Saturday, October 6, 2018

Book Review: A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler


Hi all,

If you loved the novel: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fower, then you are going to love her latest novel, too. Read more below.


A Well-Behaved Woman:

A Novel of The Vanderbilts

Therese Anne Fowler


Book Description:

The riveting novel of iron-willed Alva Vanderbilt and her illustrious family as they rule Gilded-Age New York, from the New York Times bestselling author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Alva Smith, her southern family destitute after the Civil War, married into one of America’s great Gilded Age dynasties: the newly wealthy but socially shunned Vanderbilts. Ignored by New York’s old-money circles and determined to win respect, she designed and built nine mansions, hosted grand balls, and arranged for her daughter to marry a duke. But Alva also defied convention for women of her time, asserting power within her marriage and becoming a leader in the women's suffrage movement.

With a nod to Jane Austen and Edith Wharton, in A Well-Behaved Woman Therese Anne Fowler paints a glittering world of enormous wealth contrasted against desperate poverty, of social ambition and social scorn, of friendship and betrayal, and an unforgettable story of a remarkable woman. Meet Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, living proof that history is made by those who know the rules—and how to break them.


Release Date: October 16, 2018
Genre: Historical Women’s Fiction/Biographical

Order now on:




My 5-Star Review:

I loved Therese Anne Fower’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald so I already knew I was going to read a fantastic story when I started reading A Well-Behaved Woman. And I wasn’t disappointed.

When Alva Smith married William Vanderbilt, in desperation for money to support her family, she did bring something important to the table—her family name and influence. Under her careful leadership, Alva raised up the name of Vanderbilt above the “old money” families and in doing so, made a place for herself in the top echelons of society. But Alva was more than just a society woman. She showed from the beginning that she could make a difference and change social beliefs and opinions, as well as help those most in need.

A Well-Behaved Woman is a powerful story of those at the top, of how women can make a difference, and how making the right choices can lead to the sweetest outcome. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical biographical fiction.

(I received an advance copy of this novel from the publisher and NetGalley and have given my honest review.)



About the Author:

Therese Anne Fowler (pronounced ta-reece) is the third child and only daughter of a couple who raised their children in Milan, Illinois. An avowed tomboy as a child, Therese protested her grandmother’s determined attempts to dress her in frills, and then, to further her point, insisted on playing baseball even though Milan had a perfectly good girls’ softball league. She was one of the first girls in the U.S. to play Little League baseball.

After a too-early first marriage and a stint as the single mother of two terrific (now grown-up) sons, she went on to earn a BA in sociology/cultural anthropology and an MFA in creative writing, both from North Carolina State University.  Her first novel was published in 2008.
A book’s fate is almost entirely outside its author’s control. Some are published with a lot of marketing and publicity support, but most are not. After the publication of three contemporary novels, each of which sold fewer copies than the previous one, Therese faced a hard truth: her career was in a nosedive. Her editor at the time felt she should take on a pen name and try again with the same sort of book, but Therese was not persuaded. She decided, instead, to write a biographical historical novel about Zelda Fitzgerald, Z, which was published in 2013.

Therese’s work has been translated into more than twenty foreign languages and is published around the world. Z is now available as an original dramatic series for Amazon Studios starring Christina Ricci, with Killer Films producing. (Amazon has elected not to continue with its order for a second season.)

What Therese has discovered is that she has an affinity for badass women from history whose stories have been either mistold or are largely untold. Her next novel centers on Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, a determined, opinionated, compassionate, often amusing woman from America’s Gilded Age. A Well-Behaved Woman, a kind of homage to Edith Wharton with a dash of affection for Jane Austen for good measure, will be published by St. Martin’s Press on October 16, 2018. A Well-Behaved Woman is in development with Sony Pictures Television.

Therese has been a visiting professor at North Carolina State University and occasionally teaches fiction writing at conferences and workshops. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and PEN America, she is married to award-winning professor and author John Kessel. They reside in North Carolina.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston

Book Review


The Little Shop of Found Things

Paula Brackston


Book Description:

New York Times bestselling author of The Witch's Daughter Paula Brackston returns to her trademark blend of magic and romance guaranteed to enchant in The Little Shop of Found Things, the first book in a new continuing series.
An antique shop haunted by a ghost.
A silver treasure with an injustice in its story.
An adventure to the past she’ll never forget.
Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. When she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine she has to know more.
It is while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century where it has its origins. She discovers there is an injustice in its history. The spirit that inhabits her new home confronts her and charges her with saving her daughter’s life, threatening to take Flora’s if she fails.
While Xanthe fights to save the girl amid the turbulent days of 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave.


Release Date: October 16, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy


Order now on:



My 5-Star Review:

I must preface this by saying that I have read all of Paula Brackston’s “witch” books and enjoyed them immensely, so it went without saying that I would read anything new that she wrote. And I’m very happy that I read her newest novel, The Little Shop of Found Things. While this isn’t a novel about witches, it is a story with magical qualities and interesting characters that made it very hard to put down.

Xanthe is a special woman who sells antiques with her mother and has the ability to “feel” certain things about the most special items that come into her life. Moving to a new town to start their life over again, Xanthe and her mother, Flora, buy an old antique shop in need of a lot of love and cleaning. While attending an auction to buy items to fill their new shop, Xanthe is drawn to one particular item and must have it. That item takes her on an adventure through time where she must come to the aid of a young girl or else risk the consequences of a very angry ghost. Sounds intriguing? It is, believe me.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The characters come to life and take you on a journey that you will not soon forget. Once again, Ms. Brackston has created a unique world with interesting characters. It is a story you will not want to miss.

(I received a copy of this novel from the NetGalley and the publisher and have given an honest review.)


About the Author:

Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is a Visiting Lecturer for the University of Wales, Newport. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly. 

When not hunched over her keyboard in her tiny office under the stairs, Paula is dragged outside by her children to play Swedish tennis on the vertiginous slopes which surround them. She also enjoys being walked by the dog, hacking through weeds in the vegetable patch, or sitting by the pond with a glass of wine. Most of the inspiration for her writing comes from stomping about on the mountains being serenaded by skylarks and buzzards.

In 2007 Paula was shortlisted in the Creme de la Crime search for new writers. In 2010 her book 'Nutters' (writing as PJ Davy) was shortlisted for the Mind Book Award. Last year she was selected by the BBC under their New Welsh Writers scheme.


Don’t miss my review of Paula Brackston’s novel, The Witch’s Daughter.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Release Day ~ Miss Etta: A Novel

Miss Etta ~ Release Day!


What Reviewers Are Saying:

“This is a fantastic story, a great adventure, and a real joy to read.  I highly recommend this book to all lovers of romance, action, adventure, and history.5-Star Review from Readers’ Favorite

"Sletten’s fast-paced novel is inspired by real history and features historical figures Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The suspense surrounding both real and fictionalized events helps weave the narrative together and lends it an authentic feel—readers soon forget to wonder what is real and what is fiction in this heartwarming story." --Critic's Report - The BookLife Prize 


"Miss Etta is the great novel every writer hopes to pen in their lifetime and the book every reader is dying to find. By mixing known facts with fiction, it tells the story of Etta Place, Sundance the Kid’s wife. The book has action/adventure, with gunslinging bank robbers, brothels, and daring escapes. Friendships that last lifetimes are featured, as is a love triangle, family secrets, and difficult decisions that brought me to tears at the end. If I had to tell people what the book is about in one sentence, I’d say it’s the Titanic of the Wild West. If you love women’s historical fiction, read Miss Etta. It’s a story you will never forget."
--Kim Cano, Author



It's finally here!

Release Day for

MISS ETTA

This novel holds a special place in my heart. I started writing it
over 25 years ago. I wrote it out by hand in notebooks
while sitting at my children's baseball practices or during stolen
moments in my van as I waited for the kids to get out
of school.

And now it's finally here!

I waited a long time to finish this novel 
because I never thought the time was right to
publish it. But with a renewed interest
by readers in historical fiction,
I set aside all my other writing projects
and finished MISS ETTA.

And now I can finally share it with all of you.

I hope you enjoy this story. I have to say, it's my favorite of all my books.


Book Description:

She rode with the most famous outlaws of her time. Then she vanished.

In the fall of 1895, Etta Place falls in love with Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid. She gives up everything to follow him and his partner-in-crime, Butch Cassidy, in their outlaw life across the continent and beyond. Breathtakingly beautiful and every inch a lady, Etta can also ride and shoot as well as any man. As their fugitive life begins to crumble, she finds herself alone and living in a convent with her newborn son. Knowing she can’t hide away forever, she moves halfway across the country to begin anew. Etta prays her past won’t catch up with her.

In 1911 Emily Pleasants steps onto the train station platform of Pine Creek, Minnesota with a teacher’s contract in hand and a secret life she’s fled. A young widow with a small son, she’s searching for a safe place to raise her child where no one will recognize her. She meets Edward Sheridan, a successful merchant and bank owner, who quickly falls for her beauty, intelligence, and kindness. Still, she worries her notorious past will threaten the one thing dearest to her—her son.

From the deserts of Texas to the sweeping vistas of Wyoming, the refinement of New York City to the lush valleys of Argentina, Etta followed the outlaw men she loved so dearly. And then, she disappeared.

One woman, two separate lives. What became of the elusive Etta Place?  


Buy Now:


Barnes & Noble Nook: http://ow.ly/JOeu30kjekn

Apple iBooks: http://ow.ly/pZUJ30kmk9N



Paperback: https://amzn.to/2PyKgDh
 Audiobook:  https://amzn.to/2Pn12EJ   






If you read MISS ETTA and love it,
please take a moment to review online
and tell your friends!


Friday, August 17, 2018

New Release: Forever and a Day by Kristen Casey


New Release!

Forever and a Day
Cover created by Tugboat Design
Kristen Casey

A Second Chances Novella and Short Story Bundle

--Contemporary Romance
--Release Date: August 17, 2018

Book Description:

If you read Finding Forever, then you know…never is a very long time.

When Dimitri said that he was never going to get married again, he was dead serious. After all, he had to focus on raising his small daughter Lilly now that he was her only parent. Besides, there was no way he could endure another broken heart like the one his first wife’s passing gave him.

Too bad life had other plans—Lilly’s new teacher Emily is too young, too pretty, and too untouched by life’s darker moments to make any sense at all for him. She’s also too perfect to ignore. What’s worse is that Emily wants him just as much as he wants her.

If you loved Finding Forever, then you know…you have to discover what happens when never becomes FOREVER AND A DAY. 

Includes the bonus short story FOREVER STARTS NOW!

The Flynn and O’Connell sisters have gone through a lot to secure their happily-ever-afters. Now, one weekend and two big milestones will finally bring them all together again—in this sweet and funny conclusion to the Second Chances series.  

Buy Now:


Visit Kristen’s website: http://bit.ly/2NAViG9



About the Author:

Kristen Casey writes the kind of heartfelt, steamy romances that she loves to read, full of relatable characters and witty dialogue. She lives in Maryland with her husband, two kids, and assorted cats. In her free time, she enjoys all things crafty—especially projects she discovers on Pinterest. 

Visit her at:


Monday, August 6, 2018

Obsessed with Real-Life Characters: On Writing Miss Etta


Obsessed with Real-Life Characters
On Writing Miss Etta

Deanna Lynn Sletten

The obsession began over twenty years ago. While watching a favorite movie—“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”—I began to wonder, what were the real outlaws like? Thus began a long research project that turned into an obsession and two novels.

At first, I began reading every book I could get my hands on about the two outlaws. Surprisingly, there were many. An amazing pair of researchers had written two books and two of the outlaw’s relatives had written books also. Butch’s own sister, Lula Betenson, had written a book about her brother, Robert LeRoy Parker, even though she’d been a baby when he’d left home at the age of eighteen. Every book added a new piece to the puzzle of who the outlaws were and how they lived their lives. And while I found the two men interesting, what fascinated me the most was how little anyone knew of the beautiful, educated, charming Miss Etta Place.

A mystery. My obsession grew.

In 2001 (and then 2011) I published a middle-grade novel titled Outlaw Heroes about a twelve-year-old boy who is swept back in time and joins in on the escapades of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In doing so, the young boy learns a few life lessons. Etta Place played a small but important role in that book. It’s a fun adventure, and so far, has been enjoyed by those who have read it. But after writing that book, I knew I wanted to write more about these characters. Particularly, Etta Place.

The Wild Bunch - November 1900
Left to right front: Harry Longabaugh, Ben Kilpatrick, Butch Cassidy
Back: Will Carver, Harvey Logan


In the years that followed, I continued to research each character from every source I could find. From the well-known books by Butch and Sundance researchers to the obscure—even Captain William French had written a book about his life including his W S Ranch and his friendship with the outlaws. I found old newspaper clippings that pertained to the two wily outlaws. While on vacation, several times, I stopped at places they had robbed — the bank in Winnemucca, the Tipton sign on a deserted stretch of railroad in Wyoming. I wanted to get a feel for them having been there and see what they saw. I had copies of the Wild Bunch photo and the one of Harry and Etta in New York framed on my desk. I obsessed.

And still, who was Etta Place?

I created a timeline of the dates and places Butch and Sundance were, both together and separately. From the first known moment when Etta appeared in Sundance’s life in the winter of 1896 in Robbers Roost, to the last moment when she was no longer mentioned in their life in South America. Taking that information, I weaved her story in among known facts about Butch and Sundance.

Still, where did she come from? Who was she?

No one knows that answer. It is believed that she worked for Fannie Mae Porter in San Antonio as prostitute and that is where Harry met her. One account said that Etta was Butch’s girlfriend in Robbers Roost before being Harry’s. Other accounts say she was a teacher, a music teacher, or she was his cousin. Looking into her young, unlined face in the photo taken of her and Harry in 1901 tells its own story.

New York City, NY - February 1901
Harry Longabaugh and Etta Place




I doubt that Etta was a prostitute. She doesn’t have the hard, used look as most women of that occupation did. She was thought to be nineteen in 1896 when she first was seen with Harry. She looks very young in the 1901 photo too – five years later. I also have my doubts that Harry would have taken a prostitute as a wife or girlfriend. Despite being an outlaw, Harry was raised in a respectable family. He had looked up to his elder sister, Samanna, who was dignified and beautiful. I believe that when choosing a life partner, Harry would have wanted someone he could be proud to bring home. A woman with an education, with manners and grace, and who was lovely to look at. But as an outlaw, he needed to have a companion who could follow him anywhere, living both high and rough, and able to manage both. That is what makes Etta so fascinating.

I gave Etta an interesting past that would have enabled her to ride a horse well, shoot as well as any man, yet be able to charm the most dignified guest. That is how many people who’d known her described her. And she must have loved Harry very much, to follow him around the rugged west, and all the way to Argentina to start their lives over again, without knowing what lay ahead of them. She was lovely, yes, but she was strong.

The story of Etta, Harry, and Butch lives on because it is such an interesting one. No one knows for certain what became of them. They lived as outlaws in the United States, tried to go straight in South America, but had to go back to crime when the authorities hounded them. They had a moral code unlike most criminals of their day, and even a sense of humor about themselves. They lived, loved, and laughed a lot, but in the end, we have no idea if they made the greatest escape of all or died bloody and were buried in unmarked graves. All I know is that after writing two books about these characters, I doubt that I’ve laid them to rest.

I’m still obsessed.

I hope you will be too.




Miss Etta: A Novel


My historical women’s fiction novel, Miss Etta, is available or preorder and will release on September 4, 2018. The paperback will be available for purchase on that date as well, and the audiobook should be available by November. Here is more about Miss Etta.

Book Description:

She rode with the most famous outlaws of her time. Then she vanished.

In the fall of 1895, Etta Place falls in love with Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid. She gives up everything to follow him and his partner-in-crime, Butch Cassidy, in their outlaw life across the continent and beyond. Breathtakingly beautiful and every inch a lady, Etta can also ride and shoot as well as any man. As their fugitive life begins to crumble, she finds herself alone and living in a convent with her newborn son. Knowing she can’t hide away forever, she moves halfway across the country to begin anew. Etta prays her past won’t catch up with her.

In 1911 Emily Pleasants steps onto the train station platform of Pine Creek, Minnesota with a teacher’s contract in hand and a secret life she’s fled. A young widow with a small son, she’s searching for a safe place to raise her child where no one will recognize her. She meets Edward Sheridan, a successful merchant and bank owner, who quickly falls for her beauty, intelligence, and kindness. Still, she worries her notorious past will threaten the one thing dearest to her—her son.

From the deserts of Texas to the sweeping vistas of Wyoming, the refinement of New York City to the lush valleys of Argentina, Etta followed the outlaw men she loved so dearly. And then, she disappeared.

One woman, two separate lives. What became of the elusive Etta Place?

Preorder Now:

Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2MjfFdP

Barnes & Noble Nook: http://ow.ly/JOeu30kjekn

Apple iBooks: http://ow.ly/pZUJ30kmk9N








(Article copyright 2018 Deanna Lynn Sletten. May not be reproduced without permission.) 




Saturday, August 4, 2018

Miss Etta New Release Giveaway!

Miss Etta New Release Giveaway!


Miss Etta: A Novel

Releasing September 4, 2018

I am so excited about the upcoming release of my latest
novel that I am having a giveaway!

Enter now for a chance to win 

1 - $100 Amazon Gift Card
or
1 - $25 Amazon Gift Card

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter. The more entries you have, the better your chance of winning.

You can also leave a comment to enter if you do not belong to
Raffelcopter.

Contest runs 8/4/2018 to 9/4/2018

U.S., UK, Australia, & Canada Residents Only.
One winner will receive the $100 Amazon Gift Card
and One winner will receive the $25 Amazon Gift Card.
Winners will be contacted and have 3 days to respond. If
no response, another winner will be contacted.

Good Luck!

And remember to preorder your copy of
Miss Etta: A Novel
on one of the following platforms:

Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2MjfFdP

Barnes & Noble Nook: http://ow.ly/JOeu30kjekn

Apple iBooks: http://ow.ly/pZUJ30kmk9N





Coming soon to paperback & audiobook.





Miss Etta: A Novel

Deanna Lynn Sletten

Book Description:

She rode with the most famous outlaws of her time. Then she vanished.


In the fall of 1895, Etta Place falls in love with Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid. She gives up everything to follow him and his partner-in-crime, Butch Cassidy, in their outlaw life across the continent and beyond. Breathtakingly beautiful and every inch a lady, Etta can also ride and shoot as well as any man. As their fugitive life begins to crumble, she finds herself alone and living in a convent with her newborn son. Knowing she can’t hide away forever, she moves halfway across the country to begin anew. Etta prays her past won’t catch up with her.

In 1911 Emily Pleasants steps onto the train station platform of Pine Creek, Minnesota with a teacher’s contract in hand and a secret life she’s fled. A young widow with a small son, she’s searching for a safe place to raise her child where no one will recognize her. She meets Edward Sheridan, a successful merchant and bank owner, who quickly falls for her beauty, intelligence, and kindness. Still, she worries her notorious past will threaten the one thing dearest to her—her son.

From the deserts of Texas to the sweeping vistas of Wyoming, the refinement of New York City to the lush valleys of Argentina, Etta followed the outlaw men she loved so dearly. And then, she disappeared.

One woman, two separate lives. What became of the elusive Etta Place?


Enter Now!


Friday, July 13, 2018

Chapter Reveal: First Three Chapters of Miss Etta

Hi all,

We are about a month-and-a-half away from the publication of my novel, MISS ETTA, and I'm getting excited about sharing this novel with all of you. MISS ETTA is a fictional novel about a real-life woman, Etta Place, who lived an extremly exciting life, then vanished into thin air. She rode with the famous outlaws, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and was also Sundance's girlfriend. She was described as being beautiful and well-mannered, yet could ride and shoot as well as a man. Still, no one knows her real name or what became of her, and that is what I find the most interesting of all.

Below are the first three chapters of MISS ETTA. I hope you enjoy them.


Miss Etta: A Novel
Historical Women's Fiction

Release date: September 4, 2018

Preorder now:
Amazon Kindle: https://amzn.to/2MjfFdP
Barnes & Noble Nook: http://ow.ly/JOeu30kjekn





Prologue


San Francisco, CA

1972



Susan Sheridan hurried out of her car and headed across the street to the assisted-living facility where her grandmother lived. She checked her watch as she waited for the cable car to pass. As a reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle, Susan usually sprinted from place to place to catch a story for the paper. But today was different. Her grandmother had called and requested she come to see her. Susan loved her grandmother dearly, but she wished she could wait until the weekend to talk to her. But Grandma Em wasn’t normally an impatient woman, so Susan felt she should at least check on her.

She entered the building and waved to the receptionist in the office near the entryway. As a frequent visitor, Susan was recognized and didn’t have to check in. She slipped into the elevator and shared the ride up with Mrs. Jenkowski, who complained that her grandchildren never came to visit and proclaimed Susan to be a very good girl. Susan didn’t feel like a good girl. She felt guilty about wanting to rush her visit with her grandmother so she could leave.

Susan walked down the plush carpeted hallway, and sure enough, there was her grandmother waiting for her in the apartment’s doorway. The receptionist had obviously buzzed her to let her know her granddaughter was on her way up.

Grandma Em gave Susan a hug. “I’m so happy you could come by this morning.” She turned and walked to her favorite rocker in the living room.

Susan noticed that her grandma walked a little slower these days. But at ninety-six years old, it was expected that this once lively woman would slow down.

Susan followed and sat on the sofa across from her grandmother. In-between them on the coffee table sat an antique carved wooden box with a tiny gold key. Susan gazed at the box, enchanted. It had intricate leaf detailing decorating the lid and looked to be made of very fine wood. She was surprised she’d never seen it before.

“That’s for later, dear.” Grandma Em settled back in her rocker. “For now, we need to talk.”

Susan noticed that her grandmother sounded weary. Her long, silver hair was styled in its usual bun on the top of her head, a few loose tendrils framing her face which was wrinkled and soft with age. Her eyes were a beautiful lavender-blue that Susan had inherited. Susan thought her grandmother’s eyes looked different today, though. They weren’t just tired; they looked resigned.

“Is something wrong, Grandma?” Susan asked, beginning to worry why she’d been summoned here on such short notice. Was her grandmother ill? Her grandmother had always been the picture of good health. Susan hoped whatever was wrong wasn’t serious.

Grandma Em shook her head. “No, dear. Nothing is wrong. And I know you’re a busy woman, but I have something I need to tell you. A story that’s waited a long time to be told. Do you have that recording device of yours I asked you to bring?”

Susan nodded and dug through her purse for her small tape recorder. She used it on interviews to report quotes accurately. After checking to make sure the tape in it was new, she set it on the table in front of her. “Grandma, I’m sure what you want to tell me is interesting, but maybe we could do this on Saturday. I have two stories on deadline and one interview I still have to go to and…”

“Dear,” Grandma Em interrupted. “I think you’ll want to hear this. I’m not sure I’ll ever be as ready to tell it as I am today.”

Susan took a deep breath and nodded. She could never deny her grandmother anything. They had always been close, but after Susan’s mother had died of cancer when Susan was fifteen years old, their relationship had grown even closer.

“Okay, Grandma,” she said, resigning herself to staying put for a while. She clicked the tape recorder on. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Susan,” Grandma Em began, settling deeper into her rocker. “You know me only as your grandmother, the retired teacher. And your father knows me only as his mother and the wife of his stepfather, Edward Sheridan. But once, a long time ago, before I met your grandfather, my life was different. Very different indeed.”




Chapter One

Pine Creek, MN

August 1911



Emily Pleasants stepped off the train onto the platform, scanning the small station with her lavender-blue eyes. It had been a long trip across country from California to Minnesota and she felt weary. The August afternoon was hot and humid, forming beads of perspiration under her corset. She raised a slender, gloved hand to smooth the back of her already perfect chignon, making sure her small hat was still in place, as she continued to scan the Pine Creek train station. She wanted nothing more than to find the gentleman who was supposed to meet her and be taken to her rooms.

From beside her came a soft sigh. Emily smiled down at the small boy standing there. Dressed in a brown suit and hat, he looked like a miniature adult, his gray-blue eyes staring up at her in question.
Emily lifted her gaze to the platform again, but the only people she saw were the ones who had also stepped off the train. At the far end, she caught sight of a man neatly dressed in a navy three-piece suit, impatiently staring at a gold pocket watch as if he was late for an appointment. He didn’t look like a small-town school board member to her—he looked like a banker. Emily chuckled softly. She could spot a banker in a crowd any day. She’d had plenty of experience with bankers.

Sighing, she gave up waiting and decided to go inside the station’s building. Perhaps the manager would know who was picking her up. Leaving her bags on the platform, Emily offered her hand to the boy beside her.

“Come along, Harry,” she said, her voice gentle but authoritative. The little boy took her hand and followed her into the plank board building.

***

Edward Sheridan stood at the end of the platform studying his gold pocket watch for the hundredth time. He watched as the passengers disembarked and scattered, becoming impatient when he didn’t see the new schoolteacher among them. A pretty, young woman with a small child beside her caught his eye, then he dismissed her immediately. He was not waiting for a young mother. He’d been sent by the school board to greet the new schoolmarm.

Edward watched the woman and young boy enter the station and turned his brown eyes again toward the train. No one else alighted from the passenger cars. Sighing, he contemplated what might have become of the woman. Perhaps she’d missed one of her transfers and would arrive on a later train. That wasn’t entirely impossible, considering the distance she was traveling. His biggest fear was that she’d decided not to come after all. It had taken the board months to find a new schoolteacher and her references had been impeccable. Perhaps she’d decided Minnesota was too far a distance, the weather was too dreary, or the pay was too low for her liking. He truly hoped not. Finding a teacher for their small town was becoming more difficult with each passing year, especially with the larger cities paying higher wages and offering more opportunities for advancement. Small towns had so little to offer. They were lucky to keep a teacher for an entire school year.

The heat became increasingly unbearable and Edward felt trickles of sweat under his three-piece suit. He adjusted his vest over his waistline and studied his watch once more before deciding the train held no more passengers. Dropping the watch back into his vest pocket, Edward walked into the station to inquire about the next train.

“Well now, here’s just the man you’re looking for,” Ernie Carlson, the station manager, blurted out as Edward entered the stuffy building.

Edward looked up to see the young woman with the child standing in front of the counter. The woman turned and stared at Edward, a look of relief on her face changing into one of confusion.

“Mr. Sheridan?” she inquired in a soft, yet purposeful voice. The boy beside her only stared.

“Yes, ma’am, this here’s Edward Sheridan,” Ernie replied as if the question had been directed at him. “This here’s the new schoolteacher, Mr. Sheridan. She’s been asking about you.”

Now it was Edward’s turn to be confused. He stared at the handsome woman before him, studying her with furrowed brows. She had hair the color of shining mahogany piled expertly upon her head and skin so smooth not a line showed on her face. Her traveling outfit and small hat looked to have been made of the finest materials and fit her slender figure as if cut specifically for her. Just above her left breast hung a lapel watch that glittered of gold with an intricate leaf design etched on its cover. This was a woman of substance and quality standing before him, not a woman of meager means, scratching her way through life on a schoolteacher’s salary. Surely, there was some mistake.

“Mr. Sheridan?” the woman inquired again, this time her voice holding a more commanding tone. 

Realizing that his eyes were still upon the watch that hung above her breast, Edward snapped them up to her face, feeling his face flush all the way up to his hairline. A small chuckle came from Ernie behind the counter. Edward thought for certain he would perish from the heat rising inside him from his embarrassment than from the temperature outside. Anger at his lack of discretion caused him to draw his full lips into a thin line under his neatly trimmed mustache.

The schoolteacher, however, seemed unaffected by either Edward’s rude stare or Ernie’s chuckle. She crossed the space between them, offering her gloved hand in greeting. The little boy followed quietly at her side.

“Mr. Sheridan, I’m Emily Pleasants. It is so nice to finally meet you.” She stood there, hand in mid-air for several seconds before Edward had the good sense to grasp it in his own. Her petite hand was practically lost in his large one.

“Miss Pleasants?” he asked, still not quite believing this was the woman they’d hired.

“Mrs. Pleasants,” she corrected, returning her hand to her side and placing it around the boy’s small shoulders. “This is my son, Harry.”

Hat in hand, little Harry stretched out his other hand to greet Edward. Still somewhat dazed, Edward reached down and shook the tiny hand. Little Harry smiled up at him with shining eyes, his blond head bright in the dim light of the station.

“Pleased to meet you,” Edward mumbled, and Harry only smiled then stepped back to his mother’s side.

Silence filled the small station as the seconds ticked by. Outside, the train whistled in announcement of its taking leave, heading east to St. Paul.

The shrill of the whistle pulled Edward to his senses. He cleared his throat and focused on the woman before him, who continued to watch him in anticipation of his making the first move. Finally, he found his voice. “I’m sorry for my confusion, Miss, ah, er, Mrs. Pleasants. I wasn’t expecting a married woman.”

Mrs. Pleasants gazed calmly at him. “I’m a widow, Mr. Sheridan.”

“Oh, yes, of course, er, I mean, I’m sorry.” Edward stumbled over his words once again, feeling awkward, yet not understanding why. He was a successful merchant in town. Talking was as much a part of his business as selling. He was also part-owner of the town bank and held prominent positions on both the school board and town council. Yet, here he was, tongue-tied in front of this widowed schoolmarm while she stood there with perfect posture, looking in complete control of the situation. 

She had not a hair out of place, not even a bead of perspiration on her person from the extreme heat. And he, under his suit, was sweating like a farm animal. The lack of control he felt over the entire situation made his anger rise, and her complete coolness fueled it on.

Furrowing his brows, Edward blurted out in a razor-sharp voice, much louder than he’d intended, “Mrs. Pleasants. I’m afraid you’ve caught me at a disadvantage. I was expecting a single woman without a child. As you can imagine, I am shocked to find the situation different than anticipated.”

Mrs. Pleasants straightened her shoulders and stood as tall as her five foot, three inch frame allowed. With eyes bright and blazing, she stared directly at him. “I see no problem here, Mr. Sheridan. I was hired to teach the children of Pine Creek. I intend to do just that.”

Edward returned her intense stare only to find himself speechless once again in her presence. Her eyes completely distracted him. They were the most unique color he’d ever seen, not blue, but lavender-blue. Trimmed in thick, brown lashes, they were riveting. Absolutely beautiful.
Another chuckle from Ernie shook Edward awake. Bending his head close to Mrs. Pleasants, he suggested softly, “Perhaps we can discuss this outside.”

Mrs. Pleasants tipped her head in agreement then turned back to Ernie. “It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Carlson,” she said. “I look forward to having your son and daughter in my classroom.”

“Pleasure’s all mine, Mrs. Pleasants,” Ernie said, tipping his cap.

Edward watched as Mrs. Pleasants took her son’s hand and stepped up to the door. She paused in front of the unopened door for a moment before Edward remembered his manners and rushed to open it for her. Nodding her head in appreciation, she stepped outside with Harry, Edward close behind, as the sound of Ernie’s chuckle followed him through.

Mrs. Pleasants walked over to her bags still sitting on the platform. There were only two, a large one for her, a smaller one for Harry. They looked well-worn and well-traveled.

“These are mine,” Mrs. Pleasants told Edward, who still felt unnerved by the situation. “Will we be walking, or did you bring a carriage?”

Edward’s mind drew a blank. Nothing about this situation was as he’d anticipated. He’d expected an older woman of single status, mousy, shy, and unsure of herself. Hadn’t the last teacher been like that? Proficient at teaching numbers and letters but uncomfortable in social situations? Not that it mattered; she had been plain as a board and had no need for social graces. The only determined action she’d had in the year she’d worked there was to hand in her resignation. She had no liking for this small town on the plains of Minnesota, and was homesick for her family in Illinois. Just as the schoolmaster before her had quit and just as the schoolmarm before him had left. Edward simply wasn’t prepared for a self-assured woman like Mrs. Pleasants.

“Mr. Sheridan?” Emily said again to catch his attention.

“Yes?” he replied, confused.

“Walking or carriage?”

“Huh?” Edward squinted at her in the bright sun before realizing how stupid he must sound. Flustered, he tripped over his words again. “But we haven’t settled our dilemma yet. I mean, we haven’t decided what we’re going to do about this situation.”

Mrs. Pleasants sighed, her patience seeming to wane from the humid heat. Beside her, the little boy squirmed restlessly. Edward couldn’t blame him. He was feeling restless in this heat too.

Mrs. Pleasants said in a steady voice, “Mr. Sheridan, I don’t understand what there is to decide. The school board hired me. I have a contract for employment for the school year of 1911-1912. I’ve just spent four days shuffling from one train to another, making the trip from California to here. I’m hot, I’m tired, and I’d appreciate getting settled in my rooms.”

Edward couldn’t have agreed more. He was also hot and tired, and had to return to his store. Resigned that they were not going to resolve the matter standing here on the platform, Edward decided to let the school board deal with the situation. He’d finish what he came here to do—deliver the new schoolteacher to her quarters.

Nodding his assent, Edward said, “Carriage.”

Mrs. Pleasants looked puzzled. “Excuse me?”

Edward smiled a true smile for the first time since meeting her. “I have a carriage waiting behind the depot,” he explained. “I’ll take you to your room.”

Looking relieved, she returned his smile. “Thank you.”

He lifted her two pieces of luggage and led the way. Mrs. Pleasants reached her hand down to Harry, who dutifully took it and the two followed Mr. Sheridan to the open carriage.

Chapter Two

Pine Creek, MN



Nestled one hundred miles northeast of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and sixty miles southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pine Creek sat alone in the middle of prairie land. The Minnesota River flowed through the north end of town on its way to the southernmost part of the state. Named for the variety of pine trees that grew along the river’s edge, the remainder of Pine Creek was open prairie, a small but prosperous town surrounded by fields upon fields of farmland growing hay, wheat, and corn.

From the simple beginnings of a single train depot when the Union Pacific first laid tracks through the area, Pine Creek grew from the need of nearby farmers for a place closer than Minneapolis or St. Paul for supplies. Zachariah Sheridan complied by moving his family from Illinois in 1881 and building the first dry-goods store in the fledgling town. It was a much-needed addition to the saloon, blacksmith shop and stable, and combination boarding house and restaurant that were already there.  
Soon, several businesses sprouted up in the prairie town: a hotel, another restaurant, several saloons, a church, and eventually as more families moved there, a schoolhouse. Zachariah’s son, Edward, continued the tradition by expanding the dry-goods store over the years, offering luxury items as well as staples to the growing population of townspeople. Whatever he didn’t stock, he could order and have delivered promptly by train, making the need for trips to the big city unnecessary. He and two partners also opened the first area bank that sat adjacent to his store.

The town was a nice place to live and for area farmers to shop. With its neatly painted buildings, boardwalks, and cobblestone Main Street, Pine Creek showed its prosperity on its sleeve. Many lovely two-story Victorian homes were built on the fringes of town; green lawns sprawling toward the gravel roads and flowerbeds lining white picket fences that separated the yards.

This is what Emily saw first of her new home, the neighborhood of well-kept houses, for Edward had taken the west road into town, heading north to Main Street. She was confident he wanted her to see Pine Creek’s best side. Emily had been in enough small but prosperous towns to know there was a seedier side to them as well, possibly a red-light district with questionable boarding houses filled with young, eager women and saloons that could become bawdy at night. But she said nothing as she surveyed her surroundings with a keen eye as they slowly rounded a curve to Main Street. The streets changed from gravel to cobblestone, much to her surprise. Of the many small, mid-western towns she’d experienced, she’d rarely seen one as refined as Pine Creek.

To her left, she noted a large building with a bell on top.

“That’s the schoolhouse,” Edward said, as if reading her mind.

“It looks like a fine building,” she said, pleased to see its neatly painted exterior and well-tended lawn.

“Our town is very proud of its commitment to education,” Edward told her.

The businesses ahead of her were built in an orderly fashion, as if the entire town was planned and constructed all at once. They passed Doctor Jenson’s office, his gaily-painted sign swinging slightly in the gentle breeze. Next was a restaurant that emitted sumptuous aromas, immediately tempting Emily’s appetite. They stopped at the building beside the restaurant, Sheridan’s Dry Goods Store, which was attached to the First National Bank of Pine Creek. Emily found the proximity of the bank amusing.

Edward alighted the carriage with an agility that defied his stuffy suit. He came to Emily’s side and raised a polite hand.

She accepted, stepping down beside him without a word. Next, he reached up and took Harry into his arms as easily as if he’d done it a thousand times before. Setting the young boy down beside his mother, Edward cleared his throat.

“Here we are.” He raised his hand toward the store. “Your room is upstairs, over the store. I’m afraid it’s not much, but it’s what we’ve always given the teacher in the past.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” she said, reassuringly.

He reached into the back of the carriage and pulled out the bags. Then, with a nod inviting them to follow, he led the way through the propped open door into his store.

Holding Harry’s hand, Emily glanced around. It was one of the nicest stores she’d ever seen in a small town. The oak counter stood in the center. To the left of it were food supplies, and to the right, necessities for the home and of a personal nature. Bolts of fabric, sewing supplies, ready-made clothing, toiletries, pots, and kettles sat on shelving down tidy rows. Just about everything one might need was here. All items were neatly organized, displayed like the larger, big-city stores. Emily silently approved of Mr. Sheridan’s store. It gave her a little insight into the man who owned it.

From behind the counter bustled a short, pudgy woman with graying hair piled askew upon her head, and a warm smile.“Well, here she is, our new school mistress herself,” the woman said, her bright blue eyes peering at Emily over gold-rimmed spectacles.

“Mrs. Pleasants,” Edward began formally, “this is Gertrude McAffee, my assistant.”

“Call me Gertie,” the woman told her as she raised her hand to shake Emily’s outstretched one. Her touch was warm and gentle. Motherly, Emily thought, as Gertie’s friendliness touched her heart.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Gertie,” Emily said, their hands still clasped.

The small woman turned her eyes to the little boy at Emily’s side. “And who do we have here?” she exclaimed. “What is your name, young man?”

The kindness in her voice made Harry smile up at her. “I’m Harry.” He offered his small hand. A slight nudge from Emily reminded Harry to remove his hat indoors, and he did so promptly while shaking the older woman’s hand.

“Well, well. Harry, you say? What a fine young man you are,” Gertie said. “You look to me like a boy who would enjoy some licorice. Follow me and we’ll find a piece.”

For one brief second, Harry glanced up at his mother for approval, and with a nod of Emily’s head, he dashed off behind his new friend.

Edward laughed at Harry’s exuberance, making Emily smile also.

“That’s very nice of her,” she said. “I’ll be happy to pay for it, though.”

Edward shook his head. “Believe me, she loves giving candy out to the children. We both do. Sometimes, it’s a contest as to who will get to the candy jar first when a child comes through the door.” He chuckled and Emily liked the gentleness she saw in his face. “I’m sure Harry will be eating far more candy than you wish him to,” Edward said, still beaming. Emily liked how his smile softened his features, making his face appear years younger.

As the silence grew between them, Edward soon appeared self-conscious again and his smile faded. Returning to the task at hand, his expression sobered, and he cleared his throat, returning to his position as Chairman of the School Board.

“Well, I shall show you your room,” he said, all business now.

Emily found humor at his quick transformation, understanding, of course, that appearances were everything. If she’d learned anything in life, it was at least that. She nodded in answer, and he lifted her bags and carried them through the store as she followed. They caught up with Gertie and Harry, the latter sitting on the counter, gleefully swinging his short legs while chewing on a string of licorice. Gertie sent Emily a sweet grin.

“This young man tells me he’s your son and he’s all of three years old. What a pleasure it will be to have a young person around here.” The excitement in her voice matched the gleam in her eyes. 
“Young Harry,” Gertie said, turning back to the boy, “you come visit me here in the store often, you hear?”

Harry nodded enthusiastically, and Emily reached over the counter and grasped Gertie’s hand affectionately. “Thank you, Gertie. You’ve made us feel very welcome here.” The two women held hands for a moment longer, both smiling kindly at each other, then Emily let go and stepped back. 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Edward shuffle his feet in discomfort, embarrassed no doubt by the fact that he hadn’t welcomed them so sincerely.

She ignored his uneasiness, saying aloud to Harry, “Come along, dear. Mr. Sheridan is going to show us our room.”

Harry scooted off the counter and, without prompting from his mother, turned to Gertie and said, “Thank you for the candy, Miss Gertie.” Plopping his hat back on his head, he turned to follow his mother.

“You are ever so welcome, my dear.” Gertie’s words floated to them as they followed Edward to the back of the store.

Edward led them to a storage room behind a velvet curtain. There they found a set of stairs and they all walked up to the second story. The steps curved as they ascended until they had made a half-circle when they reached the top doorway. There was only a frame, no door, and the three stepped through into a long, narrow hallway. To the right stood a door and a small window overlooking the back of the store’s property. To the left was only a long hallway with two doors, one on each side.
Emily and little Harry followed Edward down the hallway and he opened the door on the right.
The afternoon sun poured in through both of the room’s windows, giving off a cheerful glow. The room was large, Emily assessed as Edward placed her bags on the floor. It was wide and long. She guessed it was the size of half the store below.

To her left, at the front of the building, there was a double bed covered with a cheery patchwork quilt of blue, green, and yellow. Beside that stood a nightstand with an oil lamp. A round table with two chairs sat under one window, and at the other end of the room was a pot-bellied stove, a shiny copper tea kettle upon it. An oak armoire stood against the far wall, and a screen made of mahogany and bamboo sat in the corner for privacy while dressing. Oil lamp sconces hung on the walls to light up the room at night, and yellow calico curtains adorned the windows.

The room was large, airy, and gave off a comfortable, welcoming feel. Despite the hot sun outside, it felt pleasant in the room, an early evening breeze drifting through the open windows, caressing the cheerful curtains.

Emily smiled, pleased with the room, but Edward was immediately apologetic about it.

“I’m sorry it’s not much. It will be cramped with the two of you here, I’m afraid. But it’s the room we usually provide for the schoolteacher.”

Emily turned to him. If he’d seen the small, sparse room she and Harry had shared at the convent over the past three years, he would not be apologizing. “This will do just fine, Mr. Sheridan. It’s lovely. The coverlet and curtains brighten the room beautifully.”

Edward’s serious expression brightened. “That was Gertie’s work. When she heard the new teacher was coming, she took it upon herself to make new curtains and a quilt. She said the room had become far too shabby over the years.”

Emily watched Edward as he spoke, noting the admiration in his voice when he talked about Gertie. She wondered in what capacity were his affections for the kind woman. Perhaps he admired her like a sister, or a mother? Or as a lover? She tried hard to keep a straight face over this last thought. She couldn’t imagine the two of them together.

“Please thank her for me,” she said, erasing the last thought from her mind. It certainly was not a thought that should have been there to begin with.

Edward again cleared his throat. “Evy’s Restaurant next door has always supplied meals for our teachers. The Townsend’s own it, and they make delicious food and are very nice people. I eat there quite a bit myself.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Emily said. She stifled a yawn. The long trip and hot day were beginning to wear on her. Harry, too, was fading fast. Emily noticed he’d sat down on the bed and his lids were drooping.

Edward seemed to notice too. “I’m sure you’re both tired. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

She pulled off her gloves and couldn’t wait to slip out of her suit jacket. “Thank you, Mr. Sheridan, for seeing us here and showing us our room.” She followed him to the door. Reaching up, she slid the pin from her hat, releasing it from her hair. Her long hair tumbled about her shoulders.

When Edward turned at the door, his eyes widened as he stared at her hair, seemingly entranced. Emily held back a chuckle over the dumbfounded expression on his face. Had the poor man never seen a woman’s hair down before?

She smiled up at him. “Is that all?” she asked politely.

Edward regained his composure. “Oh, well, yes,” he answered. “Good evening, Mrs. Pleasants.” And with a final nod, he hurried from the room.

***

Edward stood in the hallway for a long time after Emily had closed the door, trying to compose himself before going downstairs. What an idiot I must have sounded like, he thought. She must think I’m a complete fool!

And what was all that throat-clearing about? As he’d spoken to Mrs. Pleasants, he’d noticed he’d done it several times. What an annoying sound. When did I develop such an awful habit? She must think me a dolt! Every time he’d spoken to her, he’d had to force himself not to clear his throat. What in heavens was wrong with him?

When she’d taken off her hat and her hair had fallen, it had completely unnerved him. He just stood there and stared. Her hair was the color of mahogany, gleaming as a table would after it had been hand-rubbed for hours. And her eyes. They weren’t a color he’d ever seen before. Not blue, but lavender-blue. So beautiful, so intense, and yet so kind.

Edward had always prided himself on being professional in all situations. But for some reason, being around Mrs. Pleasants had turned him into a tongue-tied fool. And, if acting like an idiot wasn’t enough to worry about, realizing that he cared what Emily Pleasants thought of him rattled him to his core.

Chapter Three

Pine Creek, MN



Emily lay in bed, her mind swirling in the darkness that surrounded her. The room was quiet, even with the windows open to let in the cool night air. All the businesses were closed, the last street light extinguished, yet she was unable to sleep.

She’d been exhausted when she’d first entered the room. Gertie had appeared at the door soon afterward with a tray of food from Evy’s Restaurant. The older woman had instinctively known the two travelers would be hungry but too tired to go out to eat. The creamed potato soup and fresh homemade bread had been delicious, and Emily was thankful that such a kind soul as Gertie existed in this new place they now called home.

Harry had barely finished eating when he crawled under the covers and fell fast asleep. Emily, too, thought tonight of all nights she’d fall soundly asleep when her head hit the feather pillow. She was wrong.

Night was always the most difficult time of her day. Or the best, depending upon how she felt. It was when memories flooded back to her; memories that caused pain, but also reminded her of some of the sweetest times of her life. It was only when morning came that she had to face the cold reality of her life now and of her future without little Harry’s father.

Emily glanced over at the small form sleeping beside her. Harry. What would she do without her precious reminder of the man she’d loved? Harry was the spitting image of his father in every way except one—he’d never grow up to live the life his father had lived. Emily would make sure of that.
She had come a long way since that first day she’d met her son’s father. Many more miles than her trip from California to Minnesota. Miles that had taken her from west to east, north to south, stretching to the farthest reaches of another continent. And it all started with a simple meeting in Texas.


San Antonio, Texas

1895



Ethel Emily Pleasants walked hurriedly through the streets of San Antonio’s red-light district. She had a piano lesson to give on the “proper” side of town in less than half an hour and she needed to pick up her music sheets at Fannie’s.

The petite eighteen-year-old woman with shining mahogany hair pulled up in an unassuming chignon looked oddly out of place on this street of saloons and bordellos. Anyone watching her would believe she had lost her way from a church meeting or ladies’ tea. But Ethel knew exactly where she was headed. She ducked into Fannie’s Boarding House, a respectable name for a not-so-respectable business; a place that rented rooms by the hour and held far too many lady boarders who entertained gentleman callers.

It was just past noon when Ethel entered the quiet parlor and walked directly to the upright piano in the corner of the garishly decorated room. Daytime was rest time for most of the inhabitants, although an occasional gentleman caller might be lounging on the parlor sofa, enjoying a cigar or a bit of brandy, relaxing before the night’s entertainment.

Ethel was used to such people lazing about and ignored the gentleman in the corner as she sifted through the sheets of music. She often practiced here in the early afternoon and occasionally met some of the customers, but everyone knew to keep their hands off Ethel. Although she lived in the apartment above the kitchen, she did not work here.

Feeling the man’s eyes on her back, Ethel turned slightly and gave him a curt nod. He lazily tipped his hat and she returned to her searching, hoping her gesture would be enough to warn him off. To her surprise, he rose and stepped toward her. By the time she straightened, he was standing directly behind her.

“Morning, miss,” he said softly. When she didn’t respond, he continued with a grin, “Something I can help you find there?”

Ethel didn’t know what to say. She wasn’t sure of his motives, but in a place such as this, she could guess. She studied him a moment, trying to read into his gesture. He looked older than she, but not as old as many of the men who passed through this parlor. His hair, peeking out from under his short-brimmed cowboy hat, was sandy blond, as was the trimmed mustache that dressed his lip. He wore a respectable three-piece suit with freshly polished boots. His skin was deeply tanned, as if he worked out in the sun, and his eyes were a deep, steel gray. He seemed comfortable in his suit, yet she couldn’t help but think he’d be just as comfortable in work pants and a flannel shirt, riding astride a powerful horse. Yet, there seemed to be no coarseness about him. She could see that his eyes were kind.

“Now, Harry, don’t you be bothering my young Etta here. She’s not one of the girls.” Fannie Mae Porter’s voice boomed from the wide staircase in the hallway just outside the parlor. Both occupants beside the piano turned and looked her way.

Fannie stood on the last step of the paisley carpeted stairs, covered in a long black satin nightdress with a red satin robe thrown over it. She was a buxom woman, not overweight but big enough to handle any man who got out of control. Her thick, red hair was piled flamboyantly upon her head and even now, long before her workday began, she wore a heavy coat of face paint, her lips and cheeks a brilliant red.

Ethel could only smile at the ‘Madame’ who stood before her. Fannie was like a second mother to her, taking her in and watching over her after her own mother died.

“Didn’t mean any disrespect, Miss Porter,” the man Fannie called Harry said. “I was just offering this young lady my assistance.”

Fannie stepped down off her perch and strutted over to Ethel. “Assistance my ass,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “I know what kind of assistance you have in mind and it’s not the polite kind. Now, take that hat off your head, boy. You’re in the presence of ladies.”

Harry obliged with a grin and a soft, “Sorry, ma’am.” Although his words were directed at Fannie, his eyes were on Ethel.

Yes, Ethel thought, his hair was highlighted blond by long days in the sun. Harry grinned at her and Ethel dropped her eyes, embarrassed that she had been caught studying him.

His grin did not go unnoticed by Fannie. “Don’t you get any ideas about my girl Etta,” she said, her tone serious. “She’s like a daughter to me and I protect her like a mother bear. She’s from a good family and she has a fancy Boston education and a teacher’s certificate. She’s going places, places much bigger and better than here, and she’s going to do special things. She’s not going to get herself hooked up with the likes of you, son, so don’t even think about it.”

Harry seemed to contemplate this speech, all the while his eyes on Ethel. Finally, with a nod to Fannie, he spoke. “Sorry to have bothered you, miss. Good day.” He turned and walked out the stained-glass door with Fannie hollering after him, “Come back later, Harry, and I’ll introduce you to some of the other girls.”

Ethel heard the door shut quietly behind him. The clock over the mantel chimed, reminding her of the appointment across town. She picked up the pile of sheet music and hurriedly gave Fannie a hug.
“I have a lesson to give. I’ll be back in a while.”

Fannie squeezed her back and waved goodbye.

Ethel had no sooner stepped outside when Harry matched her steps down the cobblestone sidewalk.

“Mind if I walk with you?” he asked.

She looked at him, wondering if he’d really take no for an answer. “Miss Fannie wouldn’t be pleased if she knew you were following me.”

Harry grinned. “I’m not following you, miss. I’m escorting you. Just want to make sure you reach your destination safely.”

Ethel laughed softly. “Would you stop walking with me if I asked?”

“I’m hoping you won’t ask.” His eyes sparkled mischievously.

Ethel shook her head and sighed. What harm could there be in her walking down the busy street with him? Once she arrived at her appointment, he’d surely disappear and pursue a more willing woman.

As they strolled silently through the streets, the red-light district transformed into reputable businesses, then into elegant homes. Ethel kept up a brisk pace, eager to arrive on time, and Harry kept up with her at what seemed a leisurely jaunt. Although he was not overly tall by any means, compared to her 5’3” frame he needed less steps than she to cover the same ground.

Occasionally, she glanced his way, curious about what he hoped to accomplish by accompanying her. But he only seemed interested in the neighborhood around him, seemingly unconscious of her curious glances.

“Where, exactly, are we headed?” he asked.

“I give piano lessons. One of my students lives here.”

Harry nodded, as if letting this information sink in. “You’re a music teacher?”

“Yes, partially. I’m only doing this for the extra money. I’m actually a schoolteacher, but I won’t be starting my new position until the end of the month.”

Harry nodded again, looking as if he were forming his next question when Ethel stopped suddenly.

“Here we are,” she announced. They stood in front of a large Victorian home with a steeple roof and gingerbread trim. “Thank you for your company, but I must go now.”

“May I take you to dinner after your lesson?”

Ethel hesitated, unsure of how to answer. Could she trust a man she’d first met in a brothel?

Harry seemed to have read her mind. “My intentions are completely honorable,” he said, pushing back the brim of his hat and grinning at her.

Even though he looked older than she was, when he smiled, his face took on a boyish quality. Something about that face made her want to trust him. She decided that as long as they were in a public place, it would be fine to go and eat with him.

“I’ll be finished in one hour,” she offered.

Harry nodded and slipped the hat from his head. “I’ll be waiting,” he told her with a slight bow.

Ethel headed up the brick walkway to the house, wondering if he’d really be there when she came back out. An hour later, to her surprise, he was.









The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews