A Christian Historical Romance novel set in 1890, in Denver, Colorado, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two Philadelphia couples make a pact for their families to be joined together by the marriage of their firstborn children, while toddlers. The Madisons had moved to Denver with their small daughter, and the Johnsons stayed in Philadelphia. Upon reaching marriageable ages, both Jon Junior and Elizabeth resisted meeting and marrying as designed. As Jack and Beth, they accidentally, unwittingly, meet in Denver, and being pulled to each other by a magnetic attraction, they fall in love and want to marry. Her mother becomes hysterical, distraught over her failed plan. Beth wants her mother to get to know Jack and accept their marriage, but her mother declares she will not permit it. They decide to elope instead. When will they realize that they have accomplished their parents’ dreams? Why do they decide to keep that a secret? How will they handle this unusual circumstance as the parents, one by one, realize the truth and are sworn to secrecy?
3/2/14: I was so excited today to receive a contract to publish this book. I'd been communicating with the publisher since November. Nowhere did I find that this was a vanity-press type. The author pays upfront for printing, handling, and shipping costs? Then the author also pays the publisher royalties? No way!
September 16, 2014: Epublished on Amazon
An excerpt from Chapter 1:
Denver, Colorado—April 1890
Not again! Another politely calm verbal showdown with her mother? Her father just stood there watching. Had she no choices? It is her life after all.
“I need to take a walk,” Beth cut off the distasteful discussion as she rushed for the front door, grabbing her coat from the treestand on the way, to quickly get out of her home in Quality Hills – the most elite district of Denver – away from her parents, knowing that leaving a tense situation was better than saying something she would later regret. It all seemed so surreal.
Lost in her own thoughts and speaking to herself, she fumed, “I have never been so angry! Ever. How could my parents have the gall to try to marry me off to some stranger! I don't care how much they like his family. Money. It has to be all about money, money and prestige. What else could it be? Nobody cares about what I think or feel about it! It is MY life. I will choose my husband, not them!” Then realizing how little of a choice a woman really had in a man’s world, she told herself, “The man may do the asking, but I do not have to accept. I just have to figure out how to meet and attract my choice for a husband.” Then raising her head toward the darkening overcast sky, she pled, “Lord, please help me!”
A familiar scripture from Proverbs invaded her thoughts: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Suddenly, the clouds in the darkened sky burst. She found herself caught in a downpour getting thoroughly drenched.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” She turned to head home again. “This is not what I expected. I want answers!”
At that moment, a buggy pulled up alongside and stopped. The man inside called out to her, “Miss, allow me give you a ride home. You're soaked, and this rain isn't likely to stop for awhile.”
“Yes. Thank you.” She knew she shouldn’t ever be alone with a man, nor should she accept a ride with a stranger. So why did she? Was it because he looked trustworthy as though he belonged here as a member of this elite community? Was it because she felt that he was safe? She hoped she would not regret it.
He reached down to assist her up, being the fastest method, though not as gentlemanly. A strange sensation swept through her upon touching his hand, a feeling of rightness. She squeezed in next to him, as there was only a one-person seat in a buggy.
He noticed her breathing was shallow and ragged, and then she held her breath. Without forethought he had held on to her hand, so she turned to face him. She sighed when she took another soft breath, an amazing sigh that made his breath catch. She felt so right next to him. As soon as they touched, he felt at one with her. His eyes were drawn to her lovely rosy lips complimenting her peaches-and-cream complexion, loveliness enhanced by the scent of rosewater. He intended to speak to her, but he was drawn to her with a mighty force.
They found themselves face-to-face staring into one another’s eyes, so very close they were touching in a most improper manner, both feeling at home with the other but wondering what was happening. Did they no longer control their own behavior? Neither moved away to attempt propriety for surely an open coach was respectable enough. Time stood still.
Regaining awareness of the circumstances, he reached under the seat to retrieve a lap blanket, which he opened and wrapped around her. He pulled her close against him. “Better?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
Recalling that there was no coachman so he needed to drive the horse forward, he turned somewhat to face forward. For respectability, they tried to move apart on the small seat, both of them breathing deeply. She was blushing. He whispered an apology, “I'm sorry, miss. I. . . .”
“Forgive me,” she interrupted. “I. . .I am befuddled.”
He reached around her, pulling her close again, “As am I.” And then he kissed the back of her hand. Why did I do that? He quickly withdrew his arm, straightened, and drove on.
“I am so sorry, sir. Please forgive me.” She tried to move away, but he had regained her hand, and she let him. “I am so embarrassed.”
Realizing then that he held her hand once again, he suggested, “Maybe we should introduce ourselves. My name is Jack. And yours?”
“Where shall I drop you?”
She chuckled at the phrase and then looked out. He stopped the buggy. The rain was falling so heavily, it still took some time for her to figure out where they were. “I'm afraid we have already passed the house. It is a block back that way.”
“We have gone too far? I’ll go around the block, down two, and then back this way.”
“I'm sorry to put you and your horse out like this.”
“My pleasure. Truly.” They found themselves snuggled together, again, her head against his chest. How had that occurred? He looked down at her, bewildered. “I'm sorry, Beth. I don't know what has overcome me. I cannot apologize enough for my forward behavior.”
Without forethought, she blurted out with genteel questioning, “What is happening? I do not understand this. I am not. . .This is not. . .I don't even know what to say.” Looking at their clasped hands, “I feel one with you.”
“As do I.” Then to her amazement he kissed her lips, likewise amazing herself that she reciprocated. She wondered if he could feel her heart pounding, for he hastily apologized, “Oh, I'm so sorry that I. . .uh, acted on my thoughts without regard for yours.”
“Oh my, I am. . .I don't know what I am! I have never, ever, kissed anyone, any man. But I kissed you, a stranger. I'm so confused,” she paused briefly, “and humiliated. I am not an ‘easy’ woman, I assure you,” aware that her hand had touched his clean shaven cheek during the kiss.
“No. I never assumed so. I apologize again.”
She wiped at an escaping tear, and he lifted her face toward his own. “I don't understand any of this, either. I don't go around kissing women I have just met.”
“Well, at least we exchanged names first.” She smiled.
He chuckled. “That is true.”
“Here. Let me out here,” she stated. He stopped the horse.
“Keep the blanket. May I see you to the door?” He started to rise to assist her.
“No. Thank you, Jack.” He sat back down and offered his hand to her.
“May I call on you later?”
“I cannot. Not here. Can we meet somewhere?”
“Name it. I will be there.”
“Tomorrow? Noon? At the Town Plaza Restaurant? I will return your blanket then.”
He nodded. “You may keep it. I will see you then. Goodbye, Beth.”
It was still raining hard so she rushed to the back of the house, glad to have the blanket covering. She hoped her parents had not seen the buggy. She didn’t want to talk to them, especially about him. A servant summoned her handmaid, Ann, and then took the blanket to dry it by the small woodstove in the utility room. As Ann aided her with her wetness and helped her sneak up to her bedroom unnoticed, she wondered about what had just transpired. She was pulled into a stranger’s arms by an unseen force that she was unable to resist. All she could think about was him, his exceedingly handsome face, his gentle dark blue eyes. She touched her lips, gliding her fingers over them. His kiss was warm, gentle, exciting. She felt like she knew Jack, really knew him. How could that be? Soon she was dressed in dry clothes, thanks to Ann.
“Ann, for being here for me now, we will do something special together, you and I. Something fun. Perhaps a shopping spree. Would you like a new day dress? Thank you so much for shielding me from my mother's attention.”
Jack wondered about Beth as he drove on. She didn’t want him to call on her there, and she went to the back of the house. Was that because she was wet, or was she a servant there? He realized he knew nothing about her. He hadn’t even noticed at her clothing before he covered her in the blanket, so he couldn’t determine the quality or style, as for a princess or a peasant. Tomorrow he will get his answers. Tomorrow he must keep a distance, too. He shook his head and voiced his thoughts, “How did I lose control today? I never lose control. What happened?”
He drove on to the home of his best friend, where he had been staying for the last two months. They had been friends since childhood when Jack had lived right next door to Ted, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Now, he was a visitor, Ted’s guest while his job kept him here, until assigned elsewhere. He needed to talk to someone who might understand. He needed answers. Ted might be able to help him figure this out.
When Ted greeted him, he asked, “Good grief, Jack, what’s up?”
“What do you mean, Ted?”
“You have an odd look on your face. That’s all. What’s her name?”
“As I see it, only a woman could create the turmoil I see.”
“I don’t know. We were lucky to have exchanged first names.”
“Lucky? How so? You just met her?” Jack nodded. “Well, then, Jack, tell me all about it. Sit.”
“I would rather stand.”
“And pace, as I see it.”
“Uh-huh. Less than an hour ago, I stopped to offer a very wet young lady a ride home. It was raining very hard.” Jack paused verbally as he continued to pace.
“When I touched her hand to help her into the buggy,” he paused, searching for an appropriate description.
“What? What happened?” Ted asked curiously.
Jack shrugged. “Everything went topsy-turvy. The world around me vanished, and there was only Beth. I can’t explain it. I know her, but I don’t. I just met her, but I know her—I’ve always known her. You know?” He watched Ted shake his head indicating that he did not. “Then, I, uh, I. . . .”
Ted lowered his voice to ask, “What did you do, Jack?”
“At first, I held her hand. Actually, I hadn’t even let go.”
“At first? What do you mean by that? Did you figure out how you knew her? Was she someone from your past?”
“No, she’s a total stranger. I covered her with the lap blanket. Before we got to her house, we had hugged and kissed.”
“Oh, I see. And she offered more, for a price. So did you?”
“What?! No! You have it all wrong. She isn’t like that.”
“But you said. . . .”
Jack cut him off. “I was forward. I was such a cad. How could I have treated a lady like that? But we had such a special connection and couldn’t help ourselves.”
“We? That sounds dangerous to me. So what did she really do with your advances?”
“It was like she was my wife, Ted! Not a stranger. I don’t understand. And she acted like it was perfectly normal, like I was her husband.”
“That sounds unnerving—especially for a self-proclaimed bachelor.”
Still pacing, Jack continued, “It was like home and family, Ted. In the rain, in the buggy, with a stranger. What is wrong with me?” He had liked the way she felt snuggled closely against him in the conveniently confining buggy seat.
“Two, in that buggy?” He smiled, “That sounds cozy. So who is she?”
“All I know is her name is Beth, and where I dropped her off, on Logan Street.”
“Logan Street? Quality Hill? She’s affluent?”
“She went around to the back door. Maybe she works there.”
“That’s all you know about her?”
“For now. I’m meeting her for lunch tomorrow.”
“This could be interesting. Maybe you’ve fallen for a housemaid. Your folks would love that! What was she wearing?”
“Clothes.” He looked exasperated, and then admitted, “I didn’t notice! I wrapped her in a lap blanket.”
“You didn’t look her over? Come on, man. Don’t tell me you didn’t examine her assets, enjoy her charms. You are a man, aren’t you?” Ted raised one eyebrow as he asked.
“Ted, I was not myself, was I.” As a statement, he meant to emphasize his dilemma. “That is one thing that is bothering me. Let me see. She was wearing blue, and she felt wonderful in my arms. She smelled of roses. Her hair is silky and an unusually colored sort of blonde. Her eyes are golden with long, dark lashes. Her lips are rosy and soft, sweet, delicious. She is tiny, I think; she seems somewhat short, petite. Her nose is small and delicate looking with a slight upward turn at the end.”
“What about her eyebrows and ears?” Ted smirked.
“So you noticed them?”
“No, not really. But she was lovely, nothing amiss. Her eyebrows complemented her eyes. Eyes so expressive, she did not need to speak. I could see and feel her thoughts.”
“You are in trouble, man.”
Ted laughed. “Do you really need to ask?”
“What should I do?”
“Run. Far away.”
“Seriously, what should I do?”
Ted laughed, telling that he was serious that Jack should run far away. “Find out all you can about her, and you had best not be alone with her again or you’ll have a bunch of new problems.”
“I will find out more tomorrow at lunch.”
“May I come along?”
Jack stops pacing to face his best friend. “No, Ted.”
“How about if I’m just there at the same time and pretend I don’t know you? I want to see her for myself. Let me see this woman who has enchanted you.”
“She is enchanting. But I don’t know that I can trust you to keep your distance and silence.”
“Can you trust yourself? I promise to be good. Have I ever broken a promise yet?”
“No, and you had better not break this one!”
“So you’ll let me come along?”
“Okay. We’re meeting at noon at the Town Plaza Restaurant.”
“I can’t wait to see her.”
“Neither can I,” Jack admitted.
“Elizabeth Emily Madison! Where do you think you are going?” Beth’s mother demanded.
“Shopping with Samantha, and luncheon, too.”
“Were you not going to tell me?”
Speaking in a pleasant tone, Beth replied, “I’m sorry, Mother. I guess I did not think about it. Now that I am of majority, I come and go as I please. I just assumed you would ask Ann where I am, as usual.”
“Do not be disrespectful, Elizabeth. I wanted to speak to you this morning.”
“Well, I am sure that you have put a great deal of thought into how to convince me to marry Jon Junior,” she made a sour face, “but I am still not going to marry someone simply because you want it to happen.”
“But he will not be a stranger if you meet and get to know him. I can request a visit.”
“Has anyone even considered what Jon Junior thinks of this scheme?”
“Scheme? Hmph. That is what he called it in his parting words to his mother, a scheme. But he will come around, especially once he meets you, dear.”
“Well, at least I like his response. Let him keep his distance.”
“He could be your perfect man, and you will never know unless you meet him.”
“Of course that would be after the ceremony, right? Wedding and then introductions, the usual order for arranged marriages. No thank-you to that!”
“You could have a long engagement.”
“And three months would be very long for you, would it not?”
“Elizabeth, you are exasperating.”
“I will be back later this afternoon. You can tell me all about it then. But I still will say NO.” She knew she had practically shouted that last word. Still, Beth knew she couldn’t avoid it forever.
“Miss Madison,” the butler interrupted, “Miss Samantha Hamilton is waiting for you in the parlor.”
After Beth greeted Samantha, they left to go downtown. Once in the Victoria carriage, they were able to converse in more casual language; they called themselves ‘rebels’ for it. Beth told Samantha all about her mother’s renewed verbal assault before she arrived.
“Ugh. You poor dear. Where shall we have lunch?”
“That, we need to discuss. Something has happened since we made our date for today. You see, I met a man yesterday. I invited him to meet me for lunch today at Town Plaza Restaurant. I can’t let mother know.”
“Ooooo. So I’m a smokescreen?”
Beth laughed, “No. Yes. Sort of, I suppose. You won’t believe what happened. I hoped you’d help me meet him today. I want to tell you all about him. I hardly slept last night, dreaming about him, reliving yesterday’s ride. I want you to see him somehow, too. We have a lot to discuss, Samantha!”
“We surely do.”
“Any idea what I’m supposed to do while you eat with him?”
“You should join us, I suppose. After I tell you what happened yesterday, you’ll want to be there.” Remembering the coachman, she pointed toward the driver, then lowering her voice Beth went on to explain. Samantha’s eyes got bigger as she told the story.
Samantha whispered, “All of that in one short, cozy buggy ride? This is a joke on me, isn’t it?”
“No. It happened, just like that.”
“I'll feel like an extra wheel, but I’ll go in with you to meet him. . .and then I’ll leave.”
Beth frowned and asked, “And while you wait, do what? And then I’d meet you where and when? Actually, he would be joining us. You must join us. It will be more proper if you stay to chaperone us. You must eat, too. Besides, we really need a chaperone.” She smiled, “You must be there to keep me from embarrassing myself and my family. I want to learn about him, but in an informal, casual way.”
“No problem. I can be a silent extra wheel,” she teased. “But does he know I will be there?”
“Well, I’ll try not to participate in your conversation. But, I was thinking, what if he is a con-man. How will we know if he’s telling the truth?”
“What is a con-man?”
“That’s what my father calls the crooks that act really nice, say all the right things, and pretend to be good persons, in order to swindle those very same people. The con is to make them trust the crook so it easier for him to steal from them. Dad says that even our city has them from time to time now.”
“He would know. He is the police department’s head detective.”
Once downtown, Beth told the driver to come back for them at three o’clock. She hoped that would be plenty of time.
Samantha suggested that since they won’t want to have a bunch of packages with them at lunch, maybe they should browse the shops now and go back to buy things after lunch, or have the storekeepers hold their purchase for them to pick up in the afternoon. Beth agreed. “Great idea, Samantha. If I buy nothing, my mother will ask questions, but I don’t want to deal with parcels at the restaurant. Thanks for thinking of that.”
They strolled from shop to shop for a couple of hours, carefully purchasing a few things that would satisfy the scrutiny of Beth’s mother. The various merchants recommended that the ladies should agree to allowing them to deliver their purchases to their homes later in the afternoon. This was a very agreeable plan. As noon approached, Beth got nervous. Samantha asked her why. “I’m not sure. I’m anxious to see him, but I’m worried, too. It was strange yesterday, how I did things without thinking about it. How will I keep control today after yesterday?”
“So that really is why you want me to tag along?”
“Yes, to protect me from myself.” Beth looked in a storefront window, not at the merchandise but at her own appearance. She smoothed her skirt, tucked a loose strand of hair into place, and adjusted her hat. “Tell me honestly, Samantha, how do I look? Anything amiss?”
Samantha looked at her own reflection next to Beth’s in the glass, and replied, “You look lovely, Beth. I wish I had your complexion.” She sighed. She was keenly aware that Beth outshone her at all times. She was not petite as was Beth, not as slender even though her own figure was pleasingly normal. Perhaps men preferred fairness of skin and hair over her darker auburn hair and pinker complexion with freckles splashed across her nose and cheekbones.
“Tell me, Beth. What does Jack look like?”
“Oh, Samantha, he is a striking man, especially handsome in his very dark suit, which accents his coloring. You will see him soon enough and can judge for yourself. I find him irresistible. I must admit that I think of him continually.”
Smiling, Samantha chided, “I’ve noticed that you’ve been distracted. I thought he was the reason. I see I was correct.”
They turned and continued walking the remainder of the block. Samantha quietly announced, “Well, here we are. Do you see him anywhere?”
Still outside, Beth turned around. "Not yet. Shall we go inside?”