don’t have time to waste on the simple services that we take for granted.” He didn’t seem at all upset by the notion of irregular mail service. “So much to organize,” he said, almost to himself.
“What do you do, if I might ask?” Sarah couldn’t quite picture him mining, although his shoulders were broad enough, and he exuded strength.
“Up until now, I’ve worked in my family’s merchant bank.” He gestured vaguely toward the hold. “I’ve brought a large safe, and a minting machine with me.” He anticipated her next question. “I’m from New York. I had the safe shipped up here from New York and then I followed, and purchased the minting machine here in Boston.”
“I see.”
He grinned at her response. “I know, banking is boring, but this is the perfect opportunity to go out there and see it all for myself. I told the Board of Directors of the bank that I’d go and set things up, but that I don’t want to be tied down for the rest of my life. The bank has sent some men from the Chicago area by the overland route, so I’m not obliged to stay.” He gave her an odd look. “Why am I telling you all this?”
Sarah lifted her shoulders. “I don’t know, but I understand your enthusiasm.” She walked to the rail and looked out to the open ocean. Only a few tendrils of fog remained. “I’m anxious to get there myself and see what it’s all about.” She turned and gave him a sideways glance. “What will you do if you don’t work in the bank? Do you intend to join the rush to the gold fields?”
“No.” He shook his head decisively. “For some reason, that doesn’t interest me.” His face took on a faraway look. “My grandfather left me some property.” He turned to her and re-focused. “They call them ranchos, and the one I inherited is outside of San Francisco, on the Sacramento River.”
“A farm?” She wasn’t sure if she could picture him as a farmer.
“I don’t really know. The truth is, I didn’t know my grandfather all that well, and I was as surprised as anyone when he left it to me. I only met him once, when I was about ten years old. He visited us in New York, and I remember spending quite a bit of time with him. I recall pestering him with questions about the rancho; it seemed very exotic and far away.” He smiled at the memory. “He and my grandmother had two daughters, both of whom are married now and living back on the East Coast, so evidently he thought of me to inherit.” He paused for a moment. “To answer your question, I would imagine there is some general farming on the property, but I believe it’s mostly cattle.”
“So.” She stepped back and appraised him openly. “You’re a land baron.”
He laughed good-naturedly. “Hardly. But I hope you and your husband will come to visit one day when you’re settled in. You might be ready for some time away from the city.” He glanced back toward the open hatch. “I think I’ll check on the safe once more before we get underway. Make sure they have it tied down properly.”
“Right.” Sarah nodded, but her mind wasn’t on his words. She was regretting her decision to pose as a married woman, and not just because Jamie Thompson was a very appealing man. She hadn’t realized that lying about a fictional husband would make her so uncomfortable, but there was no getting around it. She couldn’t possibly travel such a great distance on her own as a single woman. Her thoughts drifted back to the day she’d made the decision to leave Boston.

Chapter Two

Three months earlier
“Thank you for the dance.” Sarah’s dance partner returned her to the group of young women who’d gathered well away from the orchestra. She smiled graciously, unable to remember his name. She’d only agreed to dance with him to get away from the incessant gossip from the cluster of unattached women. Lewis hadn’t partnered her for about half an hour, even though he’d brought her to the dance. She’d reluctantly agreed to attend the St. Valentine’s dance after her mother had overheard Lewis asking her for the second time, and urged her to attend.
She sighed as she scanned the dance floor for a sign of her fiancé. Becoming engaged to Lewis had been a mistake, but she’d accepted his proposal out of desperation, devastated by her father’s refusal to endorse her application to medical school. She and Lewis were good friends, but there was no romantic spark between them, even when he kissed her, his lips dry and cool.
“We haven’t seen much of you recently.” Lydia Carmichael eyed her over her fan. Sarah thought the fan was ridiculous; it was February and not the least bit hot.
“I’ve been busy,” she said, wondering why Lydia had singled her out. “Helping my father with his practise.”
“Euuw.” The expression on Lydia’s face made her distaste clear. “Cleaning up after sick people!”
Sarah wanted to crack her over her head with the ridiculous fan. “No,” she said evenly. “Not exactly. I assist him with many of his small surgeries.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Lydia rolled her eyes dramatically, more for the benefit of the other women than for Sarah. “I forgot about your determination to break into the medical profession.” She tapped the folded fan against her chin and narrowed her gaze. “It won’t work, you know. Women will never be accepted.”
Up until recently, Sarah would have agreed. But things were changing. Slowly, to be true, but they were changing. The trouble was, the changes were unlikely to help her anytime soon.
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Sarah tried to keep the triumph out of her voice. “Elizabeth Blackwell was graduated from medical school just last month.”
Lydia’s eyes widened, but she recovered quickly. “One woman! Oh yes, I read about that. Wasn’t that a mistake?”
Sarah acknowledged the comment with a tip of her head. “Perhaps her initial acceptance was a mistake of sorts, but she graduated at the top of her class.”
“Really.” Sarcasm dripped from Lydia’s lips and she looked to her friends for support. “Commendable, I’m sure, but one woman graduating from medical school is hardly a trend.”
Sarah’s temper was reaching the boiling point, but she bit her tongue. “True, but attitudes are changing. Especially since the New England Female Medical College opened in Boston last year. I consider that to be real progress.”
“And are you enrolled?”
The spiteful question almost brought tears to Sarah’s eyes, but she refused to show weakness. “Regrettably not. My father wouldn’t approve. And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go outside for some fresh air.” She turned on her heel and walked away, head held high. Let them talk about her. She didn’t care what they said, but attitudes like Lydia’s didn’t help bring about the important changes that were needed before women could find liberation.
Once outside, she pulled her shawl around her shoulders and stepped into the shadows behind a rose trellis. It was too cold to stay out here for long, but the change in temperature would cool her down in more ways than one. She took several deep breaths and was about to go back inside when she heard a soft moan. Was someone in pain? Did they need help?
She was about to step out of the shadows when she heard a man’s voice. “Oh, Lewis. I can’t live like this, knowing you’re going to marry Sarah. I thought you loved me.”
And then the familiar voice of her fiancé. “I do love you, Stephen. You know that.”
Uncomfortable spying, and yet mesmerized by the conversation, Sarah looked around the corner of the trellis. Lewis was tenderly holding Stephen’s face, and as she watched, he kissed the other man fully on the mouth, deepening the kiss until the other man moaned with need. The sight was oddly arousing, and disturbing at the same time. Lewis had never kissed her that way, and now she knew why.
“When can we be together again?” The man called Stephen was touching Lewis intimately, and Sarah looked away. “It’s been too long.”
“I don’t know, but please be patient. I’ll talk to Sarah soon. I promise.”
Sarah didn’t realize she’d been holding her breath until the patio doors opened and a laughing couple stepped outside, music spilling out behind them. She slipped through the open door and stood quietly for a moment, composing herself. She’d heard about men who preferred other men, but she hadn’t known any. At least she didn’t think she had... until now.
Her initial shock was soon replaced by relief. She didn’t want to marry Lewis, or anyone else at this point in her life. They’d met over ten years ago, and grown up together, but she blamed herself for the situation they were in now. She should never have gone along with their family’s expectations that they would one day get married.
The engagement ring felt tight on her finger and she looked at it sadly. She’d accepted his proposal during the Christmas season, knowing even then that it was a mistake. At the time it had seemed like the only way out. Her father had refused to endorse her for the medical college and here she was, twenty two years old and would soon be considered too old for marriage. Especially now, with the pool of available men shrinking, as many headed west to find gold and excitement in California.
Lewis’s family owned a cartage business, and they had been talking about expanding. The idea of moving away from Boston appealed to her, and she’d told herself that by accepting his proposal she could make a new life. She would come to love him eventually, she told herself. At least they were friends.
But now everything had changed. She managed to avoid the other guests and sought out a quiet corner where she could think. It wasn’t a question of what she should do now. That much was clear. The question was, when should she confront Lewis?
“There you are.” Startled, she looked up to see him standing in front of her. “Are you all right, Sarah?” He’d known her long enough to discern that something was wrong. She wished the best for him in his difficult life ahead, but right now she would have preferred that he wasn’t so perceptive.
“I’m fine.” It was an automatic answer, and she retracted it almost instantly. “No, I’m not, Lewis. I’ve developed a bit of a headache. Do you mind taking me home?”
“Not at all. I’ll have the carriage brought around, and we can leave immediately.”

* * *

Lewis looked over at her several times on the way home. He appeared to be getting up his nerve to speak, while Sarah looked straight ahead, gathering herself for what was to come.
When they pulled up in front of her father’s residence, he fidgeted, making no move to get out.
“Lewis.” She turned to him. “I’m sorry, but I can’t marry you.”
The look on his face was almost comical. His first reaction had been joy, then a puzzled expression took over.
“Why, Sarah?”
Light flickered from the lamp at the gatepost, and she looked into his eyes. “I saw you with Stephen tonight. I overheard what you said.”
The blood drained from his face and he seemed to shrink back into the depths of the carriage.
“It’s all right, Lewis. I understand.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “We never should have become engaged in the first place.”
He looked up, and for a moment she thought he might cry. “Do you hate me?”
“Of course not. We’ve been friends too long for that.”
Hope flared in his eyes. “Then you won’t tell anyone?”
“No. I’ll tell my family that we won’t be marrying, but that we want to remain friends.” She removed the ring from her finger and handed it to him. “Here, take this.”
He reached for the ring and she held on; reluctant to sever the connection they’d shared for so many years. “You really need to be more careful when you and Stephen are in public together.” She released her hold on the ring. “What will you do?”
He gave her a hopeful grin. “This is all very sudden, but maybe Stephen and I could move together to Philadelphia when we expand the business. No one knows us there.”
Sarah nodded. “That could work.” She raised a hand to his cheek. “Be careful, Lewis, but be happy.”
He nodded wordlessly, eyes gleaming with unshed tears. Sarah got out of the carriage and walked to the front door. She didn’t look back

* * *

“You’re home early.” Sarah’s mother looked up as Sarah removed her shawl and stood at the entrance to the living room.
“Yes.” Sarah pressed fingers to her temple. “I developed a bit of a headache.” She glanced toward her father’s chair by the fire. “Has father been called out?”
Bridget Howard sighed. “No, he turned in early. He was up most of last night trying to save that young child who was run over by a carriage.” She raised her eyes. “The child died this morning.”
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut and said a quick prayer. A dedicated physician, her father was still saddened every time he wasn’t able to save a patient. She liked that about him; the fact that he didn’t adopt an aloof air, the way some other physicians did when dealing with death. His compassion was one of the reasons she’d been taken completely by surprise when he’d refused to support her application to medical school. Another reason was that she’d been helping him treat patients in his office for as long as she could remember. She’d thought he understood where her interests lay.
Her mother’s voice brought her out of her reverie. “Shall I make you some warm milk, my dear? It might help you to fall asleep.”
Sarah smiled at her mother. Bridget Howard was the core of this family. Sarah’s father may be the breadwinner and the titular head of the household, but nothing worked in this family without her mother.
“No thanks, but I would like to talk to you for a moment. Devon is out, I take it?”
Bridget nodded. “Yes, your brother is out with his friends. I do wish he’d settle down, but...” Her voice trailed off.
Sarah sat down on the footstool by her mother’s chair and plucked at the folds of her skirt. Her mother was going to be disappointed, but it would serve no purpose to delay.
“Mother, Lewis and I aren’t getting married. We decided tonight.”
Her mother’s gaze went to her left hand.
“I returned the ring.”
“But surely....” Her mother frowned. “This is rather sudden. Surely you can patch things up.”
Sarah held her mother’s gaze and made a decision. “Mother, Lewis is in love with someone else.”
Bridget put down her embroidery. “Why that’s preposterous.”
Sarah felt her lips twitch in a wry smile. Her mother was right; it was preposterous. “Mother, Lewis is in love with another man. I found out tonight.”
Her mother’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. Sarah watched as she looked around the room, her gaze finally coming to rest on a set of crystal candlesticks on the mantelpiece. When she finally spoke, her voice seemed to come from a long distance. “Your father is going to be so angry when he hears about this.”
“No he isn’t.” Sarah reached out and took both of her mother’s hands. “Because we’re not going to tell him the details. As far as he’s concerned, I changed my mind.” Sarah watched as her mother considered her statement.
“I promised Lewis I wouldn’t tell anyone, and now I’m asking you to help me keep my word.” She smiled. “Please understand, mother. Lewis and I are friends. I genuinely like him, but quite frankly, I’m relieved not to be marrying him.” She felt like she’d been deprived of oxygen for a long time, and had finally been given permission to breathe. She gave her mother’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “I want something more than that in my life. I thought I’d be in medical college by now. That wasn’t to be, but I refuse to accept that my life is over. I don’t want to marry someone just to be married. I want to have a life that means something. I want to have some adventures.”
Bridget Howard’s face softened and for a moment she was somewhere else as she gazed into the fire. “I can understand that,” she said quietly. “When I was young, I had the chance to go to England for a year, but my mother wasn’t well and I chose to stay home and take care of her. I’ve never said this to anyone, but I always regretted that I missed that opportunity. That was before I met your father, of course.” She looked at her daughter and exhaled slowly. “I know you’re deeply disappointed with him right now, Sarah, but he’s a good man.” She picked up her embroidery and stared at it, as though wondering who had created the intricate pattern. “And while I’m being frank, I might as well tell you: there were harsh words between us about your medical training, but your father was adamant.” She shook her head. “There was only so much I could do.”
Sarah rarely heard her mother speak so candidly and it took a few moments for the words to sink in. “I didn’t know that. Thank you for sticking up for me. That means a lot.”
Bridget’s fingers caressed the embroidery she’d just completed while she studied her daughter. “I’m going to lose you, aren’t I?” A tear ran down her cheek, but she was smiling. “What are you going to do?”
Sarah sat up a little straighter. “I have no idea how I’m going to accomplish this, but I was thinking of going to San Francisco.” Excitement fluttered in her stomach as she spoke. “I’m going to need your help, though.” For the first time in months, she looked forward to the future. “What do you say?”
“You’re not afraid?”
Sarah laughed. “I’m terrified.”
Her mother smiled and shook her head. “Good, but we have to agree to something here and now. Your father must never know I helped you plan this. You’re going to leave a letter when you leave and I’m going to be completely taken aback when I find it.”
“Thank you.” Sarah hugged her mother in a rare display of affection. “That’s one promise I can keep.”

Chapter Three

Had that really been only two months ago? Sarah came out of her reverie and looked around the deck. Excitement gripped her as she realized that her dream was about to come true. She was really here, on board WindSprite, soon to depart for San Francisco.
As though in tune with her thoughts, the anchor chain clattered loudly as it was winched up from the bottom. Crew members, eager to get started, clambered up to the yards and prepared to release the sails.
Lured by the sound, Lucy Davis popped her head out of the companionway, spotted Sarah and joined her at the railing.
“Are you excited? How long has it been since your husband left?” A light breeze had sprung up and Lucy swatted impatiently at a few loose hairs.
“Not too long.” The ship started to respond as wind filled the sails.
“What does your husband do? Is he chasing the golden dream, or is he in business?”
Sarah laughed. “Neither, really. He’s a doctor. I stayed behind to tidy up our affairs.” A weak story, but it was the best she could do.
“I understand. I have a friend who’s married to a doctor in New York. She’s told me many times that she has to make all the practical decisions.” The ship heeled slightly, and Lucy clutched the railing. “My Charles has always been in business. I told him I expect a proper home by the time I arrive. The last letter I received assured me that he’s having a house built up away from the center of town. I have no idea what that means, but I’ve brought enough household goods to set up housekeeping once I get there.”
“We thought we’d buy a place after I arrive,” said Sarah. “Devon says he’s leaving that up to me.”
Lucy gave her an odd look. “I may be wrong, but I don’t think there are many places available for purchase. I got the impression that it’s every man for himself when it comes to housing.” She shrugged. “Although maybe that’s among the single miners.” She gave Sarah an appreciative once-over. “You’re young and strong. You’ll figure it out. Now I think I’ll have a quick turn around the deck before it gets rough.”
“Yes,” Sarah murmured to Lucy’s retreating back. “I’ll figure it out.”

* * *

The shoreline receded rapidly as the ship put out to sea. Off the bow of the ship, streaks of grey stretched across the sky, and in the west, the sun’s passage illuminated the clouds with a pale golden glow. Not the colorful, romantic sunsets Sarah had imagined, but she was confident she’d see many of those in the days to come. Today she was embarking on more than a sea voyage... she was embarking on a new phase of her life. This time she wouldn’t allow herself to slide into situations or relationships that weren’t to her liking. The notion was empowering, and she smiled to herself as she braced against a sudden swell.
“Finding your sea legs?” Jamie Thompson appeared at her side.
“They weren’t lost.” The words popped out before she could stop them, and she glanced sideways to see him grinning.
“Touché,” he said, with a tilt of his head. “But seriously, those shoes aren’t suited to walking on the deck.” He looked out to sea. “Especially when we get into heavy waters.”
Sarah looked down at her ankle-high, square-toed boots. “I’m learning that, but all the same, it’s exhilarating.”
“Looking for a bit of an adventure, are you?” He raised an eyebrow.
Sarah’s heart raced when he looked at her like that. She was enjoying his company far too much. “Not if it means being swept overboard, no. Thankfully, my mother is a practical woman, and she insisted that I bring several pairs of buskins along for that very purpose.”
He nodded. “Buskins. You’re referring to low-heeled shoes, right?” His tone held a definite challenge. “Aren’t those usually worn by – how can I say this delicately – the lower classes?”
She raised her head and met his gaze. “As I said, my mother is a practical woman.” She made a broad gesture that encompassed the sea and the diminishing land mass at their stern. “Something tells me that the old rules don’t mean much where we’re headed.” She paused for a moment. “Well... some of the old rules will still apply, of course, but I intend to keep an open mind when I get there.”
“And your husband? Does he share your passion for fresh starts?” He spoke casually, but watched her intently as she pondered his question. She’d have to be careful around this man; he saw more than he let on.
“Surprisingly, yes.”
He turned to her. “Why is that surprising?”
She kept her gaze on the distant horizon. “Because most men in the medical profession are fairly set in their ways. I grew up with a father who is a doctor, so I know all about that.” It was difficult to keep the bitterness out of her voice. It was time to change the subject before she gave too much away. “What about you? What prompted you to take the leap?”
A fleeting smile crossed his lips. “I like the way you say ‘take the leap. It suggests something wild and unknown.”
If only he knew. She maintained her silence, and he continued.
“As I mentioned before, my grandfather left me some property, but if I’m really honest with myself, that was just an excuse. I’ve been restless for some time now, and learning about my inheritance was the catalyst I needed.” He shuddered. “I couldn’t see myself being a banker for the rest of my life.”
Sarah was about to respond when Melissa Taylor came running out onto the deck.
“Mommy’s sick,” she said breathlessly.
Sarah looked at Jamie. “Perhaps the steward...”
Missy tugged at Sarah’s hand and she lowered herself to the child’s height. “Mommy has a baby in her tummy,” she confided. “That’s why we didn’t go in the wagons with Daddy.”
Sarah imagined that the sea voyage would have seemed the simpler choice, but there was no point in debating that now; the die was cast. She rose and caught Lucy’s attention as the older woman strode around the deck for the third time. “Could you watch Missy for a few moments while I check on her mother?” Hopefully Anna Taylor’s sickness was an adjustment to the motion of the ship. If the woman’s condition was going to be an ongoing problem, she’d have to speak to the steward and determine how much help he could offer.
“Of course,” Lucy agreed cheerfully. “Come along, then. We’ll have a story.”
“Mrs. Taylor?” Sarah knocked and entered the cabin.
A soft moan greeted her, followed moments later by the smell of vomit. Sarah had smelled and taken care of worse. She cranked the porthole until it was open a few inches, then went to Anna Taylor’s bedside.
“Your daughter tells me you’re pregnant.” She placed a hand on the woman’s brow.
Anna nodded and struggled to get up. “I’m so sorry,” she said, looking down at her soiled dress and the floor.
“Think nothing of it.” A small towel and washcloth sat on a stand near the bed; preparations for the inevitable sickness. She dipped the cloth in cool water, cleaned off Anna’s mouth and chin, then gently wiped the woman’s brow. A few fine hairs lay flat against her sweaty temples.
Sarah gave an encouraging smile. “I’m going to find a bucket to leave beside your bed, and bring you a glass with some drinking water to rinse out your mouth. This sickness will go away. You’ll be on your feet in no time.”
The woman’s stomach heaved, but nothing came up. “I’m a poor sailor,” she murmured, collapsing back onto the thin pillow. “Always have been.”
“Alright.” Sarah summoned her most confident voice. “A few days, then. Two or three at the most, but you can’t spend the entire voyage here.”
“No, you’re right.” She didn’t sound convinced. “What is your name?” The other woman reached out a hand.
“I’m Sarah Howard. Please call me Sarah.”
“Anna.” A faint smile transformed her face. “My daughter. Is she safe?”
“Oh yes. She’s on deck with my cabin-mate, Lucy Davis.” Sarah pictured the stout, no-nonsense woman. “Don’t worry about her.”
Sarah tidied the room and went in search of a bucket and some water. As she popped her head out of the companionway, she saw Jamie pacing back and forth. It pleased her that he seemed to be waiting for her to appear.
He turned eagerly when he heard her. “Everything all right?” The ship lurched and he reached out to steady her. She was reluctant to admit it, but it felt good to have a man look out for her.
“Yes, she’s just seasick.” A fine mist covered everything, and she looked around for the child. Lucy was seated on a coil of rope, Missy sitting at her feet, oblivious to the worsening conditions. Sarah smiled and returned her attention to Jamie.
“It was a bit...” she wrinkled her nose, “...smelly in there, so I opened the porthole. Do you think that’s all right? I don’t know much about a ship’s movement.”
Jamie scanned the horizon. “It should be all right for now, but close it later, in case the seas come up tonight.”
“Okay.” She gave him a quick smile. “I’m off to find a bucket to keep beside her bed.”

* * *

Jamie watched her go, wondering if he was the only one who’d felt the sizzle of attraction that raced through his body when he touched her. Had she felt it as well? She hadn’t made any outward sign, and yet for a split second, something had flared in her eyes.
No, he told himself. What he’d felt was wishful thinking. What was that new term he’d read last week... projecting? Yes, that was it. He’d been projecting his own desires onto Sarah, even though he knew better. Sarah Howard was a married woman, and he was too much of a gentleman to pursue her. Besides, look what had happened to his friend Aidan, who had been foolish enough to dally with a sea captain’s wife while the man was away at sea. It didn’t matter that the woman had been more than willing. When her husband found out he’d been cuckolded, he’d challenged Aidan to a duel. A rare event these days, but Aidan had accepted the challenge. His foolish friend was still sporting a sling on the arm struck by the bullet.
And yet there was something about Sarah Howard. Something that didn’t quite ring true. By her own admission, she craved the adventure, the excitement of traveling to California. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Sometimes it was all he could do to tamp down his own enthusiasm. But everything about her spoke of a need for independence. Someone who was prepared to strike out on her own, as opposed to a dutiful wife in a supporting role.
He dismissed the idea with a small snort. Now he was reading things into her words and actions that weren’t there, and that was dangerous; he had some experience in that department.

* * *

Jamie had known Letitia Wilkerson most of her adult life. Her family owned one of the largest merchant banks in New York, and their families were co-invested in several major businesses. During her coming out season she’d effortlessly dominated the social scene. Her family’s wealth ensured that she was invited to every event, where she shone as the most beautiful debutante of the year. It had seemed only natural that she and Jamie would gravitate to one another, Lettie with her pale blonde hair and cool grey eyes, Jamie with his broad shoulders and dark, good looks.
He couldn’t quite pinpoint the time when he realized that Letitia was a shallow, self-centered woman. By then, it was expected that he would marry her, but life with a woman like Letitia would be one-sided. Already she was trying to manipulate him... something he detested... and he saw nothing but years of unhappiness stretching into the future.
Sarah reappeared, and he watched her go below. He couldn’t imagine Letitia taking care of someone who had just been sick. The idea was laughable, and yet it served to underscore the fact that he could never marry her. Fortunately, they had never been formally engaged, but when he’d told her that he was considering staying in San Francisco, she lashed out at him in a most un-ladylike manner. He hadn’t realized that she’d even heard the words that spewed out of her mouth, let alone use them, and he smiled now at the memory. He’d wanted to applaud her use of the vernacular, but that would have enraged her further. That day, it occurred to him now, was the first time he’d come close to liking her in over a year, and all because she’d shown genuine emotion when she swore like a sailor. The timing of his departure couldn’t have been better.
Prior to leaving, Jamie and his friend had met for one last drink together. Never one to hold back on his opinions, Aidan had suggested that he was taking the easy way out. “You’re running away,” he’d said, coming perilously close to the truth. “Although I can’t say I blame you. Lettie would eat you up and spit you out.”
Jamie had bristled at the comment. “Hold on there.” he’d said, prepared to defend himself.
“Don’t get me wrong.” Aidan signaled for another drink and lounged back in his chair. “What I meant to infer is that your damnable sense of honor would eventually prevail and you would end up marrying her simply because you’ve kept her from meeting anyone else.” He made a half-hearted grab for the barmaid as she placed their drinks on the table, and consoled himself with a deep draught. “And that would be a pity.”
“Yes, it would.” Jamie toyed with his glass. “Lettie will make someone a splendid wife.” He lifted the glass and took a small drink. “Just not me.”
“So you say.” Aidan had looked at him with knowing eyes. “But remember, this is Letitia Wilkerson we’re talking about. “She always gets what she wants.”
Jamie and Aidan had been friends for many years. They’d grown up together, and discovered women together, and sometimes Aidan knew him a little too well. His friend had the innate ability to get to the heart of the matter with a few well-chosen words. A useful skill in many instances, but there were times when Jamie would just as soon have avoided the truth. Like with Letitia.
His friend took another drink and stared into his glass as though wondering where the brandy had gone. Every once in a while, when Jamie least expected it, Aidan’s vulnerability showed, and he was reminded of what his friend had lost, and the emotional scars he carried to this day. No one else was ever witness to the pain in Aidan’s eyes and Jamie glanced away, hiding the sympathy he felt for his friend.
“Not this time she won’t.” Jamie stood. “Are you sure you won’t come with me? The ship leaves from Boston four days from today.”
A flash of something resembling interest crossed Aidan’s face, and then the old, devil-may-care facade slipped back into place.
“Some other time, my friend, but thank you for the invitation.” Aidan tried to bow while seated and almost fell from his chair.
Standing here now as the weather started to close in, Jamie smiled at the memory. Aidan could be boorish and annoying at times, but he was a loyal friend, and he would miss his company... one of the few things he would miss about New York.

Chapter Four

Sarah was relieved when Anna Taylor recovered from her sickness and appeared on deck a few days later. Within a week, passengers and crew had settled into a comfortable routine, and almost every day Sarah gave silent thanks that she’d been lucky enough to find passage on WindSprite.
Living in Boston, stories about ships captains abounded. Perhaps only the worst stories were repeated, but there were too many reports of mistreatment of crew members to be ignored. Here on WindSprite, Captain Johnson demanded high standards from his sailors, and yet their respect for him was evidenced by their actions, plus their cheerful dispositions. With little to do, she spent an hour or two with Melissa every day, allowing her mother time to rest. Anna had thought to bring some children’s story books, but after several weeks, Sarah knew the stories by heart, and she feared that her reading lacked her former enthusiasm.
A couple of pages before the end, Melissa would start to fidget. “Read it again, Sarah. Please.” Sometimes she wondered if the youngster even heard the stories. She looked up to find Jamie smiling at her. When the weather was favorable, which was most of the time, they had fallen into the habit of spending the few hours after supper on deck, judging the quality of the sunsets. She’d confided in him that the storytelling was becoming tedious, and that she was casting about for other ways to amuse the young girl.
Melissa tugged at her arm and she reluctantly tore her gaze away from Jamie. Sunset was several hours away, and she was already looking forward to that magical time of day.
“I’m sorry, Melissa. I promised the cook I’d help him this afternoon.”
“Mr. Reed?” The child smiled brightly. Levi Reed had not only fed the passengers well, he’d completely charmed the young girl with his fanciful stories of sea monsters.
“Yes. I’m going to help him bake some pies.” She re-tied Melissa’s hair ribbon. “Do you like apple pie?”
The child nodded.
“All right then. Go to your mother while I go below and help Mr. Reed.”

* * *

“Do you believe what they say?” Levi Reed peeled and cored apples while Sarah rolled out pastry. “My mother used to say that people with cold hands produce the best pastry.”
Sarah didn’t look up, but she nodded. “Mine says the same thing.” She transferred the sheet of pastry to the baking dish. “When I was small, I’d watch her bake pies. She was famous for all of her baking, but her pies were in demand for every social event. When I close my eyes, I can see her hands.” She paused for a moment, lost in thought. “By the way, thank you for allowing me in your kitchen. I’m accustomed to being active, and I’m finding the pace of life on board positively glacial.”
“Soon you might find it too hot to do much of anything. We’re reaching the southern latitudes.” He filled the baking dish with apples and passed it back to her for the top crust. “It’s a rare voyage when we aren’t becalmed once or twice.” He brightened. “Although that’s often followed by a storm. Cools us down a treat, and we collect all the fresh water we can.”
Sarah stepped back and admired the remaining pies. Three pies were in the oven, sending mouth-watering smells drifting throughout the ship. “How many days do you think it will take for us to get there? I’ve heard so many different estimates.”
The ship went into a long, slow roll and Levi rolled with it. Sarah braced herself against the edge of the table.
“Hard to say,” he said. “Four months is good time, although we’ve done it in less. We don’t have the speed of the new clippers.”
“I’ve heard some of the new ones are setting records.”
Levi shrugged. “Yes, but WindSprite isn’t far behind, and the captain knows how to handle her. It all depends on the weather.” He grinned at her. “But you, being from Boston, would know that.”
She acknowledged his comment with a nod. “It’s difficult to live in Boston and not absorb a certain amount of knowledge about the sea. But my main interest has always been medicine.”
“Medicine?” He frowned.
“Yes,” she continued. My father’s medical practise was in our home, and he allowed me to help him.” She waited for the usual expression of dismay, but saw none.
“I would imagine you were quite a help to him. You have competent hands.”
Sarah found herself blushing, something she rarely did. “Thank you.” She decided not to bore him with the tale of her failure to attend medical school. “It’s a fascinating subject.”
“And your husband is a doctor. You’ll be able to assist him, as well.”
For a moment she didn’t know what he was talking about, then recovered. “Yes. Devon and I make a good pair.” Now that she was getting to know her shipmates better, she was finding it increasingly difficult to perpetuate the lie. But she had no other choice.
“Thanks again for allowing me to help. I enjoyed it.”
“I did as well.” Levi grabbed a handful of his apron and prepared to remove the first pies from the oven. “I’ll see you at supper.”

* * *

“The pie was good.” Sarah and Jamie strolled on the deck after supper.
Sarah acknowledged his compliment with a small smile. “It felt good to be doing something. I enjoy making bread as well, but I don’t want to impose myself. It was generous of Levi to allow me to trespass in his kitchen. And what did you do today?”
“I spent some time with the captain, but other than that it was the usual routine.”
Sarah studied the colorful sky as the sun dove toward the horizon. “A nice sunset, but not the best we’ve seen.”
“Hmmm.” He sounded distracted and she looked up to find him studying her. His gaze lingered on her face, then he broke away to study the sunset. Instead of bothering her, she found his interest exciting. What would it be like to be with a man like Jamie? Someone whose masculinity was palpable. It was becoming more difficult to spend time with him, especially in these quiet evening hours, when they were usually alone. She was beginning to fantasize about touching his face; she wanted to feel the coarse stubble on his chin.
“So what do you think?”
“I beg your pardon?” She snapped out of her reverie.
His eyes sparkled as though he’d read her thoughts. “The sunset. Shall we rate it an eight?”
She tore her gaze away from his lips. “I give it a seven tonight. Let’s save the big numbers for something truly spectacular.”
Jamie frowned, as though trying to determine if there was a double meaning behind her words. “Agreed,” he murmured. “It can only get better from here.”

* * *

In spite of the difference in their ages, a solid friendship developed between Sarah and Lucy. Sarah cherished the older woman’s wisdom, and knew that such closeness would have been unlikely back in Boston. As the ship sailed into the southern hemisphere, Lucy passed her time working on an endless supply of embroidery projects, and tried to teach Sarah, but her efforts lacked consistency and Sarah eventually threw up her hands in despair. “I’m wasting your precious embroidery thread,” she said as Lucy cast a critical eye at her work. “I doubt that embroidery thread is something that will be available in the stores when we get there.”
“You make a good point.” Lucy took back the proffered thread and the needle and tucked them away carefully. “Although I daresay you can stitch up a sliced finger as neat as you please.”
“That I can do.” Sarah glanced toward the ship’s rail, where Jamie was supervising Melissa as she attempted to fish. The weather had grown colder the past couple of weeks and Sarah knew that their days outside were numbered.
“He’s a handsome man,” observed Lucy, but her attention was on Sarah.
Sarah watched as Jamie leaned over the child, showing her how to hold the fishing pole. “Yes,” she sighed, and in that moment, she decided to tell Lucy the truth. She turned to confess her deception, but from the look in Lucy’s eyes she could tell that the other woman had already guessed the truth.
“You’ve figured it out.” Sarah held the other woman’s gaze.
Lucy nodded. “But I’d like to hear it from you.”
Sarah glanced around to make sure she couldn’t be overheard. “I’m not married, and I’m sorry I pretended otherwise.” She shifted her position so she could look directly at the other woman. “I didn’t see how I could possibly make the trip as a single woman.”
Lucy raised her eyebrows, but remained silent.
“You see...” Sarah plucked a piece of embroidery thread from her skirt. “...everything changed for me on Valentine’s Day, when my fiancé and I decided that we didn’t love each other enough to go through with marriage.”
“A wise decision.”
Sarah looked up, startled. “Do you think so?”
“I wouldn’t say so, otherwise.” Lucy’s tone was matter-of-fact.
“No, of course you wouldn’t.” Sarah continued her explanation. “Fortunately for me, my mother understood when I told her I wanted to get away. She helped me plan everything right up to my escape.”
Lucy set down her embroidery. “Your escape?”
Sarah frowned. “I’ve made it sound more dramatic than it really was. But mother and I both knew that I couldn’t leave when my father was around, so we managed to book passage on this ship which was scheduled to depart while father was in New York at a medical conference.”
Lucy picked up her embroidery again. “That’s right. You told me your father was a doctor. Is his name Devon?”
“No, that’s my brother’s name.”
“Another doctor?”
Sarah laughed. “Not a chance. My father was greatly disappointed when Devon told him he wasn’t interested. No, Dev still hasn’t decided what he wants to do, although he’s working now at a ship’s chandlery.” She paused to think. “He could probably be very good at it if he tried.”
A squeal of delight came from the ship’s rail. Melissa had hooked a fish. Lucy’s face softened as she watched Jamie with her. “He’s attracted to you. You must be aware of that.”
Jamie hauled in a small fish which flopped on the deck. “Yes,” she said. “But I’m hoping you’ll keep my secret.”
Lucy considered her request for a few moments. “For the time being. But when we get to California, you might find it helpful to have a male friend. I hear it’s a rough place, and that’s putting it mildly.” She tilted her head. “Not to be indelicate, but do you have enough money?”
“I hope so. My grandmother left me some money, and my mother went to New York and sold some valuable jewellery that she’d inherited.” She thought of the money tucked away in her trunk. “I’m not afraid to work, and in the meantime I’m sure I have enough to get established.”
“We shall see.” Lucy shoved her work into a carpet bag as Melissa came running over with her fish.
“Yes,” murmured Sarah. “We shall see.”

* * *

After supper that night, the captain turned serious as he looked at each of his passengers in turn. “You saw me exchange signals this morning with that frigate.”
“What was that about, Captain Johnson?” Sarah had been curious all day.
“We exchanged latitude and longitude. Passing ships do that from time to time as it’s an excellent way to confirm our position. He doubled the Cape three weeks ago.”
It was difficult not to shudder. Doubling the Cape was the most dangerous part of the voyage.
“He’s sailed this route most of his life, and he informed me that the weather is particularly foul this winter. So I’ve decided to double the Cape instead of chancing the Straits of Magellan.” He looked around at the adults. “I’ll give you a day’s warning, and you’ll need to put away any loose items in your quarters. The seas can become violent, as we’re here in the middle of their winter.”
Anna Taylor let out a small whimper.
“Mrs. Taylor, perhaps you and your daughter should stay in your cabin as much as possible. The steward will bring your meals.”
“How long?” she asked, eyes wide.
“It’s hard to predict. Somewhere between a week and two weeks.” He paused. “I did it in eight days the last time, but the weather was far nicer than what we’ll have this time.”
“I’ll help with Missy.” Sarah wondered if she’d regret the spontaneous offer.
“As will I.” Jamie spoke kindly. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Taylor. After this, it’s clear sailing all the way to California.”
The captain frowned at him, but said nothing. Jamie shot a grateful look in the captain’s direction, and the discussion was over.
“Did you mean that?” Sarah asked the next morning as they caught a breath of fresh air on the deck. “About clear sailing all the way to California?”
Jamie looked guilty. “I have no idea. I shouldn’t have said that, but the poor woman needed something to hang on to.”
Sarah nodded her agreement. “You did the right thing.” She looked at the darkening sky. “I think we’re all going to need support.”

End of excerpt

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