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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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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