Category Archives: Book Review

Room for Hope By Kim Vogel Sawyer

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

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About the book:

Neva Shilling has a heavy load of responsibility while her husband travels to neighboring communities and sells items from his wagon. In his absence, she faithfully runs the Shilling Mercantile, working to keep their business strong as the Depression takes its toll, and caring for their twins.

When a wagon pulls up after supper, Neva and her children rush out—and into the presence of the deputy driving a wagon carrying three young children.

Who are these children and will their secret shatter her life or make her stronger?

My Review:

Do you ever think that all books written have to have romance to make them a good read? This one breaks those molds.

While there are hints of real love throughout the story, the twists and turns that this story takes are more real life than fictional. Neva, facing betrayal, deals with it the way most humans do. It is a struggle, a fight to regain face and standing, both in the community and before her own children.

I found the hints of life in the 1930’s fascinating such as references to orphan homes, Jello,  Frigidaire, Bisquick and other name brands that were on the scene in those days. The fragility of life is spoken of when two character die of botulism poisoning, something that we generally don’t think of as much anymore as a threat.

I found this story real, but also an easy read, without heaviness. It was a nice book to read on a sunshiny day!

 

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Sweetened with Honey by Valerie Comer

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko
Sweetened with Honey
Book Description:(From author’s website)
Gabriel Rubachuk returns to Galena Landing, Idaho, once the setting of a charmed life before an accident killed his pregnant wife. Will he embrace hope for a new life or escape once again?

Beekeeper Sierra Riehl has spent three years helping to keep Gabe’s health food store afloat while he worked with orphans in Romania. Now he’s back, but it looks like he might bolt. Can she hold him still long enough to spark a romance? But Sierra’s hope falters when she begins to suspect she can’t give Gabe the life he deserves.

Is new love sweet enough to overcome the pain of the past and the uncertainty of the future?

My Review:
You know how many times people complain that all romantic books, especially Christian fiction are all cliche and the same story just told a bit differently? Well, maybe you have not heard it, but I have. Valerie Comer’s books will not have you saying that. If you are looking for something different in the world of Christian fiction, don’t look any longer, but pick up this series. Sweetened with Honey is the third book in the series, which you will not want to miss out on reading. Sierra is not your normal heroine, I think you will get that from the opening chapter where she is using bee stings as an alternative health treatment. I had a soft spot for Gabe when I met him in book number one and really enjoyed seeing his story continue in Sweetened with Honey. You will also see many of the other characters you have grown to know and love in the previous books. Jo for example, has learned a lot of lessons, but maybe not quite as many as she should have. You will enjoy hearing more about the self sustaining farm, the recipes Claire has come up with and what Sierra has been up to while Gabe has been absent. Valerie makes the stories so real, you feel like you could actually drive to northern Idaho and visit the farm or book it for your next wedding.

Ready for an out of the box romance? Pick up this farm fresh romance today!!! If you have not read the first two, run out and get those too!

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Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

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About the book: (From the publisher website)

Sometimes the courage to face your greatest fears comes only when you’ve run out of ways to escape.

At the end of a long night, Elizabeth leans against the industrial oven and takes in her kingdom. Once vibrant and flawless, evenings in the kitchen now feel chaotic and exhausting. She’s lost her culinary magic, and business is slowing down.

When worried investors enlist the talents of a tech-savvy celebrity chef to salvage the restaurant, Elizabeth feels the ground shift beneath her feet. Not only has she lost her touch; she’s losing her dream.

And her means of escape.

When her mother died, Elizabeth fled home and the overwhelming sense of pain and loss. But fifteen years later, with no other escapes available, she now returns. Brimming with desperation and dread, Elizabeth finds herself in the unlikeliest of places, by her sister’s side in Seattle as Jane undergoes chemotherapy.

As her new life takes the form of care, cookery, and classic literature, Elizabeth is forced to reimagine her future and reevaluate her past. But can a New York City chef with a painful history settle down with the family she once abandoned . . . and make peace with the sister who once abandoned her?

My Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed Dear Mr. Knightly, but Lizzy and Jane touched me in a deeply personal way. The language of food spoke to me for one thing, but secondly, the BRCA gene effected my personal life deeply in the last three years. That is much more than I ever thought a gene which was formally unknown to me could have. I lost two family members to its hold, and another close family member will undergo surgery in a couple of weeks to avoid it.

What I enjoyed so much about this was book, was the fact that this book was not about the BRCA 1 gene, or cancer as much as it was about relationships, pain, hurt and overcoming them in our daily trials.

The depth in which I saw Ms. Reay capture how we can allow transgressions such as Elizabeth and Jane had experienced in the past, and in the face of possible tragedy, they allowed themselves to give each other another chance. I know this is not always possible, but when it is, we should try to mend the fractures between family members.

The word pictures that were created with the spices, flavors, scents, I have expected to smell them as they leapt off the page. Ms. Reay created a book that will touch the hearts of many people, even if you are not an Austen lover, you will catch the symbolism throughout the novel and relate. If you are an Austen lover, you will smile like an old friend just came home.

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The Headmistress of Rosemere by Sarah Ladd

The Headmistress of Rosemere
By Sarah Ladd

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

About the book:

Patience Creighton has dedicated herself to the Rosemere School for Young Ladies. But the return of the enigmatic master of the estate puts everything she loves at risk.

Bright, sensible Patience knows what is expected of her. At twenty-five, her opportunity for a family of her own has passed, so she invests herself in teaching at her father’s school for girls. When her father dies suddenly and her brother moves away to London, she is determined to make the school successful.

Confirmed bachelor William Sterling also knows what is expected of him, but mistake after mistake has left him teetering on ruin’s edge. As master of Eastmore Hall he owns a great deal of property — including the land where Rosemere School is located — but possesses little money to manage its upkeep. When debtors start calling, he is desperate to find a new source of income, even if it means sacrificing Rosemere.

When a fire threatens the school grounds, William must decide to what lengths he is willing to go to protect his birthright. And when Patience’s brother returns with a new wife to take over management of the school, Patience suddenly finds herself unsure of her calling. After a surprising truth about William’s past is brought to light, both William and Patience will have to seek God’s plans for their lives-and their hearts.

My Review:

In this sequel to The Heiress of Winterwood, Sarah Ladd does not disappoint. She continues on the tradition of a novel that is in keeping with the era and the helps you feel that way.

I struggled with some of the decisions that it seemed her brother made on her behalf, but realized that it was much in keeping with the time period. Patience finds her life is uprooted by her brother’s decisions though, William is figuring out secrets that he did not even know were there, and you will want to keep reading discovering if these two can find happiness with each other.

The romance is light, but still there, so that you keep the pages turning. You will enjoy this beautiful book like I did. It is not deep reading, but more easy, Sunday afternoon reading. This is money well spent on a book you will be lending out. Plus, the cover art is amazing!!!

This book was given to me for review. The thoughts contained in here are simply my own.

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Stranger Things by Erin Healy

Stranger Things
By Erin Healy

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Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

Book Description

In the burnt-out hollow, a house of dark secrets and an eerie beauty beckon.

Serena Diaz’s life is imploding. A troubled student has accused the young biology teacher of sexual misconduct, cutting off her promising career just as it was starting to blossom. But that’s just the beginning of Serena’s problems.

When a therapeutic walk in the woods leads her to a ruined house overtaken by criminals, Serena is assaulted and finds herself witness to the senseless murder of the one man who tries to help her.

Hurled into a world of false accusations and hounded by the press, Serena must confront evil itself to unravel the mysterious visions—and terrifying danger—that pursue her. But she can’t ignore the most haunting question: Why would a mysterious stranger give his life to save hers?

The answer, if she can find it, will point the way to her freedom from evil men in a lascivious trade.

My Review:

Wow. I have read several books on the topic of human trafficking and many of them cover different facets of it, and Erin Healy covers a different facet of human trafficking than I could think of.
She brings it close to home, personal and attacks the thoughts in your mind, so you see it. These girls become your sisters, your mother, and your next door neighbor.

I think the thing that struck me the most was when the young men part of the organization went around to warn families of the danger to their girls, the reaction they got. One foster/group home mother laughed cynically, basically felt like there was no use in even trying to warn them. The next house, the dad threatened them, accusing them of being the perverts and didn’t want to hear it about his precious girl, while the third, shrugged and said if they wanted her, they could have her, it would be one less person asking for her money.

When I read this book, I realized something. We are a nation of cell phones, computers, communication devices, yet we lack at care and communication. In this way, we leave our young people open to danger. We are busy, busy with our own things and lack time to actually care and communicate with them.

This leaves them open to evil, who will come in, ask them how they are, build their trust, talk to them, listen and in time lure them away and they will be lost to us.

Have we listened to our neighbors? Our sons and daughter’s? Their friends? Are we listening? Are we their friends? Can they ask us for advice? We can help with human trafficking by changing this. We can be active parents that care and listen. We can be a part of their lives, and not just assume they are fine in school. We can be the one that is the embarrassing parent as we always present, an active participant in their lives.

Does this warranty that they will not get into trouble? No. Nothing does. But it sure can cut back on them!

All that to say, this book really got me thinking. It was the perfect suspense novel, with beautiful pictures of love and sacrifice portrayed in the Christopher, while alternatively evil personified portrayed in Phil and Roman. If you want a good read, that will get you thinking, pick this book up!!!

-Martha

I review for BookSneeze®

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Tessa by Melissa Wiltrout

My Review:
I picked up this books with no expectations in mind, but was immediately drawn into Tessa’s story. Somehow from the cover, I was not sure what to expect as it was not one that impressed me, but the story within was compelling.

Tessa, a runaway, abused teen from a drug family is caught in an impossible situation. Her mother seems to love her, yet leaves her exposed to physical abuse. The abuse is somewhat detailed in this book, so it would not be one that I would just hand a teenager to read, but it is written from the teens perspective, so they may relate to it.

I loved the story of the Christian family that interacted with Tessa and her family, even though she was hard to deal with. They were not perfect, yet showed the love of God to her and her family. I enjoyed the writing style and would read more by this author! – Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (September 3, 2013)
***Special thanks to Jeremiah M. Zeiset for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melissa Wiltrout lives in west-central Wisconsin with her two dogs, an energetic terrier named Daisy and a Sheltie named Chester. During the summer months she keeps busy at the family nursery and landscaping business. Writing is her favorite activity, but she also enjoys relaxing with a good book, playing guitar, breeding goldfish, and gardening.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:


Is there no way out?

Tessa loathes being forced to work in her father’s illegal drug business. Yet her ill-fated attempts at running away only deepen the abuse. Guilt and shame press in, pushing away her real friends and reinforcing her own criminal tendencies.

Tessa yearns for freedom – and something else. Then a neighbor introduces her to God and salvation through Christ. But will faith be enough? Can she overcome the forces that bind her before it’s too late?

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 292 pages
Publisher: LIFE SENTENCE Publishing (September 3, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1622450876
ISBN-13: 978-1622450879

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

“Stop! Thief!”
Fear stabbed my chest. I dodged in
front of a loaded shopping cart and shoved through the outer set of glass doors
at Allen’s Super Foods. The plastic bag of hot dogs and bread knocked against
my leg as I took a sharp left and sprinted down the dark sidewalk.
“Stop, you punk!” Footsteps pounded
close behind me. I could hear heavy breathing. I ran faster, willing all my
energy into my legs. My breath came in ragged gasps. I kept my eyes fixed on
the lights of the busy street half a block ahead. I sure hope there’s a break
in the traffic. There’s no way I’m gonna be able to stop
if there isn’t…
I had cleared the far end of the
building and was racing across the final stretch of parking lot when the clerk
caught up with me. He grabbed my shoulders and kicked me in the legs, slamming
me to the pavement. I screamed as pain ripped through my right ankle and leg.
He threw himself on top of me, closing huge hands around my neck and shoulders.
“I got you now, you punk.”
His sudden weight on my back left
me breathless. I struggled to roll him off, but he tightened his grip. His knee
pressed into my back and his fingernails dug into my shoulder like claws. “Oh
no you don’t.”
“I . . . can’t breathe,” I gasped.
“Get . . . off of me.”
“That’s what you all say. I’ll get
off of you all right – when the police get here.” As he spoke, he shifted his
weight higher on my back. My chest began to hurt.
“No,” I pleaded. “Stop. You’re . .
. killing me.”
“Shut up,” he said. I heard a faint
beep, beep as he pressed the buttons on his cell phone. I was crying. Sharp
pains shot up my leg from my twisted ankle, and I was helpless to relieve them.
Cold pavement bit into my chin. I tasted blood where I’d cut my lip falling. I
made one more attempt to free myself, but it was no use. The guy must’ve
weighed two hundred pounds. At last a police cruiser pulled up with its lights
flashing, and an officer stepped out.
“You Bruce Sommerfeld?” he said to
the clerk.
“I am.”
“You can let go now. I’ve got her.”
Bruce surrendered his grip on me
reluctantly. “I caught this little punk red-handed. And it’s not the first time
she’s pulled this. I can prove it.”
I took a breath and started to push
myself up, but the officer stopped me, pulling my hands behind my back. Cold
metal clamped around my left wrist, then my right. What on earth was he doing?
Handcuffing me? I hoped nobody was watching.
Fresh pain shot through my ankle as
the officer pulled me to my feet. “So you were shoplifting, huh?” he said.
It wasn’t a dream this time. I was
being arrested.
“I didn’t do nothin’. I swear!”
Frantically I tried to wrench free of the steel cuffs. “He’s lying. He hates
me. You all hate me!”
“That’s enough. Settle down.” A
second officer, a woman, stepped close and took my other arm. She began
steering me toward the black and white car. “My name’s Pat. And you are . . .
?”
I didn’t answer. My wrists stung
from my fight with the cuffs. I had never felt so helpless and humiliated in my
life.
Pat opened the rear door of the
cruiser. “Okay, in you go.”
I hesitated as my eyes took in the
hard black seat, the bars over the window, the mesh divider. This was for
criminals, not for somebody like me. Did I have to get in? But the firm
pressure on my arm told me I had no choice. I dropped into the seat, my face
hot, wincing as my hurt ankle bumped the door frame.
I fit in there – sort of. There
wasn’t more than eight inches of knee room in front of that seat, and with my
hands squashed behind my back, I was miserable to say the least. They didn’t
really expect me to ride like this, did they?
Tears pricked my eyes. I bit my lip
hard to restrain them. Through the barred window, I saw Bruce enter the store
with my bag of food. As if he needed it. My stomach growled, reminding me I
hadn’t eaten since yesterday.
“How old are you, kid?” Pat twisted
around to look at me from the driver’s seat.
“Old enough.”
“Old enough to be on your own?”
In the darkness, I felt my face
flush. Is it that obvious I’m a runaway? I thought of the stains on my jeans,
the long, jagged tear in the sleeve of my purple sweatshirt, and the shiny wire
I’d used to reattach the soles of my worn tennis shoes – all things I had
convinced myself no one would notice. I must’ve been crazy.
Heat blew into the back of the car,
raising a smell of sweat and dirty clothes. I tried to flip back the tangled
locks of dark hair that kept falling across my face. My teeth chattered, but
not from cold. I was scared of being put in jail.
The ride to the Northford Police
Station was short. Pat pulled into the garage. From there, she marched me into
a long narrow room. I squinted against the glare of fluorescent lights. Pat
removed the handcuffs and directed me to one of the plastic chairs at a small
table.
I sank into the chair, glad to get
off my hurt ankle. By now it had swollen to the size of a small grapefruit. The
pain was agonizing. Had I broken it? I leaned forward and with one hand
loosened my shoelaces. Even that was a painful operation. Making it all the way
back to the garage where I was staying would be impossible.
“Did you hurt your ankle?” Pat
asked. She pulled the other chair around to sit facing me.
I stiffened. “It’ll be okay.” Did
she have to sit so close to me?
“You sure? You were limping on the
way in.”
I hesitated, torn by the sympathy
in her voice. But did I dare confide in a cop?
“It’s nothing, really. I-I got a
charley horse.”
“I see. How long has it been since
you left home?”
 “Awhile.” My eyes traced the green and white
tiles at my feet. If only I could get rid of that lump in my throat that
threatened to make me cry.
“Like a week? Ten days?”
“Yeah, maybe.” It had been longer,
but she didn’t need to know that.
“That’s a long time. Have you been
stealing food this whole time?”
“Some of it.”
“Yes?” she pressed. “How much is
‘some’?”
“Most of it, I guess.”
“You know stealing is a crime,
don’t you? You can be fined and even imprisoned for it. If you need food, there
are better ways to get it.”
“Well yeah, but—”
“No buts. Maybe no one’s ever told
you this, but stealing is wrong. It’s serious. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
I could feel the heat rising in my
cheeks. What did Pat know? She’d never gone hungry or spent the night under a
deck in the drizzling rain. It wasn’t like I’d hurt somebody. The store would
never miss what little I’d taken.
Pat shuffled a few papers on her
lap. “I understand the store is not pressing charges this time. However…” She
paused for emphasis. “If this sort of thing happens again, you will be charged
with retail theft. You’ll have to go to court and pay the consequences. Plus it
will get on your record. Do you understand?”
“Yeah.” I felt a tiny glimmer of
hope. “Does this mean you’re gonna let me go?”
“It means your parents will have to
come get you. I take it you’re not on the best terms with them just now. Am I
right?”
I exhaled slowly. My sweaty hands
clenched in my lap. I should’ve known they’d call my parents.
I felt Pat eyeing me. “It’s that
bad, huh? Want to talk about it?”
My mind raced. For a second I
considered it, but then I shook my head. Talking would only make things worse.
Much worse.
Pat was still watching me. “I’ve
got the time,” she said.
I shook my head harder. “Can’t you
just let me go? It’s not like I’m gonna do this again or something.”
“Sorry, but it’s not my call. Rules
are rules.” Pat laid her papers on the table. “You’re Tessa Miner, am I right?
And your parents are Walter and Julie Miner?”
I gulped. How did she know that?
“Is this phone number correct?”
I had to stop her somehow. “Look,
you don’t hafta call them, okay? I-I’ll just walk home.”
Pat stood up.
“Can’t I? I’ll go right home, I
promise. It’s not that far, and…”
“Ten miles with a hurt ankle isn’t
far, huh?” There was sarcasm in her voice now. She shook her head. “It doesn’t
work that way, Tessa.”
I was trapped. There was no way
out. Even supposing the doors weren’t locked, I’d never escape with this ankle.
The muscles in my chest constricted, suffocating me. I leaned my elbows on the
table and forced myself to breathe. I needed to be at my best to face Walter.
Walter. The name dredged up images
I didn’t want to remember. I could see my father standing there, his hands on
his hips as he screamed at me.
“You idiot, what’d you do that
for!”
“You’re coming if I gotta drag you
there! Now get out here!”
“Guess you didn’t listen, did you.
Well, this time I’ll make you!”
I could see the home place – the
shabby white house with its sagging porch, the huge junk heap in the back yard,
and my dad’s green, almost-brand-new pickup truck parked in the driveway. I
could smell the cigarette smoke and the coffee. I could see, too, the secret
garden by the back fence that was my dad’s special concern. He allowed Mom to
plant hibiscus and hollyhocks along the edge, but the rest was off limits. I
learned this the day I tried to capture a baby rabbit that was trapped inside
the fence. Walter caught me in there and beat me bloody, even though I hadn’t
damaged anything.
I could see the old shed near the
garden, where Walter had locked me up for two days after my last attempt at
running away. I recalled the torture of spending a night leaning up against the
lawnmower, my back aching like fire while I tried to ignore the rodents
scurrying and chewing in the walls around me. I’d be lucky if that was all I
had to face this time.
A sudden noise in the room caused
me to start in fear. Had my father come already? But it was only Pat dropping a
pen. I sank back, my heart still pounding. If only I could awaken from this
nightmare. But try as I did, I could not suppress the memories which played
like a bad movie across my mind.

I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Tessa, your father’s here.”

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In Golden Splendor by Michael K. Reynolds

My Review:
The historical value in this book was a little hard to follow at first. The Prologue caught my attention and then the follow up lost me for awhile. I had to slowly get back into it, but it did entrap me and wove the sticky fingers of the Gold Rush days around me as I lay in my bed reading. Seamus is drawn to help rescue a woman that he has never met, empowered by her plea in a wayward letter that floated off a wrecked stagecoach, he sets off on the dangerous journey. You read the other side of it as well, the woman that was doing the pleading and her plights as well. The history will pull you in and you can learn a lot from the story without realizing it! -Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

B&H Books; Reprint edition (July 15, 2013)
***Special thanks to Rick Roberson for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 Michael K. Reynolds is the writer and producer of Emmy and Telly
Award-winning film campaigns and has more than two decades of
experience in fiction, journalism, copywriting, and documentary production. He owns Global Studio, a marketing agency, and is also
an active leader in church and business, speaking in both ministry
and corporate settings. Michael lives with his wife and three children
in Reno, Nevada.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Irish immigrant Seamus Hanley is a lost soul, haunted by his
past as a U.S. Army deserter and living alone in the wilderness
of the Rocky Mountains in 1849. But after witnessing a deadly
stage coach crash, he finds purpose in the scattered wreckage — a
letter with a picture of a beautiful and captivating woman named
Ashlyn living in San Francisco at the height of the Gold Rush.
Moved by her written plea for help, he abandons all and sets out on
an epic journey across the wild and picturesque American frontier.
While being pursued by those who want to hang him, Seamus
encounters fascinating characters including a young Pauite Indian
who makes the ultimate sacrifice in helping Seamus to cross the
snowy Yosemite Valley.

Battered but changed for the better, Seamus reaches San Francisco
on Christmas Eve as the city burns in the tragic fire of 1849. But
there is little time for rest, as an even greater, more harrowing
adventure involving Ashlyn is about to begin.


Product Details:
List Price: $11.16
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: B&H Books; Reprint edition (July 15, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433678209
ISBN-13: 978-1433678202

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

Chapter 1

Man of the Mountain

Wilderness of the Southern Rocky Mountain Range

September 1849

His sunken face windburned and forested by an icicle-encrusted mustache and beard, Seamus Hanley exhaled a steamy billow through his cracked lips into the frosty mountain air. Then the Irishman held his breath and lowered his rusted Brown Bess musket, his hands numbed by the frigidness breaching his torn and frayed bearskin gauntlets.

The pain of hunger in his stomach had long subsided, and now only the trembling of his grip and weariness of his soul impressed upon him the urgency of this unpleasant task.

He closed one of his lake-blue eyes, the last remnant of the promise of his youth, and sighted the muzzle of the weapon at the unsuspecting, rummaging elk.

Even at a distance, the ribs of the great beast showed through its patchy and scarred chestnut fur. Through the barrel’s eye, Seamus tracked the young bull as it limped its way over to an aspen tree. The elk raised its head, crowned in mockery by horns uneven and fractured.

Did it catch his scent?

Then the animal relaxed, bared its teeth, and tugged on a low-lying branch, releasing a powdery mist of fresh snowfall and uncovering autumnal leaves of maroon, amber, and burnt orange. Brilliant watercolor splashes on a white canvas.

In the deadly stillness of a finger poised on a trigger, Seamus shared a kinship of loneliness and futility with his prey, whose ear flapped and jaw bulged as it chewed.

This wasn’t the way it should be. For both were trailing the herd at this time of season.

This was when both mountain men and wildlife should be well fattened by summer’s gracious hands. For the fall offered only last provisions, the final stones in the fortress. Because, like shadows in the distant horizon, the bitter enemies of winter were approaching.

Seamus tried to steady his focus as the wind shrilled. “It’s me or you, my friend.”

The frizzen was closed, the powder set, and his very last musket ball was loaded. This would be his only shot.

For it had been another disappointing trade season amidst the dwindling market of beaver, otter, and marmot pelts. The fashion shifts in faraway places like New York and Europe were flushing out trappers like Seamus throughout the Western out- lands of this sprouting nation.

But he expected as much. Seamus’s past was rife with disap- pointing harvests.

With a pang of regret, his numb finger squeezed ever so gently and spark and flame breached the touchhole, igniting the gunpowder and sending a lead ball, laced with hope and des- peration, through the icy air. Sounds, though dampened by the snow, ricocheted through the woods.

The creature leapt into the air, thighs and legs flailing in a moment of frenzy. Then it gathered itself, turned, and bobbed its white tail up through the embankment into the sheltering embrace of the frozen forest.

A flash here. A speck of brown again. Then it was gone. And Seamus was alone. Completely alone.

Seamus lumbered over to a tree stump mushroomed by snow, and with the back of his glove he gave it a firm sweep to dust it clean before sitting down on the iced, jagged surface.

“Arrgh!” He flung his musket in the air, watching it spiral before being enveloped into a bank of snow. Then he lowered his face into his moist, fur-covered hands and sobbed.

No one would see him cry. No one ever did. Here, in the high country, emotions were shielded by solitude.

Though just two years had passed, it seemed forever ago when he chose self-exile. When he tried to hide from the memories.

Seamus could barely recall the laughter of his youth and his passion for whimsy. Growing up in the green-rich fields of Ireland, he would feast off the sparkle of cheer that echoed through the farmlands of his people back home.

But that was many tragedies ago. Now that all looked like someone else’s life.

He dwelled in the blackness of despair for a while, but even- tually the chilling lashes of the winds pried him from the depths of his misery. Survival still lorded over the emptiness.

Seamus retrieved his musket from its snowy grave. It was useless without ammunition, but he couldn’t part with one of his only friends.

With slumping shoulders, he headed home. Home. His mis- shapen cabin in the hollow of the woods. Despite his best efforts to acclimate to the wilderness, he was still merely trespassing. And where was home when your spirit wandered?

Yet there was a more pressing question. Would he even make it back to the cabin? The moment the hobbled elk escaped, it became Seamus who was hunted. He had risked the chase and strayed far. Now his hunger grew fangs and eyed its prey.

The weariness. The throbbing of his temples. Every step mattered.

Seamus popped the top of his canteen, lifted it, and poured water down his dry, aching throat. Then he surveyed this unfamiliar terrain.

He rarely traversed this patch of backcountry and for good reason. Civilization had encroached following the opening of a United States Army outpost not far away. It intersected with the Oregon Trail, the main pathway for travelers to the West, who of late were drawn in droves to the resonating whispers of gold in California.

The army fort was tasked to free the flow of commerce from the growing hindrance of the Indian population. Seamus had no quarrels with the brown-skinned natives of this territory. In fact, he coveted their ability to thrive in this cruel environment, which had buckled him to his knees.

But he was terrified of the American soldiers.

At the thought, he reached up to the scar on his left cheek, hidden beneath his scraggly facial hair. The image haunted of that branding iron growing in size as it was pressed down on him, the burning flesh both his punishment and permanent mark as an Irish defector in Polk’s war, the battle against the Mexicans.

He bristled at the word defector. People confused it too easily with deserter. Seamus had fought bravely in the war and never wavered amidst firestorms, death screams, and the lead- filled chaos. Even when, like many of his countrymen, he chose to change allegiances and fight for the other side.

Suddenly, the whinnying of horses pulled him out of his trance. Seamus bent down behind a bush and strained his eyes high above in the direction of the repeating and frantic neighing sounds.

Of course. Fools Pass.

It was daunting enough for wagons to climb this section of the main trail during the warm and dry months. But trying to scale it during wintertime only validated its name.

The horses sounded again, this time blending with the curses of a man and the cracking of a whip. From Seamus’s vantage point far below, he could see a wagon drawn by two steeds straining to make it up the crest of the hill. Its driver beseeched the creatures with a mad flailing of his arm whilst they slid and grappled for traction.

The two great horses managed to find a steadiness in their hoofing and the wagon straightened and lunged forward with the wooden wheels digging into the deep snow. The vehicle moved closer to the crest of the peak.

Then there was a hideous splintering of wood. One of the horses reared and broke free from its bindings causing the other to stumble. In the matter of a moment, the still-yoked horse, the carriage, and its horrified teamster started to slide back down the slope, angling toward the trail’s edge that dropped hundreds of feet below.

Slowly. Excruciating to watch.

 

First one wheel cleared the edge. Then another. And all was lost.

The driver leapt from his bench, but much too late. The full momentum of the wagon and its cargo ripped violently against the futile efforts of the horse to regain its footing. The helpless creature was yanked through the air as if it were weightless. Its neck flexed unnaturally backward.

Then launching downward, in one flight of wagon, wooden shards, scattering luggage, and flapping limbs of man and beast, the behemoth plunged in fury to depths below amidst hideous songs of anguish rising above the wind’s mournful cries.

Seamus shielded his eyes from the horrific imagery. But his ears weren’t spared the tortuous screeching. He loathed to hear the conclusion of violence, the anticipated clash of rock and timber, metal and flesh.

Instead, there was a muffled thud. Was it possible they survived?

Energy surged through his flesh and he dropped his musket and ran with abandon, boots sinking through fresh powder and legs tripping over fallen pine boughs and sunken boulders.

After bloodying his face and arms through dashes between patches of trees, he arrived with his lungs ablaze at the scene of the carriage accident.

The collision with the ground had been softened by a deep snowdrift, and as a result, the wreckage was relatively intact. But the driver hadn’t survived the fall. His body was bent grotesquely in a rose-colored embankment.

There too lay the horse, still trained to the wagon. Amazingly, the poor creature still showed signs of life, though it was reduced to a dim wheezing, and tiny flumes rose in the coolness from the flutter of its bleeding nostrils.

Seamus curled up beside the fallen beast and stroked its head. “Shhh . . . dear fellow.” He sat beside it in an honoring silence until the last flicker extinguished in its eyes.

He then pushed to his feet and walked over to the mangled body of the driver dressed in a soldier’s uniform and young enough to still be in the daily prayers of a heartbroken mother.

As he looked upon the dead boy, he was struck by the emptiness of the wide-open orbs gazing into the murky skies. Seamus’s thoughts jarred to crimson-drenched fields, haunting memories of explosions, the flashing lights, the whirring of can- non shot hurled through the air against crumbling stone walls, battle equipment, flesh and bones.

How could he had ever fired at another human being? Back then they were faceless uniforms, just flags flapping in the winds of war. Yet this soldier lying below him could have been his brother. Maybe even the brother he lost.

Oh! Why bring back those haunting visions of his youth? Would they ever go away? Would he torment himself in even crueler ways than did his father?

Seamus looked around for anything that could serve as a shovel, and the best he could find was a wooden panel he ripped off of the carriage. He used it to drag snow over the body. It was a crude burial at best, but it would at least keep the corpse from being dragged away by scavenging predators for a day or so before the weather warmed again.

Perhaps he just couldn’t bear to see the boy’s face any longer. He then explored the wagon, which had landed on its side  and was twisted and embedded deep in the snowbank.

Seamus reached down and pulled on the door, which tore from its bro- ken hinges, and he tossed it out of his way. He climbed down inside, discovered several canvas sacks, and threw them up and out of the carriage’s womb.

Getting out was a much more difficult proposition. Whatever parts of the cabin he tried to pull himself up with shattered to the touch, and the walls of snow around him threatened to col- lapse. He feared being crushed and suffocating.

After much exertion he managed to claw his way out, and when he was back on his feet, his muscles writhed and his breathing wheezed. Dizziness swept over him and he had to close his eyes to regain his balance.

There would be little time now. His stomach clenched. He must return home.

Could there be food?

He propped up the first of the bags and hesitated for a moment before unfastening the slender rope binding it shut.

Was this right to do? Wouldn’t this make him a robber of graves?

Ridiculous! He was starving.

He removed his leather gauntlets and worked the knot with determination. Then it was freed and when he opened the mouth of the bag his spirit sank.

Mail.

Then the next bag. It was the same.

Another. Uniforms. He flung the sack down, and the cloth- ing scattered, blue against the white.

The heavy bag? Please. If there is a God above, then have mercy on me.

Cans! But there would be no way to open them out here. He untied the last bag, which proved to be the most stubborn. Finally it was freed and, once again, it was mail. But this one also had parcel boxes. He reached in to pull one out and several letters scattered in the wind.

Seamus stared at the box and shook it. Looking up, he saw the sun dipping below the crowns of the trees. He couldn’t squander any more daylight.

He returned the package in the sack and gathered the letters from the ground. As he did, one letter caught his eye.

In addition to an address on it was written PLEASE OPEN IMMEDIATELY. He stared at it for a moment and went to fling it but paused and examined it again.

Not understanding why he was compelled to do so, he tucked the envelope in an inner pocket of his doeskin jacket. Then he lifted the bag of canned goods and slung it over his shoulder. Too heavy. He would have to do something.

Yet he couldn’t fully embrace the thought of throwing away some of its contents. How much would he regret leaving any of these cans behind? The indecision was amplified by the pounding of his head and a surge of nausea.

Something drew him out of this. A movement in the trees behind him, a rustling of leaves.

He spun, now alert, and gazed through foliage beginning to be shrouded by dusk.

Silence. Even the wind had stilled. Only his breathing remained.

Then. It happened again. The snapping of branches. Something or someone was approaching.

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Threads of Hope by Andrea Boeshaar

My Review:

Emily Sunberg has triumphed over rumor, made friends and lived in spite of feeling betrayed by Jake Edgerton so many years previously. When he appears in her life with a thud and knocks her literally to the ground, she finds the old familiar anger welling up within her.

This tale of Emily and Jake in the old west is a fun, romantic story. Her feisty friend Iris can keep you guessing throughout the book as Jake and Emily battle with their friendship throughout the story.

There were a few confusing elements in the book for me, that I was confused about, and wondering if I missed something, but they did not detract from the overall book.

This author is one that I seek out her historical fiction. She provides a good read for a rainy or hot summer day!
-Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Realms (May 7, 2013)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar is a certified Christian life coach and speaks at writers’ conferences and for women’s groups. She has taught workshops at such conferences as Write-to-Publish, American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Oregon Christian Writers Conference, Mount Hermon Writers Conference, and many local writers conferences. Another of Andrea’s accomplishments is cofounder of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) organization. For many years she served on both its advisory board and as its CEO.

Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Emily Sundberg has her life all laid out. She has a respectable job as a teacher and an idea of whom she should marry.  But does God have a better plan?

Emily Sundberg considers herself a proper young lady of the twentieth century. But a decade ago she behaved more like a tomboy. So when the neighbor’s grandson came to visit one summer when she was thirteen, they became fast friends. Emily even got her first kiss—quite by accident.

Unfortunately Jake Edgerton told all the boys something else. Rumors circulated, and Emily caved from embarrassment and guilt. Meanwhile Jake returned home to Fallon, Montana and she never saw or heard from him again.

Over the years Emily has worked hard to prove to her peers and the people of Manitowoc, Wisconsin that, despite past mistakes, she is an upstanding young woman, one worthy of being a schoolteacher—and possibly Andy Anderson’s wife. But even with the passing of time, Emily has never forgotten Jake and how he nearly ruined her life…

And now he’s a US deputy marshal and he’s back in town!

Product Details:

List Price: $11.28

PublisherRealms (May 7, 2013)

LanguageEnglish

ISBN-101621362396

ISBN-13978-1621362395

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

May 1902

Manitowoc, WisconsinAn explosion of shattering glass sounded from directly behind Emily Sundberg, and a thunderous weight crashed into her. The world spun, and then she fell hard and facedown on the dirty Franklin Street plank walk.

Breathe! Breathe! She struggled to inhale.

“Are you all right, ma’am?” A male voice spoke close to her ear. “I’m terribly sorry about knocking you over.”

He helped her sit, and a moment later a rush of sweet, springtime air filled Emily’s lungs. She let out a breath of relief.

“Are you hurt?”

“I . . . I don’t know.” Emily spit dirt from her mouth. Her left cheek began to throb. Her vision swam.

He steadied her, his arm around her shoulders. “Easy there.”

She took several deep breaths.

“Allow me to help you up and over to the bench. Like I said, I’m sorry ’bout knocking you over the way I did.”

Emily wiggled her toes inside her ivory-colored boots. Nothing broken. She moved her jaw. Despite the pain around her cheekbone, she seemed all right. Her hand moved to the back of her head. Her fat braid had come out of its pinning and her hat—her hat!

She pointed to the paved street seconds before a set of buggy wheels rolled over it, grinding the lovely creation into the paved road. Not once. But twice!

Emily moaned.

“Careful, now.” The man helped her to stand. “There’re shards of glass everywhere.”

Emily thanked God she hadn’t slammed her head into the nearby hitching post.

“Hooligans!” A woman’s voice rang out amidst the strangely silent street. It sounded like Mrs. Hopper’s. “Hooligans, ever’ one of ’em!”

Definitely Mrs. Hopper’s.

The man held Emily securely by her upper arms, and Emily’s gaze fell on his walnut-colored waistcoat. “You sure you’re not hurt?

“I–I don’t think so.”

“Well, I hope you can forgive me, ma’am.”

Emily’s gaze finally reached the man’s tanned and goldenwhiskered face. Shaggy blond hair framed his face and blood stained the corner of his mouth. In his canvas duster and matching trousers, the stranger looked out of place for Manitowoc, Wisconsin. But odd costumes weren’t totally uncommon, given the city’s lively port.

And yet, he seemed a bit familiar too . . .

“Unhand that girl, you hooligan!” Mrs. Hopper rushed forward and whacked the man on the shoulder with her cane.

He winced and released Emily. “I meant her no harm.” As Emily staggered backward slightly, the man caught her elbow. His velvety-brown gaze bore into hers as if to ask yet again if she’d been injured.

Funny how she guessed at his thoughts.

“I’m just shaken.” Emily glimpsed the remorse in his eyes before he bent and picked up the dark blue capelet that her grandmother, Bestamor, had knit for her. He gave it a shake before handing it over.

“And what about my hat?” Sadly she pointed again to the street.

The man collected its colorful but irreparably flattened remains.

“A travesty!” Mrs. Hopper’s age-lined face contorted in rage. “A travesty, I say!”

Travesty indeed! It had taken months for Emily to save for that fine bit of millinery with its silk ribbons, Chantilly lace, and pink roses on a velvet bandeau. Now Andy Anderson would never see it. She took the mangled remnants from the stranger’s hand. “I certainly hope you plan to reimburse me for this. I paid one dollar and fifty cents for it.”

“A dollar and a half? For a hat? I could buy a shoulder holster, cartridge belt, and ammunition for that sum.”

Unimpressed, Emily extended one hand of her torn netted glove. Another casualty.

Resignation softened his gaze before the man reached into his inside pocket and then placed two dollar bills into Emily’s outstretched palm. “This should more than cover it. Again, I apologize.”

“Thank you.” Emily smiled. “Apology accepted.” She folded the money and put it in her reticule, still attached to her wrist.

Mrs. Sylvia Hopper sniffed indignantly, but Emily caught the approving light in the older woman’s eyes. She’d known the elderly woman for a long while, as she had been Bestamor’s best friend back in Norway. She’d come to America just before Poppa was born, and now her granddaughter, Iris, was Emily’s best friend.

A small crowd pressed in on the boardwalk to gawk. Emily’s gaze moved to the man who lay sprawled out and unmoving several feet away.

She quickly turned away. “Is he dead?”

“Probably not.” The stranger bent and grabbed his hat that lay nearby and gave it a whack against his thigh. “My compliments. You took that tumble a far sight better than he did.”

“Who is he?”

“Name’s Wilcox. He’s wanted in five counties.”

Emily glanced at the motionless figure again. He didn’t look familiar.

“It’s actually amazing that you’re not out cold yourself. For a moment I feared I’d killed you.”

“And you could have killed her, you low-life hooligan!”

“Please, Mrs. Hopper . . . ” She glanced around, hating to be the subject of such a scene. “I’m fine. No need to worry.”

Muttering, the elderly woman walked to where several women stood a ways down on the boardwalk, holding parasols and whispering behind gloved fingers.

Emily felt suddenly unnerved. “I guess I’m sturdy for a woman. Even so, I haven’t taken a hit like that since my brothers jumped me and I fell off my horse. Those rascals pretended they were US marshals and I was one of the James Gang.” Emily moistened her lips, her gaze fixed on the handsome stranger. “They flung themselves at me from a tree limb. It’s a miracle we didn’t all break our necks. ”

A moment passed, and Emily wondered why this moment seemed sealed in time.

The man narrowed his gaze.

“Forgive my prattling.” She hadn’t meant to go on like that. “The fall must have shaken my tongue loose.”

Despite the injury to his mouth he grinned, and Emily could swear she’d seen that smile before.

“Both you fellas are paying for this damage to my front window!” Mr. Fransmuller stomped out of his restaurant and saloon. Emily knew him and his family, as young Hans had been in her class just the year before. “Look at what your brawl has done!”

Emily took note of the gaping hole where the two men had crashed through the window.

Mrs. Hopper limped over to the tavern owner. “There ought to be a law against such barbaric behavior in our town. Someone’s going to get killed. Why, Mr. Fransmuller, you should be ashamed, serving strong drink on a Thursday afternoon. Women aren’t safe to do their shopping in broad daylight anymore!”

“Just for the record, I wasn’t drinking,” said the familiar stranger. “Just playing cards is all.”

“And gambling, most likely.” Mrs. Hopper hurled another angry glare at him. “Gambling is a dirty sin.”

Fransmuller frowned and wiped his beefy hands on the black apron tied around his rounded belly. “Now, Mrs. Hopper, don’t start in on one of your holier-than-thou rants.”

“I beg your pardon?” Mrs. Hopper brought herself up to her full height of four feet nine inches. “How dare you speak to me in such a way, Mr. Fransmuller!”

“I’ve got a business to run, and I pay my taxes.” He threw a thumb over his shoulder. “But just look at my front window!” He gave a wag of his nearly bald head. “And you should see the saloon! One big mess!” Mr. Fransmuller marched up and stood toe to toe with the man beside Emily. “Who are you? I want your name. You’re paying for half the damages to my business!”

“Yes, sir.”

Emily watched as the stranger moved his duster to one side. She glimpsed the gun, discreetly haltered across his chest, before he produced his billfold and a silver badge. “Deputy Marshal John Alexander Kirk Edgerton at your service.” After a courteous dip forward, he counted out several large-sum bills. “Will this cover my portion of the damages?”

Emily gasped. Jake? Could it be?

Mr. Fransmuller stared at the money. “Yes. This will do.” He gave a nod of appeasement before walking away.

Mrs. Hopper moved down the boardwalk and continued her conversation with the other ladies.

“Jake?” Emily eked out his nickname, scarcely believing it was him. He was several inches taller, filled out some, and had grown whiskers since she last saw him ten years ago. “Jake Edgerton?”

His gaze slid to her and he smiled. “Well, well . . . Emily Sundberg.” He didn’t look surprised. Obviously he’d recognized her before she’d figured out his identity. “Look at you, all grown up—you even turned out pretty.”

“Hmph! Well, I see you haven’t changed!”

“It was a compliment.”

She bristled. It didn’t sound like a compliment. What’s more, she suddenly recalled that Jake was part of that US marshal stunt her brothers pulled.

Jake Edgerton was trouble. Trouble from the time they were thirteen and fifteen.

“So what are you doing in Manitowoc?”

“Attending my granddad’s funeral.”

Emily felt a sting of rebuke. “Oh, I–I’m sorry. I didn’t know he’d passed. I mean, I knew Mr. Ollie had been ill for a long while, but . . . ”

“Happened just last night.” Jake eyed her speculatively.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Me too.” He glanced away for a moment. “So what about you?” His gaze returned. “Married? Working at your family’s shipping business?”

“Neither. I’m a schoolteacher here in town. I only get home on Sundays.”

“A schoolteacher, eh?”

She nodded as the realization of Mr. Ollie’s death sunk in. A sweeping sadness prevailed. “Again, I’m sorry for your loss. Your grandfather was a good neighbor to our family.” She eyed the rugged man standing before her. Mr. Ollie spoke of him often, and Jake had been especially close to the old man. Oliver Stout, fondly called Mr. Ollie by Emily and her brothers, had been a respected attorney, one who’d boasted many times over the years that his only grandson would one day take over his law practice.

But it didn’t look that way. Not if Jake was a deputy marshal.

“I appreciate the condolences, Em.”

Such familiarity galled her. “So you’re a gambler as well as a lawman?” Emily could only imagine Mr. Ollie, weeping in heaven.

“I partake in a game of cards on occasion.”

“Family funerals being one of them?” She couldn’t squelch the quip.

Jake inhaled, but then seemed to think better of a reply. Instead, he guided her the rest of the way to the bench.

Emily tugged her capelet around her shoulders and sat. She eyed the crowd, praying no one would recognize her as Maple Street School’s third grade teacher or Agnes Sundberg’s niece or Jacob Dunbar’s cousin . . . or Captain Daniel Sundberg’s daughter. With so much family surrounding her in this town, Emily knew the odds were against her anonymity.

“Once again, I am terribly sorry you got in the middle of this whole mess.”

He couldn’t be sorrier than she!

Mr. Fransmuller began sweeping up glass and shooing people away from the scene when shrieks from across the street pierced the air.

Iris. She turned in time to see her best friend making an unladylike sprint from the department store.

“Emily! Emily Sundberg!”

Standing, she cringed. So much for hiding her identity.

Emily lifted a hand in a tiny wave. Iris spotted her and crossed the street. She held her hat in place on her head with one of her slender hands. In the other she clutched her wrapped purchases.

“What’s happened? Oh, my stars!” A pale blue dress hugged Iris’s wispy frame as she hurried toward Emily, while her wire-rim glasses slipped down her long nose. “I heard there was some barroom fight and you got trampled half to death. What would I do if I’d lost my very best frie—”

Iris’s gaze lit on Jake, and she slowed her steps. Giving him a timid smile, she let go of her hat and pushed up her glasses.

He touched the brim of his hat. “Ma’am.”

Iris leaned toward Emily. “Is he the one who ran you over?”

“That about sums it up. But I’m fine, so let’s finish our shopping, shall we?”

Iris didn’t budge. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?” She nudged Emily, who felt a new soreness in her rib cage.

Jake spoke up before she could. “US Deputy Marshal Jake Edgerton, ma’am.”

“Deputy marshal? How impressive.” Iris’s smile grew. “I’m Miss Iris Hopper and Emily’s best friend, going on eight years now. Right, Em?”

“Right.”

“My parents were killed in a horrible mud slide in South America where we were missionaries. I’ve lived with my grandmother ever since.” She pointed to where Mrs. Hopper still stood, recounting the event to an accumulating cluster of women.

“Sorry to hear of your loss.” Jake’s gaze, the color of the brandy he denied drinking, shifted to Emily. “As for Em and me, we go way back too.” A slow grin spread across his mouth. “Ain’t that right? And I must admit it’s been a pleasure, um, running into you today.”

Shut up, Jake. She looked down the block, wondering if he had any idea how much heartache he’d caused her over the years. Because of him and his big mouth, she’d spent half her life repairing her blemished reputation in this town. Worse, Jake never wrote back to her when she’d attempted to apologize for her part in the wrongdoing.

“How’re your brothers?” He gave a nostalgic wag of his head. “That summer I visited Granddad and met all of you Sundbergs was the best in all my life.”

“Eden and Zeb are fine. Just fine.” She couldn’t get herself to say any more. “We’re all fine.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Emily’s never mentioned you.” Iris’s pointed features soured with her deep frown. She leaned closer to Emily. “I thought we told each other everything.”

“No? You never mentioned me, Em?” Jake’s dark eyes glinted with mischief.

Tried half my life to forget you! She clenched her jaw to keep back the retort and realized that it hurt too.

His expression changed. “Maybe you ought to see a doctor, Emily.”

She wished he hadn’t picked up on her wince. “No, I’m fine.”

“She always says that,” Iris tattled. “She’s always ‘fine.’”

“How far’s the doctor’s office from here?”

“I don’t need a doctor, Jake. But thanks, anyway.”

“Well, goodness, Em, you certainly did take the worst of it.” Iris brushed off the back of Emily’s capelet. “And, oh, my stars! Just look at your hat. It’s ruined.”

“Yes, I know. But Jake reimbursed me.”

“How thoughtful.” After a smile his way, Iris examined Emily’s face like she was one of her fourth graders. “I’m not mistaken a bruise is already forming on your left cheek.” Iris clucked her tongue. “You’ll be a sight at the Memorial Day Dance tomorrow night. But if you need to stay home now, I will too.”

“No. We’re still going.” Emily knew her friend looked forward to this community event that honored war veterans as much as she did. In addition, Andy Anderson would be there. Maybe if he saw her in the new dress Momma and Bestamor had sewn especially for the occasion, he’d finally notice her, and not just as Eden’s sister either.

“Andy won’t give you the time of day if you’re all banged up. You might as well stay home.”

Iris had spoken her thoughts. Sadness descended like a fog rolling in from off Lake Michigan. Emily fingered her sore cheek. She’d decided months ago that Andy would make a perfectly suitable husband. Would this ruin her chances of finally catching his eye?

“Might help if you go home and put a cold compress on it,” Jake suggested. “I’ll bet no one will be the wiser by tomorrow night.”

“Sure, that’s right,” Iris’s gaze softened. “Perhaps Andy won’t see any bruising. And we can cake on some of Granny’s concealing cream wherever necessary.”

Glimpsing Jake’s amused grin, Emily blushed. How could Iris speak about such personal things in front of him?

“Excuse me, but are you speaking of Andy Anderson by any chance?” Jake hiked his hat farther back on his head.

“Yes.” Again, Iris seemed happy to provide all the information.

However, the last thing Emily wanted was Jake Edgerton to get involved in her life. “We should be on our way, Iris. Let’s catch up with your granny.”

“Well, I’ll be . . . ” Jake leaned against a hitching post. “Andy Anderson . . . what’s that rascal doing these days?”

“Andy works over at the aluminum factory.” Iris pointed just beyond Jake’s left shoulder and toward where the large, thriving business was located. “He’s quite the lady’s man, but Em hopes to change all that.”

“Iris, really!” Emily gave her friend a stern look.

“Interesting.” Jake gazed off into the distance, his lips pursed as he kneaded his jaw. He seemed to mull over the information before looking back at Emily. “I wondered if I’d see Andy while I was in town.” His gaze focused on Iris. “Andy and I go way back too.”

Every muscle in Emily’s body tensed. If only Mr. Ollie could have waited just a week longer to pass from this world to the next. Her hopes ran high for the Memorial Day Dance tomorrow night, and it vexed her that Jake might have the power to destroy her welllaid plans.

“Emily is counting on Andy to ask her for a dance tomorrow night, but—”

“Iris!” Aghast, she gave her friend’s arm a jerk. “I’m sure Deputy Edgerton doesn’t care about such things.”

“Sure I do.” He straightened, still grinning. “And I’ll tell you what, Em, if Andy doesn’t dance with you, I’d be happy to.”

“Thank you, but I can’t possibly accept.” She tamped down the urge to scowl.

“It’s the least I can do.” After another charming smirk, he arched a brow. “What time’s the grand affair?”

“Aren’t you in mourning?” He just couldn’t show up.

“Of course I am.” Jake rolled one of his broad shoulders. “But I know Granddad fought in the Civil War, and I think he’d want me to attend.”

Iris happily divulged the details, and Emily wanted to scream.

“I’ll be there,” Jake said.

“How grand!” Iris adjusted her colorfully decorative hat. “Then, of course, you must save a dance for me.”

“Iris!” How could her friend be so bold?

Jake didn’t seem offended. “It’d be my honor, ma’am.” He smiled rather sheepishly.

Enough! Emily turned on her heel and strode down the walk, passing Mrs. Hopper and the other women. Her heels clicked hard on the weathered planks. While she walked faster than a lady should, if she didn’t hurry, she’d lose her composure here and now— and right in front of the man who’d nearly ruined her life!

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Ballad of Calamity Creek by Elizabeth Friermood

Ballad of Calamity Creek
By Elizabeth Friermood

Reviewed by Martha Artyomenko

This YA book is a little different than our modern YA books. When Ann’s father decides she is done with her college education after only one year of school, she seeks to achieve her dream of teaching without a degree. Traveling to the hills of Kentucky, she works among the mountaineers and teaches their children, not the fancy French and English she thought she would teach, but often more practical things.

Ms. Friermood’s books are written in a simple, straightforward way, and speak well of the historical ways of the era and differences between the different areas as well. The linguistic qualities of the different speech patterns, eating habits, and desire for learning is expressed so beautifully in this story. There is a small touch of romance mixed in the story, but the book is one that is worth re-reading as a wholesome, clean historical fiction for young people.

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Follow the Heart by Kaye Dacus

My Review:

Kate and Christopher Dearing suddenly have their lives turned upside down by a mistake that their father has made. Katherine, losing all hope of marrying well in America, goes back to regency England to take her chances there. They both hope to marry well, save their family home and support their younger siblings in such a way.

This story immediately brought to mind North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, which I saw at the end, it was what brought to the author’s attention to that time period. The history of the clothing, manners, and formalities are superb throughout this regency novel.

Kate seems to struggle throughout the pages in finding herself, she believes in love and sacrifice at all costs, but the question that lingers while you are reading, is how much sacrifice is she willing to make?

I loved how Ms. Dacus told Christopher’s story as well. I loved his story! I was drawn in and felt like many of my favorite novels, bits and pieces were thrown in here and there.

I throughly enjoyed this book! It is for sure one that you will want to check out and buy for yourself, if you are a regency fiction fan. I will warn you, this book contains a bit more detail of romantic encounters than a Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell novel would have in it, it is done fairly tastefully. – Martha

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:

and the book:

B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Laurel Teague for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time college composition instructor for a local university. To find out more about Kaye and her books, please visit her online at kayedacus.com.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, Follow the Heart is a “sitting-room romance” with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age. Kate and Christopher Dearing’s lives turn upside down when their father loses everything in a railroad land speculation. The siblings are shipped off to their mother’s brother in England with one edict: marry money. At twenty-seven years old, Kate has the stigma of being passed over by eligible men many times—and that was before she had no dowry. Christopher would like nothing better than to make his own way in the world; and with a law degree and expertise in the burgeoning railroad industry, he was primed to do just that—in America. Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate and Christopher find matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, their attentions stray to a gardener and a governess. While Christopher has options that would enable him to lay his affections where he chooses, he cannot let the burden of their family’s finances crush his sister. Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy— gardener aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a wealthy viscount shows interest in her. But is marrying for the financial security of her family the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433677202
ISBN-13: 978-1433677205

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:


SS Baltic
Off the Coast of England
February 9, 1851

You should come back down to the saloon, where it’s warm.”

Kate did not turn from the vista of gray, choppy water in front of her at her brother’s voice. The last fourteen days seemed as nothing to Christopher—a lark, an adventure, not the exile Kate knew it to be.

An exile that came with an edict: Find someone wealthy to marry.

“I do not see the point in sitting in the grand saloon, pretending as though everything is fine when I know it is not. I have no talent at pretense.” Kate wrapped her thick woolen shawl closer about her head and shoulders at a gust of icy wind. “If any of those other passengers knew we were being sent to England as poor relations, they would shun us.”

Just as everyone in Philadelphia had. Word of Graham Dearing’s financial misfortune spread like last summer’s great fire that consumed the Vine Street Wharf—quickly and with almost as much destructive force. Kate and Christopher’s stepmother had been too embarrassed to come down to the train station to see them off to New York two weeks ago—too afraid she would see someone she recognized on the street and not be acknowledged. Only Father had come with them to New York to say good-bye. And to remind Kate why she was being sent to her mother’s brother: to find and marry a fortune that would save their family. The memory of their argument on the platform before she joined Christopher to board the ship burned through her like the coal that powered them closer to her destiny.

“What’s wrong with enjoying the trappings of money while we can?” Christopher sidled up beside her and leaned his forearms against the top railing. “Besides, from Uncle Anthony’s letter, it doesn’t sound like he plans to treat us any differently than his own children, just because we’re ‘poor relations,’ as you put it.”

“But they’ll know. Sir Anthony and his daughters and whatever house staff they have—they’ll know that we’re completely dependent upon their charity. It will be written in their eyes every time they look at us. Every time we sit down at a meal with them. Every time they take us to a ball or party. We will be creating additional expense for them.” Kate trembled, not just from the cold.

“You had no problem with our creating additional expense for Father when we lived at home. Why start worrying about it now?”

Kate finally turned to look—to gape—at her brother. Certainly he was younger than she, but only by three years. However, he was a qualified lawyer, a man full-grown at twenty-four years old. How could he speak so juvenile? Did he not realize what Father and Maud had done to afford to send them abroad? Had he not noticed the missing paintings, carpets, and silver—sold so Father could afford their passage? Kate had a suspicion that much of their stepmother’s heirloom jewelry had met the same fate. Not to mention Father’s sacrifice of pride in begging his first wife’s brother, the baronet Sir Anthony Buchanan, to take them in.

Christopher’s light-brown eyes twinkled and danced. “Come on, Kate. I’ve heard that wealthy men can be plucked up on every corner in England, so you’ve nothing to worry about. They will take one look at you and be lining up at Uncle Anthony’s door to court you.”

Heat flared in her cheeks. “You can stop that nonsensical flattery right now, Christopher Dearing. It will get you nowhere.” But she couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way through her worry.

“It got me exactly what I wanted.” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then turned and forced her to walk back toward the stairs leading down to the grand saloon on the deck below. “We will be docking in a few hours, and you’ve been sulking the entire voyage. I insist you come below and enjoy yourself, just for a little while. Or pretend, on my account.”

Tiny snowflakes floated down and landed on Kate’s shawl and the mittened hand holding it to her chin. “Oh, all right. I will come. But only to get warm before we dock.”

It took her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness of the stairwell. Reaching the grand saloon, Kate slowed and waited for Christopher to regain her side. Though not yet noon, the candles in the hanging lamps and wall sconces had been lit against the gloomy gray skies outside. The large, etched-glass columns in the middle of the room, which connected to the skylights above, brought in little light to reflect from the mirrors lining the walls between the doors to the sleeping cabins.

Several younger men, playing cards in the corner near the foot of the stairs, called out to Christopher, entreating him to come join the game.

He waved them off with a laugh and then offered Kate his arm. “Come, there are a few people who would like to speak to you.”

At the opposite end of the long room, partially hidden by one of the glass pillars from the card players near the stairs, sat a group of middle-aged women and a few men. The rest of the men, she assumed, were in the smoking room.

“Ah, here is your beloved sister, Mr. Dearing.” An older lady patted the seat of the settee beside her. “Do, come sit, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington’s clipped British accent made Kate more nervous than she usually felt before strangers. That, and learning the woman had been governess to their cousins many years ago. Mrs. Headington was so particular and exacting, Kate worried she and Christopher would disappoint their extended family at every turn.

Kate removed her mittens and shawl and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Thank you, Mrs. Headington.”

“We were just speaking of the Great Exhibition.” The plump former governess waved a fan in front of her flushed, moist face, her more-than-ample bosom heaving against her straining bodice with each breath.

“The Great Exhibition?” Kate folded the shawl and set it on her lap, where she rested her still-cold hands on it.

“Oh, Kate, I’ve told you all about it. Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. It’s to be the largest display of industry and arts from all over the world.” Christopher’s eyes took on the same gleam as when he talked about laws governing the railroads. “Imagine—delegations are coming from as far as India, Algiers, and Australia and bringing displays of their industry and manufacturing, their artwork. Some are even bringing wild animals.”

He lost the dreamy expression for a moment. “And I have heard there will be agricultural exhibits, Kate. You may find some exotic plants for the garden.”

She smiled at the memory of her garden, her favorite place in the world—but melancholy and reality struck down the moment of joy. She might never see her garden again. For either she would marry some wealthy Englishman and stay in England for the rest of her life, or Father would be forced to sell the house.

Talk continued around her, rumors of fantastical exhibits and inventions supposedly coming to this great world’s fair, which would open in just under three months.

What would she be doing by then? What about Father and Maud and the girls? She shook her head, trying to stave off the unwanted visions of her father, stepmother, and little sisters begging on the streets of Philadelphia.

The steward entered the saloon and called everyone to follow him in to luncheon. Christopher offered Kate his hand. When she gained her feet, he bent over, placing his mouth close to her ear, as if to place a kiss on her cheek.

“I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t let it get you down. Everything will be all right. You’ll see.” He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and led her through the steward’s pantry, where the beautiful silver trays and chargers displayed there winked in the candlelight, mocking her with their opulence.

Mrs. Headington invited them to sit at her table for the meal, and Kate sank gratefully into the chair Christopher held for her. Though her brother knew almost all of the hundred or so first-class passengers traveling with them, Kate had kept to herself most of the voyage, unable to laugh and flirt and pretend the way Christopher could.

“You appear sad, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington gave Kate a knowing look. “Is it a young man you have left back home who occupies your thoughts?”

Kate latched on to the question. “I had—have a suitor, ma’am. He courted me for over a year. I believed he would propose before . . . before Christopher and I left for England. But alas, he did not.”

Christopher’s jaw slackened, and Kate felt a kindling of amusement at his astonishment over her ability to spin the story in such a manner. Perhaps she did share some of his abilities, buried deep within.

“I do not know what the fellow could have been thinking, allowing a woman like you to slip away with no firm commitment. Does he realize how easily he could lose you to one of our fine English gentlemen?”

If only Mrs. Headington knew what Devlin Montgomery knew.

“If the blighter is not man enough to propose before you left, you should consider yourself free to accept other suitors, Miss Dearing. Though you must allow me to caution you against those wicked men who want nothing more than to ruin virtuous young women like you.” Mrs. Headington raised her teacup in emphatic punctuation to her warning, though speculation filled her gaze. “There are plenty of lords who will look beyond the lack of a title when it comes to a pretty face, so long as she has a substantial dowry.”

Kate hoped one of them would also look beyond the lack of a dowry. Rather than let Mrs. Headington’s unintentional disparagement send her back into the doldrums she’d been in since that awful discovery on New Year’s Eve, Kate continued smiling and trying to engage in conversation with Mrs. Headington and the other travelers who joined them at the marble-topped table.

It would do her no good to show up on England’s shores dour-faced and hung all around with melancholy. She had little enough to work with as it was—being too tall, with average looks, and angular features. Oddly enough, for Kate, the Old World meant a new life. Here, where no one knew her, where no one could recount the names of the men who had courted her and then decided not to marry her, she could forget the past, forget her failure to find a husband. In England, she could become Katharine Dearing, the woman who could not only carry on a conversation about botany or politics with any man, but who could dance and flirt as well.

For ten years, since her debut at seventeen, she’d turned her nose up at the young women who simpered and giggled and flattered all the young men. Well, most of those young women were now married with families of their own.

She glanced around the table and studied the interactions between married couples and among the few unmarried young women and men. Could she remake herself in the image of the debutante across from her with the blonde ringlets, whose coy, soft eyes and sweet smiles drew the men’s attention like bees to nectar?

To her right, Mrs. Headington argued with Christopher about the politics surrounding the Great Exhibition and the worry of many that Prince Albert would bankrupt the country with the lavish display of agriculture and industry.

Kate Dearing would have joined in the conversation of politics. Katharine Dearing, however, turned to the balding, middle-aged man on her left. “What part of England are you from, Mr. Fitch?”

She lowered her chin and blinked a few times, trying to imitate the blonde’s batting eyelashes. The man beside her almost choked on his wine before setting down the goblet to answer, obviously no more accustomed to being flirted with than Kate was to flirting.

Dowry or no dowry, she must and would find a wealthy husband. And as her stepmother was so fond of saying, practice makes perfect.

~

Andrew Lawton drew his coat collar higher around the lower part of his face and pulled his hat down, wishing it would cover his ears, exposed as they were to the frigid winter air. Beyond the inn’s small front porch, snow blew and swirled on the indecisive wind—first toward, then away; left, then right. White dust skittered this way and that on the cobblestone street.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, longing for spring and the orderliness and discipline he would bring to the gardens at Wakesdown Manor. He had the plans all laid out on paper and was prepared to begin construction of the new gardens so they would be ready to burst into bloom when warm weather arrived. But instead, he was in Liverpool. And on a Sunday, no less.

Who would choose to travel by steamship in the middle of winter?

He’d only just managed to get away from Mr. Paxton and the Crystal Palace in time to catch the train from London to Liverpool yesterday. Eleven hours on an unforgiving wooden seat in the unheated third-class car—not wanting to part with his hard-earned wages in order to ride in the warmth and comfort of second class or the luxury of first—followed by a night on a lumpy bed in a freezing inn had done his back and his temper no favors.

Rather than go to the expense of a hiring a cab for the mile walk back to the train station, Andrew adjusted his collar again, hooked the handle of his valise over his left wrist, stuffed his gloved hands into his coat pockets, and leaned into the swirling wind with a brisk pace. The inn’s distance from the station had made it economically attractive for the overnight stay—half the cost of those within a block or two of both the train station and the Mersey River ports, where everything and everyone came in and out of Liverpool.

By the time he reached his destination, the swirling white dust had turned to hard, pelting ice. According to the timetable written on the board in the ticket office, the Baltic had docked ten minutes ago, shortly after one o’clock.

If he caught the two o’clock train, he would arrive in Oxford near eleven tonight. He desperately wanted to sleep in his own bed after so many nights away. He purchased three first-class tickets, as per his employer’s instructions, tucked them into his waistcoat pocket, then went to the telegraph office and wired Sir Anthony so he would know to be expecting his guests to arrive tonight.

Back out on the platform, he noticed the ferry from the steamship had landed at the far end. Passengers disembarked while crew unloaded baggage through a lower-deck portal.

He scanned the passengers coming toward him, looking for a young man and young woman traveling together. Americans. That was all Andrew knew. Dismissing several older people and a couple of women traveling alone, Andrew released his breath in frustration.

“You look lost, young man.” A woman in a dress too tight and juvenile for her ample form and age stopped in front of him.

Andrew doffed his round-crowned bowler hat—and the woman frowned at it a moment. If Andrew had known he would be making this side trip when he left Wakesdown, he would have packed his top hat, since the more serviceable bowler served to emphasize his working-class roots.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” Andrew tucked the hat under his elbow. “I am supposed to be meeting a Mr. and Miss Dearing. You do not, perhaps—”

“Christopher and Kate. Of course I met them. It is hard not to get to know all the other passengers on a two-week voyage.”

Andrew inclined his head in relief. “Would you mind pointing them out to me?”

“No, not at all.” She squinted at the ferry. “Yes, there they are. Good-looking fellow in the indigo coat. The young woman is, alas, much plainer than her brother.” The woman leaned closer and dropped her voice. “And if what I heard in Philadelphia is true, their father, wicked man, just lost all his considerable fortune in a railway speculation that failed. Poor dear. Only way she would have caught a husband at her age and with her lack of beauty would have been with a substantial dowry.”

Andrew scanned the passengers coming off the boat. There—a young man in a dark blue overcoat. But that could not be Christopher Dearing. For the woman beside the man in the blue coat was anything but plain. Not beautiful like Sir Anthony’s daughters—but far from plain. A straw-brimmed bonnet hid her hair, but her brown cloak and shawl emphasized her bright blue eyes, even from this distance.

“Now, if you will excuse me, I must arrange my travel to London.”

Andrew gave the older woman a slight bow, then stepped forward to meet the Dearings.

Andrew stepped into the man’s path. “Are you Mr. Dearing?”

A smile replaced the look of consternation. He stuck out his gloved hand, which Andrew shook in greeting.

“Christopher Dearing.” He pulled the arm of the young woman in the brown cloak, who’d stopped a full pace behind him. “And this is my sister, Kate—I mean, Katharine.”

Katharine gave a slight curtsy, red tingeing her cheeks.

“Andrew Lawton.” He inclined his head, then dragged his gaze from the woman—whose face was, perhaps, a bit too square for her to be considered truly handsome—back to her brother. “Sir Anthony sends his apologies for not coming to meet you personally. But his youngest daughter fell ill two days ago, and he did not want to leave her.” He glanced back at Katharine Dearing, to keep her from feeling excluded from the apology.

Concern flooded her striking blue eyes. “I hope it isn’t a grave illness.”

Andrew reminded himself that Miss Dearing was Sir Anthony’s niece and, therefore, no one who should garner his interest in any capacity other than as one of the masters—fortune or no. “When last Sir Anthony wired, he did not believe it to be more than a fever due to the wet winter we are having and Miss Florence’s insistence on riding every day no matter what the weather.”

“I am sorry she’s ill, but it is good to know it isn’t dire.” Katharine looked as if she wanted to say more, but at the last moment lost her nerve.

“So . . . did I hear you correctly?” Christopher asked. “The name is pronounced Antony and not Anthony?”

“Yes, Mr. Dearing, you heard correctly.”

Miss Dearing transferred a tapestry bag from one hand to the other.

“May I take that for you, miss?” Andrew pushed his hat back down on his head and reached for her bag.

“Oh, you don’t—” But she let the protest die and handed him the bag with a sudden doe-eyed smile. “Why, thank you, Mr. Lawton. We arranged with the steward to have our trunks transferred directly to the Oxford train. The schedule they had aboard ship indicated there is one that leaves at two o’clock.”

“Yes, that is our train.”

Katharine looked up at her brother. “We should get our tickets now so that we are ready when it’s time to board.”

“No need.” Andrew shifted her bag to his left hand, along with his own, and patted the waistcoat pocket through his frock and overcoat. “I have already taken care of the tickets. The train arrived just moments ago, so we can go find a compartment.” He motioned with his free hand for Christopher and Katharine to join him, and he led them down the platform.

“My, but you have already thought of everything, haven’t you?” Katharine’s flirtatious expression seemed odd, like a daisy growing from a rosebush.

And the look of confusion on her brother’s face only added to Andrew’s. Surely she realized from his humble attire he wasn’t anyone who could offer her the wealth she apparently needed in a husband. So why would she overtly flirt with him?

“How long a trip is it from here to Oxford?” Christopher asked.

“Almost nine hours, so long as the tracks are clear.” Andrew looked past the roof of the station. Snow mixed with the icy precipitation from half an hour before, and it looked to start piling up quickly. Hopefully, traveling south and inland from here would mean away from the snow.

He found a compartment in the first-class car, set his and Katharine’s valises on the seat, and turned to assist her in. She thanked him profusely. Once she was settled, he and Christopher lifted the small valises onto the shelf over the seat opposite Katharine, and then sat, facing her.

Katharine wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and arms. Christopher leaned over and opened the grate of the small heater and stoked the glowing red coal. “I’d hoped maybe to see one of those new heaters I’ve been reading about—where steam heat is pumped from the fire in the locomotive throughout the cars in the train.”

“Have you an interest in the railway, Mr. Dearing?” Though he had no desire to make the sister feel left out of the conversation, Andrew was in great danger of allowing himself to stare at her now that she was in such close proximity. Upon second thought, the squareness of her jaw did not detract from but added to the symmetry of her face. And above all else, Andrew appreciated symmetry.

“Yes—my apprenticeship was with a firm that specializes in railway law. It’s fascinating to see how, in a matter of just ten or twenty years, the railroad has changed our way of life.” Christopher stretched his lanky frame into a position of repose, obviously accustomed to the comforts of first-class accommodations.

“I was twenty years old when the railroad came to Derby—my home—in the year ’40. It has quite changed the way of life for everyone there.” Andrew removed his hat and gloves and set them on the seat beside him.

Christopher’s eyes—brown, rather than blue like his sister’s—flashed with curiosity. “Really? I hardly remember when the first railroad opened in Philadelphia in 1832.”

“That’s because you were not quite six years old when it came.” Katharine’s soft voice reminded them of her presence—as if Andrew needed reminding. “I remember it well. Father took us to the parade and to see the locomotive take off. It was the first time we were all happy since Mother and Emma died.” Katharine’s focus drifted far away along with her voice.

Andrew stared at her. In the space of mere minutes, she had changed entirely. No longer did she seem a vapid flirt, but a woman one might like to converse with.

Katharine’s eyes came back into focus. “I do apologize. I didn’t mean to cast a melancholy pall over the conversation.” The strangely foreign flirtatious smile reappeared. “What is it that you do for Sir Anthony, Mr. Lawton? You must hold quite the position of importance for him to have sent you to meet us and escort us to Wakesdown.” Her long eyelashes fluttered as she blinked rapidly a few times.

“I am a landscape architect. I am redesigning all of the gardens and parks on Sir Anthony’s estate.”

At the mention of gardens, something miraculous happened. A warmth, a genuine curiosity, overtook Katharine Dearing’s blue eyes. Ah, there was the rose pushing the daisy out of its way.

“You’ve done it now.” Christopher sighed dramatically. “One mention of gardening, and Kate will talk your ears off about plants and flowers and weeds and soil and sun and shade.”

Katharine gave a gasp of indignation, but quickly covered it with the flirtatious smile again. “I am certain I do not know what you mean, Christopher. I would never think to importune Mr. Lawton in such a manner.” She crossed her arms and turned to gaze out the window.

The train lurched and chugged and slowly made its way from the station.

Andrew couldn’t tell if Katharine was truly angry at her brother or not, but he determined a change of subject might be in order. “Will you continue to read the law, Mr. Dearing?”

Christopher nodded. “I brought some books with me to study, yes. And I expect I’ll pick up many more on the British legal system while I’m here.”

Andrew opened his mouth to ask if Christopher were joking with him—but then pressed his lips together. Perhaps they had a different term in America for the pursuit of education in the legal system other than read. “Will you seek out a lawyer to apprentice with?”

“If Uncle Anthony doesn’t mind, I might do that just to keep myself busy.”

Katharine made a sharp sound in the back of her throat.

“Oh, right, I’m supposed to call him Sir Anthony until he gives us permission to call him uncle.” Christopher grinned at Andrew. “Though really, in this modern era, why anyone would stand on such formality is beyond me.”

Under the wide brim of her bonnet, Katharine rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, now freed from the mittens she’d worn earlier. Upon first seeing the Dearings, he’d assumed Christopher the older and Katharine the younger—from the way Katharine hovered behind her brother when they first met. Now, however, from Katharine’s memory of something that happened almost nineteen years ago, she was obviously the older sibling. And if Christopher had been six years old in 1832, that meant he was now around five-and-twenty. Meaning Katharine must be in her late twenties, if not already Andrew’s age of thirty.

That was what the woman he’d met at the station meant by “at her age.” Andrew was not certain how things were done in America, but here in England, Miss Dearing would be considered well past the prime marriageable age. And if the rumors that woman heard in Philadelphia were true, without a substantial dowry, Katharine had no chance of marrying well.

For the first time in his life, Andrew felt true pity for another person. The last thing he’d promised his mother before she died of lung rot was that he would not end up like her—condemned to live out her days in the poorhouse. He’d worked hard to get where he was today, and he would do whatever it took to continue bettering himself and his condition.

He thanked God he had not been born a woman.

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