Home » , , , , , » Love-Scarred Hands Series:Hands of Love,Book 3 By Mildred Colvin

Love-Scarred Hands Series:Hands of Love,Book 3 By Mildred Colvin

Thomas Atwood walked beside his friend in the brisk autumn air of New York City. Listening to the other man extol the virtues of a woman Thomas would as soon forget was an amusing pastime.

“Ah, Julie Louise Crandell.” Eric De Vries held a touch of awe in his voice as he shook his head. “Such a lovely girl to waste her life on a scalawag like you.”
Love-Scarred Hands Series:Hands of Love,Book 3
Love-Scarred Hands Series:Hands of Love,Book 3 By Mildred Colvin

Thomas laughed. “I don’t recall asking Miss Crandell to be my wife.”

“You have escorted her to every church function for over a year. I assumed your intentions were honorable.”

“I have no intentions regarding Miss Crandell, honorable or otherwise. She is merely a convenience. Our courtship appeases the old man.”

“Surely you will marry her.” Disbelief colored Eric’s voice. “You are honor bound to do so.”

Thomas’s eyes narrowed as he looked into Eric’s freckled face. “You have known me long enough to know I am not honor bound to do anything I do not wish to do. Can you imagine Miss Crandell and my old man, both on their knees, praying for my sinful soul?” His short laugh held no humor. “I would sooner marry one of Sadie’s girls.”

Eric stumbled and took a couple of running steps before again matching Thomas’s long-legged stride. “Surely you wouldn’t!”

He looked into Thomas’s eyes. “For a moment I thought you were serious.”

“It would almost be worth it to see the old man’s face.” Thomas laughed. “The Reverend Matthias Atwood with a chippy for a daughter-in-law. Imagine him explaining that to his adoring flock.”

He slapped the other man’s shoulder. “I think that pleasant vision merits a drink, my friend.”

Red and gold leaves, recently fallen from the young maple trees lining the street, swirled at their feet as the two young men turned the corner and hurried toward their favorite pub.

An hour later, they emerged from The Lion and The Claw in high spirits. Thomas had used his last shilling to treat his friend, but with the lonely and silent fip in his pocket, a favorable pair of dice, and a bit of luck, he would soon hear the jingle of coins once more. They rounded the corner and came face to face with a muscular young policeman.

“Well, if it isn’t my brother-in-law, Thomas, I’m running into.” A broad smile lit Rory O’Brien’s pleasant, clean-cut face. “And me just coming from the post with a letter from my dear sister in London. She sent a picture along. Would you be wanting to see it?”

Without waiting for an answer, he removed a charcoal sketch from the envelope. “This is Rose.” He handed the picture to Thomas.

Thomas glanced at the drawing and passed it to his companion.

Eric studied the sketch carefully before handing it back to Rory. “Your sister is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, Officer O’Brien.”

The young policeman’s face reflected pride as he returned the sketch carefully to the envelope. “Aye! She was a wee girl when I left Ireland seven years ago. Now she is a young lady—the image of our sainted mother.”

He slipped the envelope into his blouse pocket, a slight frown momentarily clouding his blue eyes. “She writes warmly of Kyle Downey, her artist friend. I only wish I could be there to make sure the young man is worthy of her.”

He glanced up as Thomas took a step into the street. “But I’m keeping you, and I must get home to Susannah.”

As Rory hurried away, Eric said, “What a shame Miss O’Brien is in England.”

Thomas shrugged his broad shoulders and stepped out. “There are plenty of pretty girls in our own neighborhood.”

“Not like this girl,” Eric again followed. “Miss O’Brien is different.”

“Different? In what way? A girl is a girl.”

“Not always.” Eric shook his head. “I’ll wager this girl wouldn’t so readily succumb to your charm.”

“You would wager?” Thomas stopped so abruptly Eric bumped into him. “How much would you wager?” Thomas swung around and looked at his friend. “Come now, make it worth my while.”

“Are you daft? You can’t go to England, and besides you heard what Officer O’Brien said. She speaks warmly of that artist fellow.”

“A minor obstacle, and there is always the postal service.”

Eric threw back his head and laughed. “More than a minor obstacle. If you had taken a closer look at that sketch, you would have seen it was titled My Beautiful Irish Rose. It will take more than a letter to charm this girl.”

“I say a few well-chosen words, and she will completely forget her artist friend.”

“You never cease to amaze me, Thomas Atwood.”

Thomas felt the exuberance that stirred his blood at a challenge. “If you are so certain that Miss O’Brien is unattainable, make it worth my while to prove you wrong.”

After a thoughtful pause, Eric grinned. “Would a gold half eagle be sufficient to prove me right?”

“Make that a gold eagle, and you pay the postage.”

“A gold eagle! That’s rather steep.”

“Take it or leave it. Those are my terms.” He shrugged and turned away. “Obviously you don’t have much faith in Miss O’Brien’s commitment to the artist.”

“No, wait!” Eric laid a restraining hand on Thomas’s arm. “It has to be a friendly letter addressed directly to you. Nothing else is acceptable.”

“Agreed. And it must be a gold eagle, not that worthless paper from your old man’s bank.”

A slight flush tinged Eric’s narrow face. “There is nothing wrong with the paper money my father’s bank prints.”

Thomas shrugged. “A gold eagle, or the bet is off.”

“Agreed. After all, this is one wager I will win.” Eric stuck out his hand, and Thomas grasped it.

“Prepare to ante up, my friend.” He dropped Eric’s hand and continued down the street.

“If you’d taken time to look at her, you would know Miss O’Brien is no ordinary girl,” Eric muttered at Thomas’s swiftly retreating back.

Thomas began mentally composing the letter that would put his friend’s gold eagle into his pocket. A smile spread across his face. “This is going to be easy money.”

“Do you know anything about the girl?”

“Only that Susannah has said she is a servant at Buckingham Palace, and she fancies herself to be in love with an artist.” He glanced down at his friend’s flushed face. “Or so you tell me.”

Thomas came to an abrupt halt across the street from the large brick parsonage. “I think I’ll take my private route in case the old man is home.”

Eric smiled knowingly. “Afraid the reverend will call fire and brimstone down on your head when he smells the whiskey on your breath?”

Thomas stepped into the street with a quick grin toward his friend. He slipped around to the magnificent oak tree that sheltered the back entrance of the parsonage. Under the cloak of gathering darkness, he stood shielded by the tree. Satisfied no one was about, he swung lithely onto the first branch and climbed until he stopped opposite his bedroom window.

It was an easy matter to swing from the tree to the roof where he landed with a soft thud. The remaining leaves and the cover of evening concealed him, but with caution born of long experience, he paused to listen. Satisfied, he eased his fingers into the small crack between window and casement and lifted slowly.

After sliding through the opening, he turned and closed the window against the October chill. He groped for the lamp and matches on the chest beside him, and soon soft light filled the room.

His first thought was to do something about his breath. Crossing to the washstand, he brushed his teeth before pouring water from the pitcher into the washbowl. After splashing his face and running a comb through his wavy black hair, he smiled at the handsome young man reflected in the mirror. “This is going to be the easiest ten you’ve ever won.”

The smile Thomas carried downstairs disappeared when he saw the old man sitting at the head of the mahogany table in the dining room. The reverend’s dark, piercing gaze settled on his only son. “I did not hear you come in, Thomas.”

“I don’t believe you were here when I came home, sir.”

“I have been here since four o’clock.”

Thomas held his mother’s chair before taking his place between his parents. “I spent the afternoon in my room studying, sir.”

“Henrietta, when I asked, you said Thomas had not returned from the library.”

“I didn’t hear him come in.” Mother and son’s eyes met. “What time did you come home, Thomas?”

“I believe it was shortly after two. There was no one about, so I went to my room.”

A slight frown shadowed his mother’s golden eyes. “I left a note on your desk, reminding you that your father wished to speak to you when he returned from the church.”

He disliked lying to his mother, but occasionally found it necessary. “I’m sorry, but by the time I discovered your message, Father was in his study.”

Lying to the old man, on the other hand, was a game. “I know you dislike interruptions when you are writing your sermon. What did you wish to discuss with me, sir?”

Matthias’s dark-eyed gaze searched his son’s face “When do you plan to declare your intentions to marry Julie Louise Crandell?”

“I really haven’t given marriage much thought, sir.” He stared at his empty plate.

“It’s time you gave it some thought. Julie Louise will be an asset to you, Thomas.”

Thomas lifted his gaze to his father’s. “I hardly have the means to support a wife while I’m completing my education, sir. Especially not one accustomed to such a privileged lifestyle as Miss Crandell.”

The reverend frowned. “John Crandell called on me yesterday afternoon. He feels it is time you announce your betrothal to his daughter.”

Tension pulled against Thomas’s neck. “I have a year until I graduate, and it will be some time before I can adequately support a family, sir.”

His mother had been sitting quietly listening to the conversation, her eyes moving from one to the other. Now, her golden-eyed gaze came to rest on her husband. “Matthias, Thomas is only twenty. There will be time for him to marry after he has completed his education.” She picked up her napkin. “Our dinner is growing cold.”

“I have your best interests at heart, Thomas. A man with John Crandell’s wealth and business connections could do much to further the career of a capable young attorney. Julie Louise is his only child, and her father is extremely fond of you. I suggest you give serious consideration to your future.” Matthias folded his hands and bowed his head, signaling the end of the discussion.

Thomas dutifully bowed his head. The old man might think his future was settled, but he had no intentions of marrying Julie Crandell. He’d kissed her once because Eric bet him that Julie was too virtuous to allow him to do so. She’d gotten such a case of vapors, she almost swooned.

If he married Miss Crandell, he’d have to pay with his life. Just the thought of facing her over the breakfast table, morning after morning, year after year, until death finally released him, left him cold.

~*~

Later, seated at the desk in his room, he paused to think for a moment. How should he address Rory’s sister? Dear… what was the girl’s given name? He knew he’d heard it. Oh well, it didn’t matter. It would appear too forward if he used her first name. Finally, deciding on My Dear Miss O’Brien as a proper salutation, intimate yet respectful, he began to write.

He introduced himself then wrote at length about his life. Women were suckers where babies were concerned, so he told her several little anecdotes about his sisters’ youngsters. Then, summoning every bit of skill at his disposal, he moved in for the kill.

The words flowed easily onto the paper.





I realize it is presumptuous of me to write to you, but as my sister is married to your brother, I trust you will forgive my boldness.





He paused to think. What could he write that would prompt a young girl to respond to him? Should he appeal to her vanity? That worked with Julie Louise, but not all girls were so vain. His sisters weren’t. He smiled and picked up his pen.





I believe it must have been fate that I intercepted my dear brother-in-law on his way home from the post office today. When Rory showed me the sketch you sent, one look into your beautiful eyes bewitched me. Surely, you are a princess in disguise, my lovely….





The girl’s name completely eluded him. He finally wrote, my lovely Miss O’Brien. Not quite as intimate, but it would surely impress a romantic young girl.

He wrote steadily for an hour, crossing out and rewriting, until the letter met his approval. Taking special care with his penmanship, he copied the final draft on the expensive stationery Julie had given him for his birthday. When he finished, he leaned back in his chair, propped his feet on the desk, and reread what he had written. Eric’s ten dollars was as good as in his pocket.

He swung his feet from the desk to the floor. Tomorrow he would visit Susannah and get the girl’s address. He folded the letter and slid it into an envelope before laying it to one side.

Selecting a massive book from the stack on his desk, Thomas leaned back in his chair and began to read, the letter already out of his mind.

~*~

Two months later, a letter from England arrived. Thomas took a moment to study the neat slanting script on the envelope before slipping it into his pocket unopened. Eric had gloated each day for the last week. Thomas’s turn had come to crow. Sweet victory! He couldn’t wait to see Eric’s face when he handed him Rose O’Brien’s letter. Tonight after supper, he would make a special trip to the De Vries’ home.

He had just gone to his room, when his mother called up the stairs. “Thomas, Eric is here to see you.”

So Eric had come by to snicker. Thomas chuckled and slipped the letter into his pocket.

“I thought I’d drop by and see what you are doing.” Eric smiled as Thomas descended the stairs. “Were you writing a letter?”

“I was studying,” Thomas lied. “You should try it sometime. You might be second in the class if you applied yourself.”

“I might even be first,” Eric retorted. “But where would that leave you?”

The two young men followed Thomas’s mother into the parlor. After several minutes of polite conversation, Eric stirred. “I should be heading home. There’s a hint of snow in the air.”

“The almanac is predicting a severe winter.” Thomas’s father looked up as Eric pushed himself out of the armchair.

Thomas stood too. “I’ll get my cape and see you out.”

As soon as the latch clicked on the entry door, Eric turned to Thomas. “Have you noticed how slow the mail has been lately? I hear it takes forever to get a letter from England.”

“Really? Forever?” Thomas laughed. “I think not, my friend.” He pulled the crumpled letter from his pocket and handed it to Eric with a flourish.

Eric took the envelope reluctantly then a smile crept across his face. “You haven’t opened it.”

He eagerly tore the envelope. Holding it in the faint light from the parlor window, he scanned the letter.

“This certainly could not be described as a love letter.” He folded the sheet of paper and returned it to the envelope before handing it back to Thomas. “But I suppose it is friendly enough.”

Thomas leaned against the side of the house beside the window, his arms folded across his chest. “That was the requirement. Did you come prepared to pay?”

Eric mumbled something unintelligible, as he pulled a bill from his pocket and held it out to Thomas.

Thomas shook his head. “Come now, you know that won’t do. We already discussed your old man’s paper money. It’s worthless.”

“This paper is as good as gold.” Eric drew himself up.

“So you say! But I prefer the golden eagle I heard squawk when you pulled that paper lining from its nest.” Thomas extended his open hand. “Ante up, my friend.”

“I don’t know why I call you friend,” Eric muttered, as he put the required gold piece in Thomas’s hand.

“It’s my considerable charm.” Thomas dropped the coin into his pocket.

“Charm indeed!” Eric snorted. “Miss O’Brien does not seem overwhelmed by your charm.”

“The bet required only that she answer.”

“She may have written this time, but I’ll wager another gold eagle, she won’t write again.”

“Don’t waste your gold. She would write again, and she would keep writing as long as I wrote to her.”

“You have a lot of confidence. Would you wager you can win her heart?”

Thomas laughed softly. “I seem to recall you throwing down that same gauntlet a year ago. And we both know how it turned out.”

“You may have stolen Julie away from me,” Eric’s voice quavered, “but this girl is different.”

“You never had Julie.” Thomas felt a sudden twinge of pity for Eric. “And you wouldn’t want her. She’s cold as ice.”

“We are discussing Rose O’Brien, not Julie. I repeat the challenge, you cannot win her heart.”

“I believe I can.” Thomas pushed himself away from the wall. “I wager another half dozen letters I can persuade her to marry me.”

“You would lose that bet for certain.” Eric snickered. “Unlike you, I read the young lady’s letter. She plans to marry Kyle Downey in a couple of years.”

“A couple of years!” Thomas laughed. “Wars have been won in less time than that.”

“Prove it, then. A double eagle if you can convince Miss O’Brien to marry you in two years.”

“Two double eagles, and I’ll do it in eighteen months.”

“Agreed, and I’ll pay the postage the same as before.”

“I do have one stipulation. She only has to agree to matrimony. The bet terminates there. I will expect to collect my winnings the end of June, 1852.”

A light snow began to fall as Eric bounded down the porch steps, whistling cheerfully. Thomas watched until darkness and swirling snowflakes swallowed his friend. “I wonder what Miss O’Brien wrote that induced Eric to make such an extravagant bet.” He sighed, turning to go inside. “And whatever possessed me to take him up on it.”

His father stood watching when Thomas turned from hanging his cape. “Thomas, I will see you in the parlor.”

He shoved the letter in his pocket before following. His mother sat in her chair, a piece of embroidery in her hand. She looked up when he came through the door, a worried frown between her golden eyes.

“Give me the letter, Thomas.”

“What letter, sir?”

“You know very well what letter.” Father held out his hand. “Give it to me.”

Thomas took the letter from his pocket and laid it in his father’s hand.

The Reverend Atwood glanced at the envelope before throwing it in the fireplace where it flared briefly before crumbling into black ash. “I will not have you writing to that girl. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir.” Thomas clenched his hands.

“It is enough that your sister defied me and ran away with an infidel.” He paced back and forth the length of the room, finally coming to a halt facing Thomas. “You are not to write to that girl. Is that understood, Thomas Josiah?”

“Yes, sir.”

The old man paced and raved while Thomas’s mind raced. By the time his father paused in front of him, Thomas knew exactly what course of action he would take.

“This week you will seek John Crandell’s blessing on your betrothal to his daughter. Sunday, a week from tomorrow, your engagement will be announced at the morning service.”

His mother rose from her chair. “Matthias, Thomas does not love Julie Crandell.”

He turned to face his wife. “That is of no consequence. Julie is a lovely girl. He will learn to love her.”

Refocusing his attention on Thomas, he said, “Julie Louise is a well-bred young woman. She is not only godly; she knows how to conduct herself in society. You will come to realize, in time, that this is the right decision.”

“Is that all, sir?”

“No, it is not. There will be no more gambling. That is the first step to destruction. I forbid you to destroy yourself, Thomas Josiah. Now, we will pray together and ask God’s forgiveness for this sinful wager you made with Eric De Vries tonight.”

Thomas knelt on the parlor floor between his parents, but his mind wandered far from the impassioned entreaty on his behalf.

Let the old man stand before his congregation and announce their engagement. He would have to be the one to stand before them in a year and a half and explain why his son jilted the beautiful, godly, socially correct, not to mention wealthy Miss Crandell to marry an Irish peasant.

Every word out of his father’s mouth served to strengthen his determination. He would write to Miss O’Brien and win her consent to marry him. But now, he would go a step farther. In the next eighteen months, he would save enough money to pay her passage to New York.

He smirked as he imagined the look on the old man’s face when he introduced him to his new Irish daughter-in-law.





Chapter 2





Rose O’Brien stood alone on deck and looked out over the vast ocean. Concern became a whisper in her mind. What lies ahead? Beyond this endless sea and sky, what will become of me? Have I made a mistake, leaving all I know to marry a man who is no more to me than words on a page?

Rose brushed tears from her eyes. Kyle had taken her leaving hard. Kyle Downey and Erin Kelly had been her family from the first day after Queen Victoria brought her to serve in the palace. She didn’t think she would’ve survived had it not been for them. Kyle wanted her to marry him, but how could she? She was a millstone about his neck, holding him down. With her, he would always work in the stables shoveling manure when he belonged in front of an easel with a paintbrush in his hand. His reaction hadn’t been good when she’d told him her plans. She still remembered what he’d said when she’d told him, “I got a letter from Mr. Atwood today.”

A slight shadow had crossed his face. “Aye, and what did the rich American barrister have to say?”

The touch of sarcasm in his voice didn’t escape Rose. “He has asked me to be his wife.”

“His wife!” A muscle twitched in his square jaw. “You’ll not be writing to that man again, Rose.”

“He has booked passage for me on the Atlantic Queen. It leaves in three weeks.”

“God help us! You are actually considering this man’s ridiculous proposal.” He circled her waist with one arm and pulled her against him. “I love you, Rose. I will not allow you to do this foolish thing.”

She struggled against his imprisoning arm in a futile attempt to free herself. “It is my decision. Do you think I want to be a servant for the rest of my life?”

“Ochone! I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” His arm had tightened with his cry of frustration. “You would sell yourself for passage to America?”

“Aye!” She intensified her struggle to be free. “Women have sold themselves for much less.”

“Rose, asthore, I know you want to be near your brother. Somehow, we’ll get the passage money, and we will go to America together.”

Kyle had beautiful blue eyes. She brought them to mind now—so gentle and filled with love when they looked at her. He’d called her my beloved, and she did love him. She loved the black curl that fell across his forehead giving his strong, square face an irresistible little boy look. She loved his wide sensitive mouth. She even loved his slightly misshapen nose. She loved Kyle, but she wasn’t in love with him. Her reply to him hadn’t been easy.

“And what will we do when we get there? Have you thought about that? We will still be Irish. You will scoop manure from rich American stables, and I will empty chamber pots. Nothing will change.” She wrested from his hold. “When my name is Atwood, I will be treated with respect.”

“And will your rich American husband respect you?” She remembered the frustration in his voice. “A woman who allowed herself to be bought for the price of steamship passage. How do you know this man won’t misuse you?”

“How do I know you won’t?” she’d taunted.

“Have you completely lost your senses?” His voice held a mixture of pain and bewilderment. “I could never hurt you. I love you.”

Rose’s heart ached. She knew he loved her. But sometimes love wasn’t enough. She’d forced herself to lift her chin and look into his confused eyes. “If you want to stay here and shovel manure, that’s your choice, but you surely can’t expect me to stay with you.” She managed what she hoped was a derisive laugh. “I would be a fool to marry a stable boy when I can be the wife of a wealthy barrister.”

She’d turned and walked as far as the door before he spoke her name. She paused but didn’t look back. “I’m leaving in three weeks. Please don’t try to contact me. It wouldn’t be proper.” Then she ran.

Two weeks later, Kyle accepted the Duke of Wellington’s offer of art training in Italy. He’d left London only days before Rose had. She hoped with all her heart he would be happy. She turned from her thoughts of Kyle to watch the waves below her lift and fall in the ocean only to rise and fall again.

Her only other sea voyage had been aboard the Royal yacht, the Victoria and Albert, when the little queen brought her from Dublin to London. This voyage across the Atlantic was taking much longer than the previous trip down the coast of Ireland and across the Irish Channel, but in many ways, the two were the same. When she left Ireland for England, she’d been leaving the familiar for the unknown, but she had known then, as she knew now, that whatever lay ahead must be better than what she’d left behind.

~*~

After a seemingly endless voyage, the Atlantic Queen docked in New York harbor on a fine Tuesday in June. Now, with the end of her journey in sight, Rose worried that Mr. Atwood wouldn’t like her. What would she do if he took one look at her and walked away?

She had three good dresses, stylish and well made. For two days, she went through her meager wardrobe dozens of times while the ship waited in quarantine. By Thursday morning, she had settled on a dark blue silk faille walking dress and a plain white straw bonnet trimmed in matching blue ribbon. When word came that they would begin disembarking just before noon, she repacked her trunk and the large carpetbag and dressed.

Taking one last look in the small mirror, she tied the blue bonnet ribbons under her chin. If only she wasn’t so short. The only reference Mr. Atwood made to his personal appearance had been in his third letter. Everyone in my family is rather tall, except Susannah. Susannah had told Rose in an earlier letter that she was five feet six inches tall.

“Ochone!” Rose grimaced at her reflection in the mirror. “Wait until he sees you. He will think you are one of the wee folk. Ah, well.” She stretched to her full five feet, two inches. “Perhaps he won’t notice.”

She picked up the carpetbag and, trying to look as tall as possible, walked out the door.

~*~

Thomas paced back and forth as he watched the door of the terminal. Passengers from the Atlantic Queen had begun trickling through the wide doors of the Castle Clinton, but as yet, his bride had not made her appearance.

“Thomas, you’re behaving like the typical nervous bridegroom.” His sister, Susannah, patted the bench where she sat. “Come, sit down and try to relax. I’m sure she will be here before long.”

Thomas plopped beside his sister. He glanced at his brother-in-law on the other side of her. Satisfied that three-month-old Colleen held Rory’s attention, he leaned back against the wall and stretched his long legs.

“What if she decided not to come?”

Susannah squeezed his hand. “She’ll be here.”

“I’m not so sure.” Only to his favorite sister could he voice his doubts. “Why should she? She doesn’t even know me.”

“If she hadn’t been coming, you would have heard by now.”

“What if she doesn’t like me when she gets here?”

Susannah laughed and patted his hand. “Of course she’ll like you. How could she not?”

“For one thing there’s that artist, Kyle Downey.” He straightened and faced his sister. “Did you know he got his nose broken because a man insulted Rose?”

“No, I didn’t know that.” Susannah’s brown eyes smiled. “So you wish it had been your nose that was broken defending Rose’s honor, instead of Mr. Downey’s?”

“I don’t know what I wish.” He uncoiled from the bench and resumed pacing. He made two circuits of the large, round terminal before returning to his seat by Susannah.

Lowering his voice so only she could hear, he said, “Did you know Eric bet me a gold eagle I couldn’t get Rose to write to me the first time?”

Susannah shook her head.

“Then he bet me two double eagles I couldn’t get her to agree to marry me. Don’t you think getting your nose broken sounds more romantic?”

“It certainly sounds more honorable. Why would you go through with such a wager, Tommy J?”

Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “The old man overheard us and forbade me to write to her.”

“You mean you only wrote to spite Father? Oh, Tommy J!”

“I’m not especially proud of what I did, but Rose was just another girl to me then. Later, I thought about calling the bet off and cutting my losses, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. She had come to mean too much.”

Susannah slipped her arm through her brother’s and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. “Sounds like love, Tommy J.”

“How can I love someone I’ve never seen?”

Before she could reply, the baby began to whimper. “Susy, would you be knowin’ what to do here?” Rory asked.

She turned to her baby. “Did Daddy pinch you, precious?” she crooned as she took the baby from Rory’s arms.

Rory stood to stretch, and Thomas resumed pacing. How could he be in love with Rose O’Brien? He didn’t even know what she looked like. He had memorized the features of the girl in the charcoal sketch on Susannah’s piano; still it was only the drawing of a face framed by a shawl. Beautiful, to be sure, but drawn by some love-struck stable boy. For all the time he’d spent contemplating the picture, he had no idea what Rose O’Brien looked like. Even her hair was covered.

He’d be better off to think of a way to gracefully get out of this marriage.

He turned to walk back toward his sister and came to a sudden halt. She was there! Buried in Rory’s arms.

Rory kept his arm around her shoulders, as he led her to the bench where Susannah sat with the baby cradled in one arm. Thomas couldn’t see her face as she bent over to kiss his sister. She was tiny. He hadn’t expected her to be so small. Her bonnet had been knocked from her head by the enthusiasm of her brother’s welcome and hung down her back. Her hair, in a shimmering mass of luxurious copper curls, held his gaze.

His feet walked toward her and stopped three feet away. He had never seen such vibrant, fiery curls in his life. Her hair was glorious!

“Rose,” Rory laid a gentle hand on his sister’s shoulder. “There is someone here who has been waiting to meet you.”

She turned. His heart lurched and caught in his throat. Eyes, emerald green, enhanced by long, curling dark lashes and slightly arched brows, looked up at him. Her lips, pink and full, looked soft and inviting. Her skin, flawless alabaster. She radiated vibrancy, so that even her bright tousled curls seemed to crackle with life.

She wore a dark blue dress with a close-fitted bodice that came to a “v” in front, emphasizing her tiny waist and full bosom. Rose O’Brien might be small, but she was not a child.

Thomas felt as if his tongue had been glued to the roof of his mouth. For the first time in his life, he stood speechless.

She tilted her head back and looked up at him. “My! You are tall.” Her voice, clear and musical with just the slightest trace of an accent, circled his heart.

“You certainly aren’t,” Thomas blurted.

A faint blush touched her cheeks. “I’d hoped you wouldn’t notice.”

Susannah giggled. The tension vanished, and they all four laughed. Rose’s laughter rang with the sound of silver bells. Thomas wanted to hear her voice and look at her beautiful face every day for the rest of his life.

As soon as the laughter died away, he reached out to take her hand in his. “Laura Rose O’Brien, will you be my wife?”

After long hours, lasting only a heartbeat, she smiled at him. “I would be honored to be your wife, Mr. Atwood.”

Still holding Rose’s tiny hand, he turned to his brother-in-law. “Rory, I would like to ask for your sister’s hand in marriage.”

A smile crinkled the corners of Rory’s blue eyes. “Since Rose already said yes, you have my blessing.” His wife stood beside him, the sleeping baby in her arms. He drew her close to his side. “May you be as happy as Susannah and myself.”

“Thank you, Rory.” Thomas turned back to Rose. “Well then, we may as well get it done.”

“You mean now?” Her eyes widened. “Today?”

He hadn’t thought beyond Rose’s arrival, but now, with her in front of him, he wanted her. He wanted her more than he had ever wanted anything. “Is there any reason we can’t be married today?”

“I have a more suitable dress in my trunk, and I thought ...”

“What you are wearing is quite suitable.”

“Well then, I suppose there is no reason to wait.”

He smiled. “As soon as we collect your luggage, we’ll be on our way.”

~*~

An hour later they stood before a Justice of the Peace, and Rose promised to love, honor and obey a man she had just met. She looked up at the six-foot tall, broad shouldered young man at her side. He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen.

He slipped a wide gold band on the third finger of her left hand.

The corpulent Justice cleared his throat. “I now pronounce you man and wife.”

It was over. Or almost over. Thomas cupped her chin in his hand and tilted her face up. Then he kissed her. Kyle had kissed her a few times, but they’d both been shy and awkward. Mr. Atwood was neither shy, nor awkward, and she felt as if she had been struck by lightning. She looked up at him, her lips still slightly parted until she saw the smile in his eyes. He must think I’m a real dolt. She found the strength to look away.

~*~

She’s mine, Thomas looked into Rose’s dazed green eyes. All mine. My wife. Rose belongs to me now. No one else can ever have her.

She looked at her hands.

“If you don’t like the ring, you may choose something else.”

“The ring is beautiful.” Rose touched it with the tip of her right forefinger. “I don’t want another.”

“If you will all sign this ….” The Justice pushed a paper toward them.

Thomas signed the large, ornate certificate first. He dipped the quill in the inkwell and handed it to her.

Her hand trembled when she took the pen. She took a deep breath before writing Laura Rose O’Brien Atwood in a neat slanting script on the line beneath Thomas’s name.

After that, Rory and Susannah signed. They both hugged Rose, and the two men shook hands. Thomas gave the Justice a gold coin, and the rotund little man thanked him profusely.

~*~

Rose waited at her brother’s apartment while Thomas made a quick visit alone to the parsonage for his clothing and personal items. He returned in a hack and took her to the Astor House. A fog surrounded her mind as they entered the luxurious hotel and while he wrote their names in the register. They followed a bellman up the stairs and down a thickly carpeted hallway while he spoke with pride. “The Astor House has 309 rooms and gaslight. Each floor has indoor washrooms where you can also bathe. This door leads to the one for your use.” He pointed to a closed door with washroom printed on a placket above. He explained the showers then left them alone in a room luxurious enough for a queen.

Rose’s eyes wandered to the huge four-poster bed.

“I’ll go down to the lobby for half an hour while you get ready for bed.” Thomas’s gentle smile reassured her as he backed toward the door.

“Thank you,” she murmured, still not looking at him.

After her shower, she put on her white nightgown and a flannel wrapper and hurried down the empty hallway to their room. She hung up the clothes she’d worn that day and draped the robe over a chair. Leaving the light on for Thomas, she climbed into bed and pulled the sheet to her chin. A smile tilted her lips as her gaze sought the door. Her nervousness had vanished, but her pulse raced as she willed him to return.





Chapter 3





Rose woke at dawn the next morning, turned toward Thomas, and studied his face while he slept. She sighed. He was wonderful. And gentle. And loving.

“Oh, please, let me be worthy of him.” She whispered the words.

He stirred and opened his eyes. “You’re even more beautiful in the morning.”

“I thought you were asleep.” She snuggled against him and kissed the side of his neck.

“Last night you said you loved me. Did you mean it?”

“You showed me your heart in your letters, and I thought I loved you. When I saw you, I was sure I loved you. Last night I knew. You are so beautiful.”

He traced the delicate line of her chin with a gentle fingertip. “I love you, too, but I don’t think beautiful is a word commonly used to describe a man. It makes me feel rather effeminate.”

“Oh no! Your beauty is quite manly.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” He gathered her to him and kissed her soft, warm lips. “I’m going to take you to spend the day with Susannah.” He released her. “We have only enough time to visit the showers and have a bite to eat. Now that I have responsibilities, I mustn’t be late for work.”

After leaving Rose at the O’Brien’s, Thomas sat alone in the carriage and assessed his situation. The old man had been at the church when he went home yesterday. His mother had been surprised when he told her he was married, but when he told her how much he loved Rose, she’d been happy for him. She promised to say nothing until he had a chance to talk to the old man. He knew he could count on Mother up to a point, but she wouldn’t attempt to explain away his absence indefinitely. Sooner or later, he and Rose would have to face his father’s wrath.

By the time he arrived at the law office of Van Cleef, Wright, and Jones, he’d settled on a plan for introducing his bride to his father.

“Did Miss O’Brien arrive, or have you been jilted?” Eric lounged against Thomas’s desk.

Thomas leaned back in his chair. “Rose stepped off the boat at eleven o’clock, and at twelve-thirty she became my wife.”

Eric’s eyes narrowed, and a slight flush darkened his narrow face, as he shoved a hand into his pocket. “I suppose you want gold?”

“Keep your gold. The wager is off.”

“You won fairly.” Eric protested, but he withdrew an empty hand. “How did your father take the news?”

“He hasn’t met her yet.” Thomas’s smile faded. “I have decided to introduce Rose and announce our marriage Sunday morning at church.”

“Shame your father in front of his congregation. How like you.” Eric winked and a sly smile touched the corners of his thin lips. “The reverend is going to be apoplectic when he meets your little Irish servant girl.”

Thomas sprang out of his chair and loomed over Eric. “I have chosen this course of action to protect Rose, not to shame the old man. I love my wife, and I will not allow her to be hurt. Henceforth, you will refer to her with respect.”

Eric took a step back from the desk. “I meant no offense. I was not aware you cared for the girl.”

“Well, you’re aware of it now.” Thomas sank back into his chair and picked up some papers from his desk. “I have work to do.”

Eric made a move to leave then turned back. “What of Julie Louise?”

Thomas glanced up. “What of her?”

“Your wedding date has been set. I dare say she has her wedding dress hanging in her closet. Don’t you care if she is hurt?”

“Miss Crandell’s feelings are of no concern to me.”

“Did you plan to leave her standing at the altar?”

“If it came to that.” Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “You’ve always wanted her. This is your chance to win her heart, although I’ve never seen any evidence she possesses one.” His gaze dropped to the papers in his hand. “You will have to excuse me. I have work to do.”

~*~

While Susannah taught her piano students, Rose entertained the baby. Colleen fell asleep at four o’clock just as her mother ushered the last young pianist out the door.

“Shall I put her down, or do you want to?” Susannah whispered as she bent over Rose.

Rose smiled at the baby nestled against her shoulder. “I’d like to.” She eased out of the chair and walked carefully into the bedroom. When she placed the baby on her stomach in the cradle, Colleen wriggled and attempted to open her eyes. Rose patted her back gently until she settled down. Then the two young women tip-toed from the room.

Susannah pulled the door closed behind them. “She’ll sleep for a couple of hours. Let’s go in the kitchen. I’ll put on the teapot, and we can visit.”

Rose sat at the square oak table while Susannah bustled around making tea. Like the other two rooms, the kitchen was small and shabby but spotlessly clean and made cheerful by a red-checkered tablecloth and plants in the window.

“Now,” Susannah said, setting a cup of tea on the table in front of Rose, “let’s talk.” She sat across the table with her own cup. “What is the Astor House like?”

“It’s glorious. So beautiful and elegant.” Rose’s eyes glowed.

“Then you are happy?” Susannah smiled.

“Yes!” Rose sighed.

Susannah’s face grew serious. “Do you love Thomas?”

“How can you ask?”

“You mentioned Kyle Downey often in your letters.”

“Kyle and Erin were my family. I loved both of them, but I never loved Kyle as I love Thomas.”

“I saw how well you handled Colleen,” Susannah said. “You’ll make a wonderful mother.”

“No!” Rose shook her head. “I don’t want a baby for years and years.”

“Rory and I wanted a large family from the beginning of our marriage. You’ll change your mind.”

Again, Rose shook her head. “No, I won’t. The little queen told me about childbirth. She says it’s all sufferings and miseries and plagues.”

Susannah laughed. “It isn’t that bad. Besides, when it’s all over and you hold your precious baby, the pain and discomfort are forgotten.”

“But she says for months before the actual birth you have to give up all your pleasures, and I know now what she meant.” A faint blush touched Rose’s cheeks.

Susannah looked down at her hands cradling her cup. “But Rose, it doesn’t last forever.”

“The little queen says even after the really horrible part is over, you feel so pinned down as though one’s wings have been clipped.” She stretched her arms wide. “Oh, Susannah, don’t you see? I have only begun to spread my wings.”

Susannah looked at her sister-in-law over the rim of her cup. “Perhaps you will feel differently someday.” She got up to refill their cups.

Rose watched as her sister-in-law moved between the stove and the table. Most women as tall and thin as Susannah were gangly and awkward, but Susannah was willowy and graceful. She wore her thick, lustrous, dark-brown hair in a neat chignon. Not stylish, but suited to her long, slender neck and delicately sculptured features. Huge velvet brown eyes dominated her face.

“Are your sisters as pretty as you?” Rose asked as her sister-in-law poured the hot tea into her cup.

Faint pink tinged Susanna‘s smooth, tawny skin. “Didn’t Thomas tell you I’m the ugly duckling?”

“You’re teasing.”

Susannah resumed her seat across from Rose. “No, I’m not.”

“But you are beautiful.”

“It’s sweet of you to say so, but when Mother, or one of my sisters, walk into a room, I disappear into the wallpaper.”

Susannah smiled when Rose shook her head in protest. “I don’t mind anymore. Rory thinks I’m beautiful, and that’s all that matters.”

Rose stirred her tea before lifting her eyes to Susannah’s face. “Tell me about your family.”

“What has Thomas told you?”

“Nothing.”

Susannah nodded. “Thomas and Father have been at odds ever since I can remember. Poor Thomas. Father was always proud of his scholastic accomplishments—Thomas has a brilliant mind—but he could never live up to Father’s expectations otherwise. Finally, he gave up trying to please him and rebelled against everything Father stands for.”

Rose lifted her cup with an unsteady hand. Did Thomas know his father wouldn’t approve of her? Was that why he hadn’t taken her with him yesterday when he went to the parsonage?

“Mother is a gentle, loving woman. She adores Thomas, but she’s devoted to Father. I feel so sorry for her. She’s caught in the middle.”

“Will she like me?”

“Oh, Rose, Mother will love you.” Susannah reached across the table and squeezed Rose’s hand. “So will our four older sisters.”

Maybe the women in her husband’s family would accept her, but not his father. Not at first. She would have to earn his love. Well, she could do that. Thomas had told her housing was scarce, and they would have to live with his parents until they could find a place of their own. She would have several months to win her father-in-law’s love, and somehow she would.

“Rose.”

Susannah giggled when Rose gave a start and looked up. “You were a million miles away.”

Rose smiled. “I’m sorry, Susannah. What did you say?”

“I asked if you wanted another cup of tea?”

“No, thank you.”

“Then, I’m going to prepare you for your first meeting with the sisters.” She traced a square on the tablecloth with a slender finger. “They can be overwhelming. To begin with, they are breathtakingly beautiful. They are also perfect.”

“Oh, my.”

Susannah smiled. “When it came time for them to marry, they married men Father approved of. I suppose they’re happy enough.” She shrugged her shoulders. “But I fell in love with Rory. When I told Father I was going to marry Rory, he locked me in my room. Thomas helped me escape.” She sighed. “I wore my best dress and climbed out Thomas’s bedroom window and down a tree. Rory waited below to catch me if I fell. Thomas went to the Justice of the Peace with us.”

“And you haven’t seen your father since?”

Susannah looked at the table. “Father said some terrible things about Rory.” She took a deep breath and looked at Rose. “I’ll never forgive him until he apologizes.”

She stood and began to gather their cups from the table. “Father had no right to choose our spouses.” The words burst from her, startling Rose with their vehemence. “I’ll never forget the night he told me I would marry Cedric Wheaton.”

“Cedric Wheaton?” Rose echoed. “But you married Rory.”

“Yes, I married the man I love.” There was a proud tilt to her head, as she turned and placed the cups on the cabinet. “For once I stood up to Father. When he said Cedric had asked for my hand, I told him I would marry Rory.”

“Is that when he locked you in your room?”

“Yes.” Susannah turned, and Rose saw the glint of tears in her dark eyes. “But not before he told me I didn’t know my own mind. He said Cedric would give me everything. A big house. Servants. Beautiful clothes. He said Rory could give me nothing but a life of hard work and an early grave.”

Rose watched as tears ran unheeded down Susannah’s cheeks. “I don’t care, Rose. I would rather die than spend a lifetime in luxury and have never known Rory’s love.”

Rose didn’t know what to say, so she sat, as Susannah wiped her eyes and continued.

“A year later he did the same thing to Thomas. I wasn’t surprised when Father chose Julie Louise. John Crandell is a wealthy man, and Julie is his only child. But I knew Thomas didn’t love her, and I was surprised when he allowed Father to announce their betrothal. Of course, I know how desperately Thomas wants Father’s approval.”

Rose flinched as Susannah’s words hit her like a fist to the stomach. “Thomas is betrothed?”

Susannah nodded. “I thought you knew about Julie Louise. The wedding was to take place in August.”

Susannah turned at a sharp rap on the door. As she went to answer it, she said, “I’ll tell you all about it when I come back.”

Rose sat at the table with her face in her hands. How could she have been such a fool? They had all tried to warn her. Kyle. Erin. Even Monique with her story about her friend Celeste. Why hadn’t she listened to them?

When Susannah returned, Rose still sat with her face hidden. Susannah set a cup of sugar down before she put her hand on her guest’s shoulder. “What is it, Rose? Don’t you feel well?”

Rose dropped her hands and lifted dazed eyes to Susannah. “I should have known better. Celeste came to America to marry a Gentleman. A week after their marriage he told her he already had a wife. The whole thing had been a sham. Even the Justice of the Peace who performed the ceremony was a fake. Monique said Celeste was forced to sell herself just to survive. I thought Celeste was a fool. Did he plan to wait until his wedding day to cast me aside?”

“Oh, no, Rose.” Susannah started to protest when Thomas walked through the door, a wide smile on his face.

“How you must have laughed at me.” Rose’s eyes blazed, as her hand closed around the cup of sugar.

~*~

Thomas cast an astonished glance at his sister and ducked to one side. The cup shattered against the door, showering him with sugar and shards of china.

“What the ...” he breathed as Rose let forth a stream of Gaelic. He couldn’t understand a word she said, but he had a feeling they weren’t words of love.

Colleen began to cry. Susannah fled the room, calling over her shoulder, “You have a lot of explaining to do.”

Rose reached for the cups on the cabinet as Thomas grabbed her around the waist, drawing her to him. “Whoa, girl. Susannah has barely enough china now.”

“Let me go, you—you— If you think I’m going to share your bed until you marry this Julie Crandell, you’re wrong. I’ll not spend another night with you, and I’ll be telling you another thing. I will not sell my body like Celeste did. I’ll scrub chamber pots first.”

Rose was the most exciting woman Thomas had ever known. He laughed, pulling her against him. She resisted at first, but he wrapped both arms around her and held her until she relaxed.

“How could you do this to me?” She whimpered against his chest. “You know I love you.”

“Sweetheart, you are my wife. Do you think Rory and Susannah would have signed our marriage certificate if I had been planning to marry Julie Crandell?”

He sat in a chair with her on his lap. “You are the only woman I have ever loved or ever wanted to marry.”

She put both arms around his neck when his words made sense. “Thomas, I’m sorry I lost my temper. But you should have told me. I told you about Kyle.”

A sharp pang pierced his heart at the reminder of her friend. He held her away and looked into her eyes. “I want you to understand one thing, Rose. You are my wife. You belong to me, and I belong to you. Let’s promise we’ll never mention either Kyle or Julie again. Do you agree?”

Her eyes shone. “Yes,” she whispered.

~*~

They spent two more nights at the Astor House, before Thomas pulled the door of their room closed for the last time. Although, his motive in wooing Rose had been to spite his father, that sunny Sunday morning in June, he would have given everything he owned to spare his wife this first meeting with the Reverend Matthias Atwood. For surely, they now faced a powder keg with a lit fuse.





Chapter 4





Rose waited in the hallway of the parsonage while Thomas and the cab driver carried her trunk and the two bags upstairs. The large church bell down the street, calling the faithful to worship, sounded a warning while Thomas paid the driver. He had timed everything to the last second.

He squeezed Rose’s hand, and she gave him a shaky smile while they walked to church. She wore light blue silk. Just looking at her his heart swelled with pride and love.

He released her hand as they started up the steps with other latecomers. He knew it was best this way, but he would have preferred to walk down the aisle with his wife on his arm.

The large sanctuary had a double aisle, a row of stained glass windows on either side and, across the front, a dais with a polished lectern. Behind the pulpit, the choir loft filled the space, and a large pipe organ sat on either side at an angle.

As Thomas followed Rose down the left aisle, he saw Julie Louise turn and smile at him from the Crandell’s pew. Without acknowledging he’d seen her, he walked past and sat down in the second pew from the front beside Rose.

~*~

While the congregation filled the seats, Rose looked around as much as possible. She wished they weren’t so near the front. She couldn’t look behind her without drawing attention to herself, and she desperately wanted to see what Julie Crandell looked like.

The murmur of voices faded to silence. Rose glanced up as two of the most beautiful women she’d ever seen took their places at the organs. She looked at Thomas with wide, questioning eyes.

“My two eldest sisters,” he whispered. “Jerusha and Dorcas.”

Rose looked from one to the other of the young women all the time the choir sang. Even when she stood with the rest of the congregation to sing a hymn, she found it impossible to keep her gaze from going back to her new sisters-in-law. Now she understood what Susannah meant when she said she felt invisible when one of her sisters walked into a room. They were tall, even taller than Susannah, and fine-boned, but they were voluptuous, rather than thin. Their hair was the same raven black as Thomas’s.

They were richly dressed, and the conservative cut of their stylish clothes enhanced their small waists. When they returned to their seats, they both smiled at their brother, and she saw they also had dark eyes and dimples.

Rose knew what Thomas would look like in forty years when Matthias Atwood took his place behind the pulpit. Tall and erect with dark eyes, thick silver hair, and a neatly trimmed silver beard, her father-in-law, at sixty-five, was a strikingly handsome man. When he began to read his text, Rose closed her eyes. Even though she didn’t believe in prayer or God, she whispered a short plea that Thomas’s father would like her.

While he delivered his sermon, she thought of her friend Erin. The famine had taken her family, but Erin’s faith in God never wavered. She attended church every Sunday and had persuaded Rose to go with her a few times.

Erin had tried to talk to her about God. She’d shed tears when Rose scoffed at her beliefs. Remorse filled her heart. Even though she didn’t believe in Erin’s God, she loved Erin, and her indifference had hurt her friend.

Thomas stirred. The sermon was over.

~*~

“There is one matter before we dismiss.” Thomas’s father lifted one hand.

Thomas glanced toward his mother who sat in the front pew shaking her head. The old man didn’t even look her way. “I am sure you are all aware that my son Thomas and Miss Julie Louise Crandell are to be married in August.” He looked briefly at his son before he continued. “This morning, Julie informed me that due to a conflict in the scheduling of their wedding trip, the wedding date has been set up a week. Thomas, perhaps you would like to say a few words.”

Thomas wiped his sweating palms on his handkerchief, and dared a quick glance at Rose. When he took her hand, she smiled up at him, and his nervousness vanished.

“I do have an announcement to make.” He spoke loud enough to be heard to the back pew in clear, even tones. Still holding hands, Thomas and Rose stood and stepped into the aisle, facing the congregation. A slight murmur passed through the crowd.

Julie stood in the aisle at the end of her parent’s pew. Thomas knew she planned to join him, but when she saw Rose, she hesitated.

He fixed his gaze on her pale blue eyes and addressed her. “I won’t be available in August, Julie.” He put his arm around Rose, drawing her close. “I would like to introduce my wife, Laura Rose O’Brien Atwood. We were married on Thursday.”

The murmur intensified to a low rumble. Julie gasped, put her hand to her heart and crumpled to the floor in a dead faint.

“Typical reaction,” Thomas muttered. He offered Rose his arm, and they walked slowly down the aisle.

Julie’s parents bent over her—her father rubbed her hands, as her mother frantically tried to revive her with a dainty fan.

As they made their way around the Crandells, Rose murmured, “Pardon,” and dropped a polite curtsy.

Thomas would have laughed aloud, but figured they were headed toward a terrible storm as it was.

Forty-five minutes after they arrived back at the parsonage, Thomas and Rose sat side-by-side on the loveseat, not touching, when Matthias and Henrietta walked into the parlor.

The old man’s dark eyes blazed. “Henrietta, take this girl to the kitchen while I have a word with my son.”

Henrietta took a step forward, and smiling at Rose, extended her hand. “Come, dear.”

Rose shook her head while her hand crept into Thomas’s. “I will stay with my husband.”

Thomas squeezed her hand. “Go to the kitchen with Mother, Rose.”

She hesitated a moment before releasing his hand and standing. Henrietta reached out to her. She took the older woman’s hand and left with her.

Matthias closed the door behind the two women before turning to his son. “Why would you do this, Thomas Josiah?”

Thomas raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Do what, sir?”

Matthias glared at his son. “Not only have you humiliated me before my congregation, but you have shamed Julie and her family as well.”

Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “You never once asked me if I wished to marry Miss Crandell. John Crandell came to you offering his daughter, and you accepted.”

“You never raised any objections. How was I to know?”

“You never listened when I did. But it wouldn’t have mattered.” He slouched back on the loveseat. “You had decided.”

“Sit up straight, Thomas. Your spine will grow crooked.” As Matthias paced back and forth, no doubt trying to formulate a plan for getting his son out of this latest scrape, Thomas’s thoughts were on his wife. He smiled to himself remembering how her eyes lit up when she first saw the Astor House, and how she looked around wide-eyed when he took her to an expensive restaurant. Rose thought he could move mountains. When she looked at him with her heart in her eyes, he felt as if he could.

Matthias lowered himself into a chair facing his son. “Thomas, I cannot imagine why you found it necessary to marry this girl in order to make your point.” He cleared his throat. “However, you did marry her, so I see no reason to belabor the subject. Julie Louise is willing to overlook this minor indiscretion.”

Thomas forced himself to sit quietly, while Matthias continued.

“Even though you have embarrassed her in front of her family and friends, she forgives you. She understands you were nervous about taking on the responsibilities of marriage, and in a moment of weakness this girl seduced you.”

Thomas inwardly raged. How dare the old man meet with Julie and her parents after church to discuss him!

“Rose did not seduce me.” He ground the words out between his teeth. “We corresponded for over a year.”

“In defiance to my wishes.” The color rose in Matthias face, as he fought to control his own emotions. “Nevertheless, whether it took a moment or a year, the girl took advantage or you.” He leaned forward in his chair. “You have been sheltered, Thomas. Although you are not entirely blameless in this affair, you could not be expected to recognize a woman of this sort.”

Around the knot of anger growing in his chest, Thomas spoke. “What sort of woman do you think Rose is?”

“I suppose the girl is not entirely to blame. She no doubt did what was necessary to survive. She is quite beautiful in a common way, and from the manner in which she is dressed, I would say she was quite successful at survival. Brother Crandell feels that a few thousand dollars will buy your freedom and rectify this unfortunate situation.”

Matthias’s tight, condescending smile and hateful words washed over Thomas like scalding water. “Rose came to me pure and innocent and undefiled. Don’t you think I would know if it had been otherwise? As for the clothes you take as an indication of her immorality—she has three dresses—the seamstress at Buckingham Palace made them for her from pilfered goods because she was fond of her.”

Although the anger surged through him with all the force of a raging sea, his voice betrayed no emotion. His eyes bore into Matthias, and he pronounced each word slowly and distinctly. “I love Rose, and no one is going to take her from me.”

“You would choose this woman over your own father?” Matthias stared at him.

“I have already chosen her,” Thomas said. “Rose is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. We are one in every sense of the word.” He saw pain in the old man’s eyes. “I’m going to the kitchen to tell Mother good-bye, then I’m taking my wife away from here.”

“You will repent this day, Thomas Josiah.” Matthias looked old and tired. “Julie is a lady, she would have been a helpmeet. This girl is only using you. She will drag you down and destroy you.”

“You’re wrong. Rose is more of a lady than Julie will ever be, and even more importantly, she is a warm, passionate woman.” Thomas turned from his father.

His mother and Rose watched him storm into the kitchen. “The old man may think I’m incapable of making an intelligent decision, but what he thinks no longer concerns me. From this day on, I have no father.”

His mother put her hand on his arm, “Thomas, you don’t mean that. Matthias is distraught, but you mustn’t let words spoken in the heat of anger come between you. He is your father, and he loves you more than you will ever know.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Mother.” He took her into his arms, and she clung to him. “You know I’ve never been able to meet the standards he set for me. Today he forced me to make a choice, and I choose my wife.”

Thomas released his mother and turned to Rose, standing silently beside her. Her eyes appeared huge and dark in her small, white face. Her pain struck his heart with all the force of a physical blow. Silently cursing the old man, he took her hand. “Come, Rose, we’re leaving.”

Henrietta followed them from the kitchen. “Thomas, please reconsider.”

Matthias stood in the hallway, “Thomas, son—”

“You no longer have a son.” Thomas did not spare his father a glance as he left the house.

In the carriage on the way to Susannah’s, he held Rose until she quit trembling. That afternoon at the O’Brien’s, she remained quiet. Even Rory’s best stories failed to bring more than a faint smile.

When Susannah returned from the bedroom after putting Colleen down for her nap, she put her hand on her brother’s shoulder. “Thomas, why don’t you help me make some tea?”

He followed her into the kitchen. While she put the kettle on, he dropped into a chair and buried his face in his hands. “She was so happy, Susannah.”

Susannah put her arms around him and rested her cheek on his bowed head. “You really love her, don’t you, Tommy J.?”

“With all my heart and soul.” He lifted his head and looked into his sister’s sympathetic eyes.

Susannah pulled up a chair and sat down. “Did Father say terrible things about Rose?”

“Why should I have expected anything else? Nothing I’ve ever done met the old man’s approval.” His eyes went cold. “As long as I live, I’ll hate him for the things he said today.”

The teakettle whistled. Susannah touched her brother’s shoulder and left him to his own thoughts while she busied herself making tea.

That evening, as soon as he knew his parents were in church, Thomas and Rory went to the parsonage and removed his and Rose’s belongings. Except for a few clothes, they left their meager possessions stacked in the corner of the O’Brien’s parlor and returned to the Astor House.

By the next morning, Rose felt better. That afternoon they moved into a boarding house where they lived for the next two months.

~*~

In September, Rose sat at Thomas’s desk and on the heavily embossed stationary he had given her, wrote a letter to Erin.

First, she congratulated her friend on her marriage then wrote. Thomas is everything to me. I feel so undeserving of him. But he loves me, Erin. He really loves me!

She lay the pen down and gazed dreamily out the window remembering her first dinner party at the Van Cleefs. She had been terrified.

She continued her letter.





The senior partners told Thomas they wanted to meet me, but he said they were considering him for a junior partnership and wanted to make sure I was acceptable. Oh, Erin, I’m so happy I paid attention while I served the little queen’s guests. Otherwise, I should never have known how to behave at such an elegant dinner party.

I wore the cream-colored dress I had planned to be married in. Susannah fixed my hair but couldn’t get it just right, so I wore it caught back at the sides with two silver combs, a gift from my beloved husband.





She wrote of her first impressions of the Van Cleefs big, elegant house and of the maid who had ushered them into the drawing room.





When I saw that girl in her black dress and that atrocious little white cap, I thought, if not for Thomas, I might be the Van Cleef’s maid instead of their guest. Remember when I said I would never wear a white cap again? To me any head covering other than a bonnet is a badge of servitude.

I determined to make my husband proud. I thought of the queen, who is so regal and such a commanding presence despite her lack of stature. I pretended I was she. I held my head high and swept into the room completely caught up in my fantasy. I believe my accent even echoed the darling little queen’s. The evening progressed beautifully, and all three of the ladies, who are years older than I, took this little bride to their bosom. Needless to say, Thomas is now a junior partner.





She still sometimes had to pinch herself to make sure her wonderful life wasn’t a dream. The dinner parties. The theatres. The concerts. Her beautiful home. She owed everything to her husband. She must tell Erin about their new home.





Thomas’s firm owned a house only a few blocks from Thomas’s parents. Although it is not nearly so elegant as theirs, it is lovely, and now it’s ours. We have eight rooms for just the two of us. Thomas’s partners cleaned out their attics to help us furnish it, and we are buying a few things, as we can afford them. I have a woman who cooks and cleans. Can you imagine that, Erin? I have a servant! Mrs. Harris is a wonderful cook, and she is teaching me.





Thomas’s mother and his four older sisters came often to visit them. Rose chewed on the end of her pen. If only Thomas and his father could settle their differences. She sighed. The Atwood’s were certainly stubborn.

She dipped her pen in the ink well and continued.





The only blemish on our otherwise perfect life is this rift between Thomas and his father. I’m responsible for it, and somehow I must find a way to bring them together. He is so like Thomas I know I would love him, if only he would allow me to.





Her thoughts drifted to the party they were attending that night. She loved the parties and the dancing. Oh, she must tell Erin about Madame Germaine!





Thomas found a fantastic dressmaker. She claims to be French, but I’m sure you would laugh if you heard her accent. Despite all that, she is extremely talented. As we attend many parties and will be expected to entertain often ourselves, she is sewing me an elegant new wardrobe. I feel like a princess.





She couldn’t help but think about the contrast between her life and her friends. Erin and Collin were studying to be missionaries. Poor Erin.

She signed her name, put the folded sheets in an envelope, and lay it to one side before she rose to get ready for the evening’s planned festivities.





Chapter 5





The first Monday in October, Thomas arrived home carrying a large box with Madame Germaine’s signature on it.

Rose opened it with trembling hands and pulled out a peach-colored evening dress. She held it up in front of her, admiring her reflection. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered. “I’ve never had anything so elegant. Oh, Thomas, thank you. It’s such a wonderful surprise.”

“I wanted you to have something new to wear to the theatre Saturday night. Since Madame Germaine already had your measurements, I thought I’d surprise you.”

Rose spread the dress out on the bed and threw her arms around him. “Asthore, have I told you how much I love you?”

“Not since this morning.” Thomas grinned. He turned her toward the bed and gave her a loving swat. “Try it on. I want to see how it fits.”

She leaned back against him. “I just want to look at it for a minute.”

Peach lace over silk, the dress had short double-ruffled lace sleeves and a deep V-cut neckline that matched the V of the waistline. The full scalloped lace skirt had a matching silk underskirt. Ruffled skirts were the style, but Chantel had told Rose that ruffled skirts made short women look still shorter. She knew the French seamstress was right. The darling little queen looked like a short, tiered cake in her ruffles.

Thomas slipped his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shining red curls. “Madame says it’s the latest thing from Paris, an exact copy of a dress that was made for Empress Eugenie, except she left the ruffles off the skirt.”

Rose shrugged her wrapper off her shoulders. “I’ll just die if it doesn’t fit.”

“Why shouldn’t it fit? It’s the same size as the others she made for you.”

She carefully slipped the dress over her head and settled it around her waist, ignoring his question.

“My wife is definitely going to be the most beautiful woman there,” Thomas said. “Turn around, sweetheart, and I’ll hook you up.”

He tugged at the dress. “Uh-oh, we seem to have a slight problem.”

“What is it, Thomas?” Rose turned her head in a vain attempt to see over her shoulder.

“You must have put on a little weight, sweetheart. It’s about half an inch too small at the waist.”

Rose’s eyes filled with tears. “I thought if I didn’t think about it, maybe it wouldn’t be true.” She held her arms up, and Thomas lifted the dress over her head and laid it across a chair.

“We’ll buy you a new corset. That should take care of the problem.”

“It will take more than a corset to solve this problem. My life is over, Thomas.” Her tears became broken-hearted sobs as she flung herself face down across the bed.

Thomas shook his head. Women were emotional creatures, but this was the first time his wife had displayed that trait. He stood looking at her in bewilderment before sitting on the bed and patting her back. “Don’t cry, sweetheart.” His voice became teasing. “You’ll have to become really plump before I stop loving you.”

She raised her head and looked at him. “Then I guess you’ll stop loving me, because I’m going to be horribly fat.” She wiped away her tears, pushed herself up and sat on the edge of the bed beside him. “I’m going to have a baby, Thomas.”

“A baby?” He laughed in disbelief. “We’ve been married less than four months, you can’t be having a baby.”

“The queen was married nine months and eleven days when the little princess was born.”

“That’s hardly long enough to have a baby.”

“It’s plenty long enough.” Tears again filled her eyes and trickled down her cheeks.

She looked so young and so tragic. Thomas threw back his head and laughed. Rose jerked away from him and sprang to her feet. “It’s very well for you to laugh. Your feet aren’t going to swell and neither is your belly. You can just go on having fun while I sit here day after day getting fatter and fatter.” She stamped her foot. “This is all your fault, Thomas Josiah Atwood.”

“My fault?”

“You took advantage of me, you ... you ... wicked man.”

He reached out and grabbed her wrist. “I love your explosive little temper. If you aren’t careful, I may take advantage of you again.”

She let him pull her onto his lap. “I love you, Thomas.” She snuggled down into his arms. “But I don’t want a baby.”

Thomas hadn’t thought about having a baby. His sisters all had children, but he’d never paid much attention to any of them except Colleen. She was special because she was Susannah’s and because Rory said she looked like Rose. Still, she took up a lot of Susannah’s time. He didn’t want to share Rose with a demanding infant.

“We’ll hire a nanny for the baby.”

“Really, Thomas? A nanny?” Rose looked at him, her eyes shining through her tears. “After the baby’s born, we can go to the theatre? And to parties?” She threw both arms around his neck. “I promise I won’t stay fat, Thomas. Everything will be like it is now, except we’ll play with the baby sometimes so it will know who we are.”

“Two or three months before the baby is due, you can start interviewing girls.”

“But what am I going to wear Saturday night?”

“We’ll think of something.”

The next day he took the dress back to Madame Germaine, and she let the seams out a bit at the waist.

~*~

“Thomas, wake up!” Rose poked him in the ribs. “Wake up!”

“What?” he muttered, still half asleep.

“Thomas, it’s the baby.”

“The baby?” It had been a little over a month since Rose told him about the baby. It couldn’t be the baby. The baby wasn’t due for months. Unless ... Wide awake, he sat up in bed and leaned over her. “Rose, is something wrong?”

“No, everything is wonderful. Give me your hand.”

She took his hand and held it flat against the slight bulge below her waist. “Can you feel it, Thomas?”

“Feel what? I don’t feel—” Something moved beneath his hand. “I feel it.”

“It’s the baby, asthore. There is a real live little person in there. Our baby. Isn’t it exciting?”

It was exciting. “It’s stopped.”

She sighed and released his hand. “I guess it went to sleep.” He slipped his arm under her shoulders, and she snuggled close. “What do you want, avourneen? A boy or a girl?”

He hadn’t thought much about the baby. “I grew up with five sisters, so I know about girls. I think a girl would be nice. What do you want?”

“I had two little sisters. I think I would like a girl, too.”

All the time they’d exchanged letters, and in all the months they’d been together, this was the first time Rose had mentioned her family. Thomas knew little about her childhood. “Where are your sisters?”

She didn’t answer for so long he thought she’d fallen asleep. Then she whispered, “Dead. They’re both dead.”

He should have known. Susannah had told him Rose was the only member of her family in Ireland to survive the famine. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I didn’t realize.”

“It was a long time ago.” She nestled her head into the hollow of his shoulder. “I don’t like to remember.”

After she slept, Thomas lay awake for some time thinking about his wife and about the baby. He’d been glad Rose didn’t have any family except Rory. Now there would be a baby. His baby. It was strange to think that a small part of him grew inside her body. Strange, but at the same time wonderful. The baby made Rose more completely his.

~*~

After she felt the first soft movements of her child, Rose began to wake trembling from dreams she couldn’t remember clearly.

Thomas confessed his worry to Susannah after the dreams had been going on for some time. “Even though she can’t remember the dreams, they upset her, and I’m afraid they may harm the baby.”

“Are they about the famine?”

Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “She says she doesn’t remember much of what happened.”

“Some say the things a woman sees can mark her unborn child, but I don’t know about dreams.” She patted his hand. “Perhaps you should talk to Dr. Borden about this.”

That night Rose dreamed again and woke crying, bathed in perspiration. The next day Thomas went to the office of the Atwood family doctor. He had long known Lucian Borden as a member of his father’s congregation as well as a physician. He was also a close personal friend of Matthias, and Thomas wouldn’t have come to him had he known another doctor.

Expecting Dr. Borden to be distant, Thomas was surprised when he entered his office and the man shook his hand.

“Please be seated.” He smilingly indicated the chair facing his desk. “Well, Thomas, I haven’t seen you for some time.” He resumed his seat behind his desk. His astute gray eyes searched the younger man’s face. “You look well.”

Thomas flicked a piece of lint from his neatly pressed dark trousers. “I am quite well.” He raised his head and met the doctor’s gaze with a defiant glare. “I love my wife very much, and I’m extremely happy.”

The doctor nodded. “I trust your wife is well.”

Concern softened Thomas’s heart. “Rose is the reason I came to see you. She’s going to have a baby.”

“A baby?” The doctor raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“I should have known better than to come to you.” Thomas slammed out of the chair and had his hand on the doorknob when the doctor spoke.

“Sit down, Thomas.”

Thomas turned and walked slowly back to the desk and sank into his chair. “I don’t know where else to go. I’m afraid for my wife and baby.”

“Is your wife having problems?”

Thomas shrugged his shoulders. “Not physical problems, but she has dreams—nightmares really—and she wakes up in the middle of the night crying. She says she can’t remember the dreams, but they frighten her.”

“Your wife is a survivor of the famine in Ireland, is she not?” The doctor leaned forward in his chair. “Tell me what you know of her experiences during that time.”

Thomas told what he knew of Rose’s early years while the doctor listened. Finally, he shrugged. “I know it isn’t much, but I know practically nothing of Rose’s childhood. She says she doesn’t remember the famine.”

“She remembers.” The doctor leaned back in his chair, his gray eyes thoughtful. “When did these nightmares begin?”

“A few nights after she first felt the baby move.”

“Has she expressed any fear for the child?”

“She says if anything happens to the baby she can’t endure it.” He moved his shoulders. “She says she’ll die, too, this time.”

“Talk to her about the famine. Haven’t you ever wondered how she survived?”

Thomas’s cheeks flushed. “Do you think she sold herself too?” He clenched his fist. “Because if you do—”

The doctor held his open hand up in a gesture of restraint. “I don’t think that at all. The Irish are not promiscuous by nature. My mother was Irish.”

“I didn’t know.”

“Mum was the center of our world. Her children adored her, and my father was devoted to her.” He again leaned forward. “Because of my mum, I have been deeply interested in the famine, Thomas. Did you know that at least one and one-half million people died there in the ten-year period between 1841 and 1851 when the famine ended?”

Thomas shook his head. “I didn’t know.”

“Have you ever seen anyone suffering from Typhus? The face swells and turns black. The Irish call it the ‘black fever’ because its victims burn up with fever. They suffer acute pain, vomiting, agonizing sores that often become gangrenous. They lose their fingers, toes, and sometimes their feet. The stench is intolerable.”

Thomas stared at the doctor with wide eyes.

“Then there is Relapsing fever. With this, the skin becomes jaundiced. They call it the ‘yellow fever’. Of course, dysentery and scurvy are common. And famine dropsy. The limbs and then the body swell until they burst. I read a report of a two-year-old baby whose body was swollen to the size of an adult male. This is the last stage of starvation.”

Thomas swallowed to keep from heaving up the contents of his stomach.

“Not a pretty image, is it?” The doctor grimaced. “This is only a sampling of what your wife is trying to forget. You may rest assured, she has seen much worse.”

The doctor stood. “As painful as it may be, your wife needs to talk about what she has seen. Talk to her, Thomas. I don’t think the dreams will harm the baby, but a healthy mother makes a healthy child.”

Thomas stood and thanked the doctor for his help. As he started out the door the doctor touched his arm. “Your wife is an extremely courageous young woman. There is one other thing you might find of interest, Thomas. Irish women are uncommonly fertile. My mother raised ten children.”

He chuckled as Thomas pulled the door closed.

~*~

Rose sat beside Thomas on the sofa.

“Would you like a stool for your feet?”

Thomas had always been an attentive, loving husband, but he was being especially solicitous tonight. She rested her head against his shoulder. “I’m fine. I just want to sit here with you and admire my elegant new parlor.”





* * *

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