Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts, © 2014

The Promise of Sunrise Series, Book 2


CPS Camp # 24
Eli Brenneman leaves his Amish community in Sunrise, Delaware, upon receiving his draft notice during World War II. He serves as a conscientious objector to war, being assigned to a Civilian Public Service labor camp far from home.

With overcrowding and need for additional staff, Eli is transferred with a unit to Hudson River State Hospital near Poughkeepsie, New York, as an attendant for the mentally unstable. There he meets nurse Christine Freeman, a young woman dedicated to her job as she strives to financially care for her family following the death of her two brothers overseas. She is uncertain how she is going to respond to Eli, although they must work together. A time of war, a time of grief.

Eli serves for eighteen months and comes home changed. With changes in her own personal life, Christine is in need of time to think through her future decisions. Eli offers her a time of rest at his family's farm. Bringing an English girl home with him isn't that much of a surprise to all in his community. He is remembered as looking out for himself and not the young women he meets at the Singings, bringing first one and then another home in his buggy.

Christine stays in a cottage with Eli's elderly aunt across the field from his family's farm home. Aunt Annie is one of my favorite characters in the story. She is a midwife and Christine's nursing fits right in. Eli's sister-in-law befriends Christine and stood out to me as a strong supporter.

I have not read the first story in the series, Promise to Return, but felt this second story was complete as a stand-alone novel. This story could be written today, as well as of the mid-1940s. Hmm... I was cautioning Christine, a lot like my husband does football replays! So well-written as the characters explore their options. Forgiveness with life insights given for each character view. For some it was too late; for others new beginnings. Very visual writings like walking alongside. Very good and complete!
Elizabeth Byler Younts
Photograph Credit: Esther M. Byler


***Thank you to author Elizabeth Byler Younts for the invitation to read and review your newest novel, Promise to Cherish, and to Howard Books. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

 Enjoy this excerpt from Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts ~ Chapter 1



January sunlight spilled onto Christine Freeman’s face and reflected off her glasses. She closed her eyes in the white light and pretended she wasn’t just standing in front of a window in the drab hospital hall. She had always loved mornings. And she would continue to find beauty in her mornings even while she worked at the dreary Hudson River State Hospital as a nurse for the mad. With almost no budget, the hospital was nothing more than a primitive asylum. Had it ever truly been an asylum for its patients? A sanctuary? A protection? A refuge?
   She opened her eyes. Across the wintry lawn at the top of the hill stood the gothic Victorian Kirkbride structure. It was the hospital’s main structure and stood like a palace against the washed-out sky. Its green hoods pointed to the heavens. Its wards stretched in opposite directions like wings of an eagle, one for men and one for women. It was also where she lived, in one of the small apartments on the top floor. Though the Kirkbride building was designed to be a comfortable setting for the patients, giving them jobs and a purpose, during these bleak years of war many of those ideals were lost. The palatial building was more prisonlike than ever.
   Edgewood, the two-story building Christine worked in, was dwarfish and rough by comparison. Being from nearby Poughkeepsie, she’d often viewed the hospital from the outside. How many times had she and her friends ridden their bikes out to the edge of town where the timeworn Victorian buildings stood, hoping to catch a glimpse of the lunatics. She had never imagined that she would work there someday.
   Christine wanted to run down the path and away from this place. But there was no point entertaining such notions. Her family needed her to work. End of discussion. Their very survival depended on it.
   A mournful cry from the nearby dorm room infiltrated her thoughts. She released a long exhale, then moved away from the window. She pulled at the tarnished gold chain from under her Peter Pan collar. The small cream-faced watch at the end of the necklace ticked almost soundlessly in her hand. Her twelve-hour day couldn’t wait any longer. After tucking the watch back beneath her pale blue and white uniform, she stepped inside the thirty-bed dorm that then slept over forty-five men. She scanned the room to find the moaning patient. The paint-chipped iron beds were crammed so tightly it was difficult to see. The few who refused to leave their beds or had been sedated during the night shift were the only rounded figures atop the cots.
   Christine walked to the second row and went sideways through the narrow aisle to check on the noisy patient. Wally. Electroconvulsive therapy usually caused gastrointestinal and abdominal discomfort, but Wally’s always lasted longer than a typical patient’s. Christine didn’t have any medications with her but knew Dr. Franklin had a standing order of hyoscine to treat Wally’s nausea. Confirming his temperature was normal, she left the room.
   She passed several of the rooms with two beds and a few with only one, usually retained for contagious patients. She would have to visit each as soon as she spoke with the night nurse to assess how her shift had gone.
   Christine passed another dorm room with nearly fifty beds and let out a sigh, noticing how few of the beds had sheets. Even the mattresses themselves were thin and flimsy, covered in shabby vinyl and incapable of adding any warmth to their inhabitants. Though she’d gone through three years of nursing school at this very hospital, she had a difficult time growing accustomed to how little bedding and clothing the patients received. It was not as tragic in the summer—save for the patients’ modesty—but when the autumn breezes brought in winter storms, a sense of failure came over her.
   The Kirkbride patients were supposed to make clothing for everyone, but with dwindling supplies and money everything was at a minimum or a standstill. The state only provided one sheet and one set of clothing per patient. If they were soiled, the patient would have to go without. Her efforts to coordinate a clothing drive had been thwarted. The town wanted little to do with the institution. Outside of some extraordinary donation, the funding they needed would have to come from the state alone.
   As she moved on, Christine dreaded the scent of urine that lived in the very concrete blocks of the building’s walls. The smell in the day room heightened. The odor in the hallway was mild by comparison.
   “Remember, Christine,” she said quietly to herself as she pulled open the door. “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad.”
   Rejoice. Be glad. Rejoice. Be glad.
   In order to accept the difficulties, she focused on the good she wanted to do for her patients and her family. With her brothers dead and buried half a world away in a war-torn country, her parents needed her income. That thought alone gave her the encouragement she needed to continue.
   Christine’s lips stretched into a forced smile, she pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose, and walked into the day room. Every corner of the large, square, gray room was filled. The windows let the light pour in, though darkness would have been preferred. Nearly a hundred men were walking in circles, hugging themselves, leaning their heads against the walls, sitting in the corners, and only a small handful congregated and interacted with one another. There were a few metal chairs, three rickety tables, and one bedbug-infested davenport. The tables usually held a few boxes of mismatched puzzles, several checker boards, tattered newspapers, and outdated magazines.
   The night-shift staff gave Christine’s day-shift attendants a rundown of how their night had gone. Todd Adkins, the most experienced attendant, listened carefully to what the other attendants said. A loud crash came from the far right corner of the day room and the attendants jumped into action. Christine couldn’t see what the problem was in the sea of bodies but knew Adkins could handle it.
   What would she have done in her first month as an official nurse in Ward 71 if it hadn’t been for Adkins? Of course, Christine wasn’t alone. Nurse Minton was the experienced nurse in her ward. How the two of them managed to keep track of over a hundred men with only two aides, she didn’t know.
   Christine said good morning to a few of the nearby patients. None of them even looked in her direction, except for Floyd, the only mentally retarded mongol patient in their ward. He was secretly her favorite patient. It was one thing to study Dr. John Langdon Down’s work, which clinically described the syndrome in the mid-1800s, but to interact and observe Floyd was far better than learning from a textbook. He was sensitive, funny, and by far smarter than anyone gave him credit for. He bore no resemblance to the term mongoloid idiot used to describe his condition.
   Floyd’s small, almond-shaped eyes, like slits in his puffy face, sparkled. He smiled at her, with more gums than teeth, and then returned to tapping two old checker pieces together. She patted his head as she passed him. Christine walked over to the office in the corner of the room where she would prepare to hand out the morning round of medications.
   “We had to restrain Rodney a few hours after our shift started. He went after Floyd.” Millicent Smythe, one of the ward’s night-shift nurses, was writing in the patient logbook in the office. Her lips were pasty and unpainted, though twelve hours ago they’d been as red as Christine’s. Dark circles framed her brown eyes and her voice carried a hint of exhaustion.
   “What? Floyd? He wouldn’t hurt a flea.” Christine said.
   “Rodney said that Floyd was cussing at him. Rodney had all of them riled up—acting like the big cheese. It put a wrench in the whole night. Mr. Pricket even had a difficult time with him.”
   Mr. Pricket was one of the oldest and most experienced attendants in all of Hudson River. Surely Rodney’s latest outburst would finally get him transferred to Ryan Hall, where the truly violent and disturbed patients were kept.
   “I know what you’re thinking.” Millicent looked over at her and raised a dark brown eyebrow. “Ryan Hall.”
   “Aren’t you?”
   The other nurse shrugged. “They are even more crowded than we are and there are injuries weekly—both the patients and the staff. If anyone needs more help instead of more patients, it’s them.”
   Just before Millicent left she called over her shoulder. “Have an attendant check on Wayne and Sonny when you get a minute. Wayne was agitated last night. Oh, and the laundry is behind—again.”
   Christine nodded and hustled to get started handing out medications. The patients who were able lined up for their medications, which she handed through the open Dutch door. The attendants helped the less competent patients line up. She took a tray of medications out to the remaining patients who weren’t able to form a line or were bedridden. This took some time, since each had to drink down the medications in front of her so she could check inside their mouths—under their tongues and in the pockets of their cheeks.
   When she was nearly half through with administering the medications, the attendants began taking the patients in shifts to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. When a patient in the other hall needed an unscheduled electroconvulsive therapy, often referred to as shock therapy, she was pulled in to assist since Nurse Minton was busy with an ill patient who had pulled his IV from his arm.
   When she finally returned to the corner office in the day room her logbook was still open. Quickly Christine documented the lethargy of one patient she’d noticed earlier in the day and the aggressiveness of another. She reviewed the schedule for the rest of the day: more shock therapy, hydrotherapy for calming a few patients, and numerous catheterizations for the patients who refused to use the toilet. How would she keep up with it all?
   She didn’t have time to dwell and carefully picked up the tray of medications she needed to finish. Christine was only a step out of the office when Wally approached her.
   “Hey, nurse, have a smoke for me? Have a smoke for me?” Though his words were still slurred she was glad he had come out of his stupor from earlier that morning. “Come on, have a smoke for me?”
   “Wally, you know I’m not going to give you any cigarettes.” She smiled at him. It was difficult to have a conversation with the men when they stood nude in front of her. She had trained herself to treat them as if they were fully clothed individuals and would look them directly in their eyes.
   “Aw, come on, nurse, I know where you keep ’em,” he whispered loudly, stepping closer to her as she closed and locked the Dutch door. “What if I tell ya you’ve got some nice gams? You’re a real Queen ’o Sheba! Prettiest nurse here.”
   “I don’t smoke, Wally.” It was only a half lie; she did smoke on occasion, but would never give a cigarette to a patient. “Now go back and play checkers before you get beat.”
   “No one ever beats me. You know that. Never.” He repeated never over and over as he walked away.
   The door to the day room swung open and hit the wall behind it. Adkins jogged in. His eyes were round and his face was as colorless as his starched attendant’s jacket.
   “Nurse Freeman,” he said, breathless and shaky.
   “What is it?” She’d never seen Adkins rattled before.
   “I went to take some breakfast to Wayne and Sonny.”
   “Just now?” She sighed heavily. “Adkins, this isn’t like—”
   “While you were in shock therapy I had to pull Rodney into solitary and this is the first chance I’ve—it doesn’t matter now.” Adkins breathed heavy and shook his head. He stopped long enough to look into Christine’s eyes. “Wayne and Sonny are dead.”
   “Dead? What do you mean they’re dead? From influenza?” They’d been sequestered to a private room for contagion for the last forty-eight hours.
   He shook his head and grabbed her arm, making the small cups of pills on her tray rattle. “Froze to death.”
   Numbness fixed her where she stood. Christine wasn’t sure she would be able to move from that spot. Had she heard him properly? It was her fault. She should’ve sent Adkins to check on them as soon as Millicent mentioned it. How long had it been since they’d been checked on? Her heart bemoaned that she had not insisted Adkins or even an attendant from Minton’s hall check on them immediately. She took a deep breath and the stench of guilt filled her lungs.
   “Nurse Freeman?” His grip tightened on her arm.
   “Yes.” She returned to the corner office behind her and calmly put the tray of meds on the counter. Then, with Adkins on her heels, she jogged to the last room in the hall.
   Christine pushed her way through the crowd of patients gawking at the unclothed bodies that lay frozen. She wrapped her arms around herself, partly for warmth and partly for a sense of security. Her breath puffed white as her breathing quickened. Snow piled in small mounds on the floor and the walls were frosted around the two sets of open windows.
   “Get everyone out,” she said rigidly to Adkins, who obeyed immediately.
   Once the room was empty she had Adkins call for the administrator, Jolene Phancock. Christine also wanted to make sure Minton had heard the news. Once the two veteran staff members arrived they could instruct her on what to do next. Perhaps all that needed to be done was to call the morgue on the grounds to come pick the bodies up. They would hand them over to the state and have them buried in some unmarked plot for no one to grieve over.
   “Good morning, Nurse Freeman,” Ms. Phancock said in an even and pleasant voice as she walked in. She was too friendly not to give a proper greeting, but her voice carried the bitterness of the morning’s events.
   “Not a very good morning, unfortunately.” Christine tiptoed around the snow to the open windows and closed them. “Wayne is—was—always opening windows. We should’ve found a way to bolt the windows shut in here. I never thought this could happen. I feel responsible.”
   Like a hollow cavern, Christine’s voice echoed in her own ears. Reality and dream crossed each other and she wasn’t sure what was true anymore. Wayne’s naked body, in the fetal position, was blue, and his bedsores were flaky. A shudder shook her body. Sonny, also blue, was long and skinny, and his toes were curled. He lay flat otherwise and had not even curled around himself to conserve heat. Guilt filled her empty heart.
   She picked up Sonny’s chalk and slate on the floor next to his bed. As a young boy, deaf and dumb, he was sent to the Children’s Ward. There he’d been taught to write a few simple words in order to communicate. She blinked back hot tears when she saw what was scratched onto the slate.
   “Let me assure you that you are not to blame.” Ms. Phancock released such a heavy sigh Christine could feel the weight of it around her. The administrator made a fist with her hand and pursed her lips.
   “Ma’am?” She laid the slate back down on the frozen floor.
   “We need more workers.” Ms. Phancock’s fist pulsed up and down with each word. “You and the rest of the staff cannot possibly do more than you already are.”
   Christine agreed, of course, as she looked at the tragedy before her.
   She found herself sorry that Sonny’s nakedness was so visible, more than Wayne’s. Of course, they often had more naked patients than clothed ones. Keeping patients clothed was difficult if they were incontinent or when they displayed erratic behavior. But this time it seemed worse. He wasn’t just asleep or behaving dangerously. He was a human being who was lying naked in front of everyone coming in or near the room. She untied her apron and draped it over his lower body.
   “What are you doing?” Nurse Minton asked as she strode in. Christine looked up at the older nurse. Her hair was already coming out of her severe bun, as if she’d been working all day instead of only a few hours.
   “He deserves some dignity.” Christine turned to her superior.
   “Thank you, Nurse Freeman,” Ms. Phancock said. “You’re right.”
   Nurse Minton remained quiet.
   “Can we tell the state what’s happening here? Maybe they will find a way to get us the help we need.”
   “That sounds about as likely as a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” Ms. Phancock sighed as she spoke. She patted Christine on the shoulder and told her that Gibson from the morgue would be there soon, then she left.
   The two nurses remained in the room, silently together for several pregnant moments.
   “Did you record Rodney’s insulin shock therapy today?” Nurse Minton finally broke the quiet.
   “Nurse Minton, we have a real tragedy here, and you want to talk about insulin treatment?”
   “We are nurses, Freeman. This is our job.” Her voice came out harshly, and even the old, jaded nurse seemed to realize it and cleared her throat. “I’ve been around long enough to know this is part of the job—though terrible, I understand. I also know that we have to keep the ward running regardless; otherwise another tragedy will be right around the corner.”
   Christine nodded. Minton was right. She turned toward the older nurse and stifled a loud sigh. “Yes, Rodney got his insulin treatment.”
   “Did his anxiety and aggressiveness subside? I was dealing with the other hall and haven’t checked on him yet.”
   “Yes, ma’am.” Subsided was putting it mildly. Rodney had gone into a coma from the massive dose of insulin. He had lost all control several hours earlier when the doctor had come to see him about his outburst the night before. Like a frayed rope under too much strain, he snapped. “Tonic-clonic seizures continued for several minutes post therapy. He’s being observed for any aftershocks now.”
   “Fine.” Nurse Minton looked at Christine out of the bottoms of her eyes, with her chin up and nose in the air. The older nurse was no taller than the younger, but looked down at her in any way she could find. Tall women were typically placed on men’s wards with the expectation that they would be able to better handle the larger male patients.
   “Dr. Franklin has a standing order of barbital for him. If he wakes up agitated I will administer it. Dr. Franklin said to keep him in the restraints until he returns.” The use of the sleeping drug was a mainstay in the hospital.
   “I’ll leave you to deal with Gibson and the morgue; I’ll get back to the patients. We still have a full day.” The older nurse started walking out of the room.
   “Nurse Minton, don’t you wish there was more we could do? You’ve been here for years and I’m new, but I already feel so helpless.”
   “Adkins said you were idealistic.” The older nurse’s mouth curled into an unfriendly and mocking smile. “Idealism doesn’t work in a place like this. Look around, Freeman. This facility is its own town, with its own community. You know that. Do you think the state is going to listen to you, a woman just barely a nurse? Your very meals depend on the garden the patients maintain and their harvest and canning in the fall. Why do you think it’s like that?” She paused for a minuscule moment, appearing not to want an answer from Christine. “Because no one wants to bother with the patients. No one wants to even believe they exist, including the families that drop them off. They want to go on with their nice simple lives behind their picket fences and pretend this beautiful building isn’t more prison than hospital. Besides, even if we had more clothing for the patients, what we really need are workers. There’s just too many patients and not enough of us.”
   They’d been over capacity for a long time without any help in sight. The war had taken so many of their staff away while an excessive number of patients poured in—some of them soldiers returning from the war and unable to cope.
   Without another word, Nurse Minton walked away but turned back after several steps.
   “Adkins says you sing hymns to your patients.” One of her eyebrows arched and a crooked smirk shifted across her lips.
   “I think it helps their nerves,” she said pushing up her glasses though they had not slipped down her nose.
   “Sing all you want, as long as you’re getting your work finished.” The nurse turned and walked away.
   “S’cuse me, ma’am,” a deep voice said a few moments later.
   Christine’s eyes caught Gibson’s. He was holding one end of a canvas stretcher and a younger man held the other. Gibson was a tall, brawny colored man with a voice that was gravelly yet still somehow kind. His cottony hair and eyebrows reminded Christine of summer clouds. His eyes, on the other hand, haunted her.
   Gibson’s job was to gather the deceased and take them across the hospital grounds to the morgue. If warranted, a doctor would perform an autopsy before the patient was prepared for burial. In that brief moment she returned to a hot August day when she had observed an autopsy. Half her class fainted. Christine nearly had herself. The odor, sight, and sounds, mixed with the humidity, made her fantasize about running away from the school.
   Now, in the frozen days of winter, Christine wanted to pretend she was somewhere else. She shuffled awkwardly back toward the wall near the windows, her knees locked. She could not watch them take the bodies away, not like this. Without a word, she pushed past them and left the room. She ran to the opposite end of the hall and leaned against the stairwell door.

Best First Book finalist, 2014 RITA Awards ~ Elizabeth Byler Younts ~ Promise to Return, Book 1, Promise of Sunrise series

The Promise of Sunrise Series, Book 1

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Promise by Beth Wiseman, © 2014

The Promise
Mallory's search for happiness leads her to a faraway place. There she finds heartache, betrayal—and danger. Can the only man she's ever loved rescue her before it's too late?
   They were quiet for a moment.
   "Well, I will be anxiously awaiting your safe arrival home, and I will want to hear all about your trip."
   "I'm sure it will be a grand adventure. Something I'll remember for the rest of my life."
   --The Promise, 102
Mallory Hammond promised herself she would make a difference in a life after her cousin Kelsey died and she was not allowed to be a donor because of being underage and not able to sign for herself. Mallory has not forgotten her pledge. Her good intentions turn to turmoil as she negotiates... her very own life.

While reading The Promise, I am reminded of the movie, Not Without My Daughter. So much at stake when the heart is included. Well-meaning but turned to deception, Mallory's employer determines an outcome he alone cannot help once it is set into motion.

Author Beth Wiseman goes behind the scene to bring us into the turmoil and striving for life beyond what it seems looking in. Mallory seeks to help in a situation beyond what she ever expected; unattended and truly alone for the first time with nowhere to turn. Vulnerable, she believes charm and lies separating her from those who love her.

The Promise is inspired by a true story. Rescuing those ensnared is very real and sought to set the captive free. I would not categorize this as a Christian novel. No one seemed to have a definite decision on their belief, but rather anything goes. Not all paths lead to God. 

Beth Wiseman

***I am reviewing as part of Litfuse Publicity Group's blog tour for Beth Wiseman's novel ~ The Promise. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Sneak peek excerpt of Beth Wiseman's The Promise, Prologue ~ Chapters 1-3



Mallory slipped into her cousin’s hospital room and tiptoed to the side of her bed. Today, about to burst with good news, she barely noticed the antiseptic smell. She sat down in the chair by the bed and scooted close.
   “Hey, Kels. You awake?”
   Kelsey opened her brown eyes. This was the third time she’d been admitted in the past two months. “Just resting. The doctor says I can go home tomorrow. They’re just monitoring me. My blood pressure got too low again after dialysis.”
   Mallory nodded. They’d been through this before. She handed Kelsey a McDonald’s bag. “I checked with the nurse. She said you can have this.”
   Kelsey smiled. “What would I do without you?”
   Even worse . . . what would I do without you?
   Mallory and Kelsey had been born three days apart, in this very hospital, and Mallory felt closer to her cousin than to her own sister.
   Kelsey held the bag in her lap, but she didn’t open it.
   “Feeling nauseous?” Mallory asked. “Maybe you’ll feel like eating it later.”
   Kelsey put the bag on the table next to her. “I’m sure I will. You know the food here is awful.” She sighed. “I hate this. I know the dialysis is keeping me alive, but I’m so sick of feeling sick.”
   “You’ll be better soon, Kels, I promise.”
   “You can’t promise that. Unless I get a donor—”
   “I can’t wait another minute!” Mallory reached across the bed and latched onto Kelsey’s hand. “I’m not supposed to say anything until I talk to Mom and Dad, but . . .”
   Kelsey sat up in the bed, tears filling her eyes. “Are you . . . are you a match?”
   Mallory nodded, tears running down her face as well. She had made it through the third round of testing—the only one out of all the friends and family.
   “Yes! They just called me on my cell.” She threw her arms around her cousin. “I can give you a kidney!”


Mallory handed Rosa her empty plate. “As usual, dessert was awesome.” The food was what kept the mandatory Sunday dinners at her parents’ house bearable.
   Rosa nodded. Though her dark hair was now speckled with gray, her smile still revealed her girlish dimples and laugh crinkles around her bright eyes. “Glad you liked it, Munchkin.”
   Mallory smiled at the maid’s use of the pet name after all these years.
   Rosa went around the table to pick up dessert plates, but Mallory’s sister, Vicky, was still working on her key lime pie. Though Mallory missed seeing Haley and Braiden, who were with their father today, she was glad Vicky’s children weren’t present in case things were about to get ugly.
   “Mom, Dad . . . there’s something I need to tell you.” Mallory’s stomach churned and her voice was shaky.
   Her mother set down her wineglass. Mallory was pretty sure she’d seen Rosa fill it four times.
   “What is it?” Her mother raised her eyebrows. Eyebrows that seemed to be higher up on her forehead. And the tiny lines of time that feathered from each of her eyes had disappeared as well. Mallory was studying the changes, not sure if she liked them or not, when her mother cleared her throat. “What do you need to tell us, Mallory?”
   She swallowed hard. “I’m donating one of my kidneys.”
   Her father sat taller, his eyes sharp and assessing. Vicky halted her fork midway to her mouth, glancing back and forth between their parents. Her mother slammed a palm against the table, shaking the dishes that hadn’t yet been cleared.
   “No! We’re not going through this again.” Mom shook her head as she glared at Mallory.
   “Mom, I’m an adult. And I’ve made my decision.”
   Her mother put her empty wineglass on the table, then pointed a finger at her daughter. “I knew this was why you took a job working for that man. This has never been about utilizing your business degree.”
   Mallory looked at her father. “Dad, please tell me you understand why I want to do this.”
   Her father leaned back against his chair and sighed. “Of course I understand, Mallory. But it’s a dangerous procedure, and you’re our daughter. You need to understand how we feel too.”
   “I get that, Dad. I really do. But I’m going ahead. I’ve signed up in a paired kidney exchange program.”
   Mallory’s mother blinked her eyes a few times as she raised her chin. “This isn’t the only way to help. Do you have any idea how much money I have collected over the years through fund-raisers? Money specifically for the Kidney Foundation.”
   “Mom.” Mallory sighed. “That’s wonderful. But this isn’t a problem that you can just throw money at. People have to make real sacrifices to save lives.”
   “Did that Muslim put you up to this?” Her mother looked around for Rosa, then pointed at her glass again.
   “That is beyond offensive.” Mallory glared at her. “I’m going to write that comment off to the wine.”
   “They do all hate us, you know.” Vicky eased a piece of pie onto her fork. “We’re all infidels to them. They want us all dead.”
   “You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Mallory said to her sister. “Ismail is a doctor. He’s in the business of saving lives, not taking them.”
   “That’s enough.” Dad lifted both his palms, and after he slowly lowered them, he said, “We can’t control what you do, honey.”
   Not this time.
   “But we want to make sure you’ve thought this through.” He laid his napkin on his plate.
   Mallory blinked back tears. “I’ve had twelve years to think it through. And I made a promise to Kelsey.”

TATE SLID OFF THE PIANO BENCH AND WENT TO THE door. “Why don’t you use your key, babe?” he asked, stepping aside so Mallory could come in.
   She leaned up and kissed him. “Because I don’t live here.”
   “Then move in.” He smiled, knowing what she would say. He’d asked plenty of times.
   Mallory sat down on the couch and leaned her head back, giving her blond waves a toss. She closed her eyes. “Your mother would have a fit.”
   Tate made a quick scan of the room and found ET curled up in the corner behind the rocking chair. Twice the orange-and-white tabby had mistaken Mallory’s hair for a plaything when she’d draped it over the back of the couch.
   “She’d get over it. You know she loves you.” Tate sat down beside her. “So how’d it go?”
   Mallory inhaled a big gulp of air, blew it out slowly, and turned to face him. She pulled all her hair over her right shoulder and started braiding it. Tate knew she’d braid it to the end, undo it, and run her fingers through it. Then probably braid it again. It was something she did when she was nervous or upset.
   “It went about how I figured it would. Mom went nuts, Vicky made a stupid comment, and Dad tried to keep the peace.”
   Tate reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze.
   “I know you don’t want me to do this either. But at least you understand, right?”
   Tate kicked his shoeless feet up on the coffee table. “Yeah, I understand. But you blame yourself too much. You were only seventeen. Your parents made the decision.”
   She was quiet for a while, then sighed. “Maybe I didn’t fight hard enough. Maybe if I’d been more insistent, they would have agreed. And Kelsey would be alive right now.”
   Tate shook his head. “No. Don’t do that to yourself. Your parents made a choice not to let their seventeen-year-old child have major surgery.”
   “I guess. But I was the youngest one tested. Girls of childbearing age are never even considered as donors, but since we already knew I couldn’t have children, there was no worry about a high-risk pregnancy down the line. I was the perfect person to do it.”
   Tate waited. He knew about Mallory’s condition, of course, and had assured her that it wasn’t going to bother him not to have children. If she wanted to adopt someday, fine, but he wasn’t sure he was father material anyway. He’d been around kids plenty when he’d taught music at the junior high, and most of his piano students now were children.
   “Anyway, no one else was a match. And I had a young, healthy kidney that would have saved Kelsey’s life. When I couldn’t give that to her, I made a promise that I’d save another life since I couldn’t save hers.”
   “I know. But it wasn’t a promise she asked you to make.”
   Mallory leaned her head on his shoulder, and he wrapped an arm around her and kissed her on the cheek.
   “I want to make a difference.”
   “You do make a difference, each and every day. Just by being you.”
   She snuggled in closer. “Do you know how much I love you, Tater Tot?”
   Tate grinned. “You know how I feel about that name.” It seemed unmanly not to put up a little resistance.
   She looked up at him with her big, blue eyes and batted her lashes. “I think you secretly love it.”
   Tate smiled. “Do ya now?”
   ET padded across the living room floor, stopping to yawn before he continued on to a small bed in the corner. Tate yawned as well.
   “Nap time? I’m guessing you and your mother went to Mass, then to IHOP. You ordered two pancakes and some fruit. And instead of syrup, you put honey on your pancakes.” She nodded toward the front window. “Then you came home and mowed the yard.” She glanced at her watch. “So, this would make it nap time.”
   Tate frowned. “Wow. You make me sound so OCD.”
   She giggled. “No. Just structured.”
   Tate supposed that in comparison to Mallory, he probably was a little obsessive-compulsive. But it gave him comfort to stay organized and on a schedule. Mallory just winged it and lived spontaneously, on the edge.
   “But that’s why we complement each other,” she added. “That whole opposites attract thing—maybe there’s something to it.”
   “Maybe,” he said, half yawning again. He pulled her closer. “You gonna take a nap with me?” As tired as he was, sleep wasn’t his top priority.
   “I’m not tired,” she said with a grin. “But you go ahead.”
   What he really needed was a distraction. He glanced at his cell phone on the end table. He’d even kept it on vibrate during Mass so he wouldn’t miss a call. He wasn’t sure if no news was good news. Either way, he’d chosen not to say anything to Mallory yet. If he was offered the job in Chicago, it was really going to shake things up for the two of them.
   “Why don’t you play something for me? Something pretty and soothing,” she said softly.
   Tate eased his arm from around her and made his way across the small room to his first love: the baby grand that had been a gift from his uncle nearly thirteen years ago. The black finish shone as brightly today as it did back then. He slid onto the bench and lowered his fingers to the keys and played one of the many songs he’d written for Mallory.
   Once again she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the couch.
   Tate stopped abruptly when his cell phone started to ring.
   “Aren’t you going to get that?” She slid to the end of the couch and peered down at the caller ID. “Chicago Academy for the Arts? Why would they be calling you?”
   Tate swallowed hard but didn’t move. Was calling him on a Sunday afternoon going to be good news or bad?


Mallory picked up her pace on the treadmill but didn’t bother to dab at the sweat beading on her forehead and dribbling down her cheeks.
   “Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” Soraya had kept a steady pace alongside, though she’d barely broken a sweat. “You should tell me before you pass out.” She turned to Mallory and grinned.
   Mallory knew that if anyone could cheer her up, it was Soraya, but still she hesitated.
   The two women had met at a Pilates class six months earlier. Soraya was from Lahore, where she’d led a privileged life with her family in Pakistan before moving to the United States ten years ago. She was engaged to Ismail, Mallory’s boss, and it was she who’d told Mallory about the job opening in his office.
   Mallory wasn’t sure her friend would understand her dilemma. She lowered the incline on the treadmill and kicked the speed back a few notches. “Tate might have a job offer in Chicago.”
   “Oh.” Soraya’s eyes widened a little. “And of course you would move with him.”
   Mallory hung her head for a moment before she looked back at her friend. “I—I don’t know. I—I love Tate. With all my heart. I can’t imagine being with anyone else.” She sighed.
   “There is a but in there somewhere,” Soraya said as she smiled again.
   “I love my job.” Mallory raised her shoulders and lowered them slowly as she reached for the towel she had draped over the handrail.
   “Of course you do. Who wouldn’t love working for my Ismail?” She winked at Mallory.
   “You’re right to be proud of him, Soraya. He exudes positive energy in everything he does, and he’s a great doctor.” Mallory caught her breath as she settled into a steady cooldown. “You know that if something happened—and I did have to quit—I would give Ismail plenty of notice.”
   Soraya raised a sculpted eyebrow. “I know this. I would tell you that there are many Ismails out there to work for”— she pushed her bottom lip into a pout—“but that would be a lie. However . . . you must ask yourself how many Tates are out there. And, by the way, when am I to meet this fabulous fellow?”
   “Soon. The four of us need to get together. And I know you’re right. I can’t imagine my life without Tate.”
   Soraya finally slowed down on the treadmill, her thick, dark ponytail bouncing in step with her. “I would follow my Ismail to the end of the earth.” Her dark eyes lit up when she talked about her fiancé.
   “Sounds like you are doing exactly that. I know when the wedding is here, but when is the second celebration?” Mallory knew how much effort was going into the two wedding ceremonies Soraya and Ismail were planning. One here in Houston, the other in their homeland.
   “Two months after the one here.” Soraya took a sip from her water bottle. Mallory’s had been empty for at least the past ten minutes.
   Soraya worked out daily, while getting to Pilates once a week was a struggle for Mallory, and the gym was a hit or miss. She thought about Tate and his exercise ritual.
   “Right now I am trying to stay focused on our trip to Italy,” Soraya added.
   They were leaving soon, and Ismail had asked Mallory if she could feed his fish while they were away.
   “Ismail seems excited about it.”
   “Positano is one of my most favorite places in the world, and Ismail has never been there. We considered it for our honeymoon, but we could both use a vacation right now. And Ismail wants to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon.”
   Soraya stepped off the platform and picked up her phone from the holding area on the treadmill. “No e-mails. No texts. No missed calls.” She set it back down and smiled. “Good. I don’t want work getting in the way of lunch today. I do believe there is a crème brûlée with my name on it somewhere.” She brought a hand to her chest and let out a small gasp. “Can you even imagine life without crème brûlée?”
   Mallory knew her friend had fasted for Ramadan, so maybe that explained her appetite today. Although, Mallory wasn’t sure she’d ever seen Soraya pass on dessert, and yet she was in great shape. Note to self—more exercise.
   “It’s my favorite dessert too.” Mallory sighed as she ran her small towel across her face. “But I might as well slap it to my thighs.”
   “Life is too short, my friend.” Soraya started toward the locker room. Mallory followed. “Which brings me to another point,” Soraya said over her shoulder. “Why haven’t you and Tate made plans to marry? You’ve been dating four years.”
   Mallory was still trying to catch her breath. “Tate wants to get married.”
   “And you don’t?” Soraya raised an eyebrow again as she turned and waited for Mallory to catch up.
   Mallory shrugged as Soraya opened the door to the dressing and shower room. “I can’t imagine marrying anyone else. Tate is the only man I’ve ever loved. I mean, I dated guys in high school and college, but I never felt anything like this.” She smiled. “Tate is amazing.”
   “Hmm . . . I’m not sure you answered my question.”
   “Of course I want to marry him. Just not yet. There are things I want to check off my list first.”
   “Ismail tells me that you have signed up in the kidney exchange program. He also told me the reason you want to do this. A promise you made to your cousin.” Soraya pulled a bag from her locker, then moved toward the shower. “So is this one of the things you are checking off your list?”
   “Yes.” Mallory looked at the time on her phone and knew she’d need to shower quickly and hurry back to the clinic. She’d sacrificed lunch to work out. “And I don’t want anyone telling me I can’t do it. I’m not saying that Tate could or would forbid me from doing it, but . . .” She paused. “But he isn’t happy about it.”
   “I understand that. He loves you, so naturally he is worried. He thinks of you as the mother of his future children, yes?”
   “That’s not in the cards, Soraya. I’ve known since I was fifteen that I can’t have children. Tate knows, of course. It doesn’t bother him.”
   Soraya stared at Mallory. “You’ve never mentioned that before. I’m sorry, Mallory.”
   “I’ve had a long time to get used to the idea.”
   Soraya shook her head. “We never know what Allah’s plan for us is.”
   Mallory wasn’t sure that God had a plan for her. If He did, He needed to go back to the drawing board and make some adjustments.

THE DOORBELL RANG JUST AS TATE WAS SCOOPING ET his usual ration of dog food. Crazy cat wouldn’t eat anything else. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Verdell. Tate sent up a quick prayer for patience as he crossed the living room.
   “Hello, Verdell.” He forced a smile as the boy walked past him, knowing how Verdell would respond.
   “Hello, Mr. Webber.” Verdell shuffled to the piano, head hung low, as if he were walking a plank. He put his lesson book against the stand and sat down.
   Verdell’s blond hair was cut high above his ears with a noticeable cowlick that caused a few strands to spike on the top of his head. He was a skinny kid at that awkward age, teeth too big for his mouth. And for reasons Tate didn’t understand, Verdell often stole weird things. Little things. Like Tate’s toothbrush one week. And a week before that, a bottle of Visine. At first Tate thought he was imagining it, but they were items he would hardly misplace—and Verdell was the only one of his students who always asked to use the bathroom.
   “Did you practice this week?” Tate sat down in his chair next to the piano bench. Verdell had a baby grand at his aunt’s home too—a Steinway. Tate’s dream piano. For a kid who hates to play.
  “No, I didn’t practice, Mr. Webber.” Verdell sat taller, his chin in the air and his lips clamped tight.
   Tate felt sorry for the child. Both his parents had been killed in a boating accident the previous year, and his aunt was raising him. Tate had told Chantal that she was wasting her money by sending her nephew for lessons, that Verdell had no interest in the piano despite the potential for being good at it. But Chantal begged Tate to keep trying.
   Verdell settled his hands on the keys, looked at the music in front of him, then played every note and rhythm perfectly. Like a machine without an ounce of passion for the music.
   Tate stood up and paced as he rubbed his forehead. “Do you want to try an exercise in a different book?”
   “It doesn’t matter.” Verdell turned the page and started playing the easy song in front of him. When he was done, he put his hands at his sides. “What now?”
   Tate knew he needed to try a different approach. One of the reasons he’d quit his job as a band director was so that he could focus exclusively on piano. He’d dreamily assumed that his private students would all come to their lessons with excitement and a passion for the craft. He sighed as he thought again about the job possibility in Chicago. It would put him back in a classroom setting, but the students were all gifted players who’d fought hard for one of the coveted spots. Mallory hadn’t said much when he’d told her about it. Lots to consider for both of them.
   “Verdell, I know you hate coming here.” Tate decided to just throw it out there and see what happened.
   Verdell kept his eyes straight ahead. “Chantal needs time to have her hair done on Mondays. Sometimes her nails. Sometimes a massage.” He shrugged. “Or whatever else she likes to do.”
   Tate had suspected as much. He was being paid to babysit for an hour a week.
   “Why do you hate the piano so much?”
   “I never said that.” Verdell twisted sideways on the bench until he was facing Tate.
   “So what interests you?”
   Verdell glanced toward the window. “Driving your car interests me.”
   Tate looked out the window at his white Toyota, then grinned when he saw the hint of a smile on the boy’s face. “Driving my car, or just any car?”
   “Any car would be okay.”
   “Well, you’re not old enough to drive. What else?”
   Verdell shrugged. “That’s about it, I guess.”
   Verdell turned the page, placed his hands on the keys, and pounded out the next song in the book, each methodical stream of notes like a vise tightening around Tate’s head. In a survival method he’d learned early on in his teaching career, Tate allowed himself to check out, this time drifting into a world of what-ifs.
   What if I get the job? What if I don’t get the job? What if I ask Mallory to marry me and go with me? Will she say yes? What if she says no?


Ismail checked his roster for the day, then glanced at his watch. He had about thirty minutes before his first patient was scheduled, so he picked up his niece’s medical report to study. Abdul had e-mailed it only this morning, but his cousin had already called twice to get Ismail’s feedback. Ismail planned to have a hematologist look it over, but at first glance it did appear that Majida’s leukemia was at an advanced stage.
   His cell phone vibrated on his desk, and he glanced at the ID and sighed.
   “Hello, Abdul. I’m just now looking over the report.”
   His cousin started speaking to him in Urdu. Ismail interrupted him. “Abdul, you’re going too fast. I can’t understand you.”
   “News for my Majida is not that of good you will tell me.”
   Ismail was used to delivering bad news, but it was always more difficult when it was family. And even more so when it was a child.
   “I’m going to have a specialist look at Majida’s report, a hematologist. But it does look like her condition is quite serious.” He rubbed his forehead. The sixteen-year-old was unlikely to get good health care in Peshawar. But money talked in Pakistan, and if Majida was going to have a chance at survival, Abdul was going to need money. And lots of it. Even though Ismail hadn’t seen his cousin in fifteen years, he couldn’t imagine that Abdul had worked his way into a better financial situation. There just wasn’t much opportunity in their homeland, and Ismail lived each day feeling fortunate and blessed that he was no longer there.
   “Abdul, I think you should bring Majida to the United States for treatment.” Ismail spoke slowly. “Is she well enough to travel? Is this something you or Fozia might be able to do?” He stood up and walked to the window. Opening the blinds, he could see the medical center from his office. “There is a hospital here called MD Anderson. It is the best facility in the world for Majida to receive treatment. Texas Children’s Hospital is another possibility. It is also here in Houston. The Children’s Hospital usually doesn’t turn anyone away.”
   After a few moments of silence, Ismail said, “Abdul, I can purchase plane tickets for either you or Fozia to bring Majida here.”
   His cousin started speaking in Urdu again, but Ismail was only getting bits and pieces.
   “Abdul, Abdul. You are going too fast again.”
   His cousin slowed down and spoke to him in chopped English, explaining the reasons he couldn’t get travel visas for himself and Majida. Ismail knew that it was hard to get out of Pakistan these days, much harder than when he’d left prior to 9/11.
   “Does that apply to Fozia as well?” He wasn’t sure if it was any easier for a woman to get a visa to the United States. Sometimes an American could sponsor someone from Pakistan, but neither Ismail nor Soraya would be a candidate since they weren’t born in the United States. Even then, sponsorship often took months. Ismail wasn’t sure Majida had that long.
   “It is with a sad heart that marriage to Fozia is no longer. We divorced.”
   Ismail stiffened. Divorce among Muslims was rare. To divorce in their homeland, the person seeking the separation only had to say, “I divorce thee,” three times, and it was done. But it didn’t happen very often since a man was allowed to have more than one wife.
   “I am sorry to hear this, Abdul.” He knew that Abdul and Fozia’s marriage had been arranged by their families, but he assumed that over the years Abdul had grown to love her.
   “She will live on third floor with children. And as I am expected, I provide to children and her.”
   Ismail had been here long enough to know all about divorces in America. They were often very ugly, and no man would ever live in the same house with the woman he was divorcing. But in his home country, a Muslim man was expected to take care of his ex-wife for the rest of his life.
   “This is hard news to hear. I wish you the grace of Allah during these troubling times. Did you consider jirga?”
   Ismail’s great-aunt and great-uncle had been part of a jirga when they were having troubles. Ismail was just a young boy at the time, but he still remembered the gathering of the tribal elders to decide the fate of the couple. What he remembered the most was his aunt crying because she was not allowed to divorce his uncle, and the decision of the elders was always final. Years later, his aunt disappeared.
   “Fozia and I are to agree that no jirga. Thank you, my cousin, for your nice words. No visa is for Fozia. Rules not allow us in United States.”
   “Let me think for a moment.” Ismail walked back around his desk and sat down again. He’d made a successful career as a urologist, but even he didn’t have the kind of money Abdul would need to seek proper care in Pakistan. “Majida is a very sick girl, Abdul. She really needs to come here if she is able. Let me think on this, and I will also talk with my doctor friend who specializes in children with leukemia. Then I will call you.”
   “In what time is it for call?”
   Ismail thought about his trip to Italy. “I will be going on vacation with my fiancée in a couple days, but I will gather as much information as I can before I go.” There was a knock at his office door. “I must go now. But I will call you again.”
   “Mrs. Irvin is here,” Erin said as she peeked her head in. “And Mallory needs you to sign a couple of things at the front desk.”
   Ismail nodded at his nurse, his heart heavy with thoughts of Majida. The last time he’d seen the child, she was only a year old. “Thank you,” he said as he stood up. If Abdul couldn’t get a visa to come here, the only option was for him to get her the best medical care he could in Pakistan. A nearly hopeless task.

MALLORY LISTENED AS RHONDA IRVIN TOLD HER HOW much pain she was in. The woman was thirty, only a year older than Mallory, and had given her sister a kidney two months before. Ismail said that she apparently didn’t have much tolerance for pain and that the surgery had been very successful for both Rhonda and her sister. Mallory wasn’t sure if Ismail was just telling her that because he knew she would one day be a donor in the operating room.
   “Oh, Rhonda, I’m so sorry. I’m sure Dr. Fahim will give you something to help with the pain,” Mallory said, resting her hand on the frosted window that separated her from the waiting room. “He should be with you shortly, okay?”
   Rhonda nodded as Ismail walked up behind Mallory.
   “Can you sign these, Dr. Fahim?” she asked. In front of patients she addressed him formally, but he’d insisted that she call him Ismail the rest of the time. His two nurses, Erin and Amber, called him Ismail too. They had been with him for years, and both of them had confirmed what Mallory had thought early on—that Ismail was a wonderful doctor and a very kind man.
   After fourteen years in the United States, he still had a hint of a Middle Eastern accent. His close-trimmed facial hair reminded her of Tate’s, although Ismail’s hair was much shorter and there wasn’t a strand out of place. Ismail was smaller than Mallory’s muscle-bound boyfriend, but he was a really nice-looking man. They both had that perfect blend of clean-cut with a dash of ruggedness.
   The doctor pulled a pen from the pocket of his white coat and scribbled his name in the spots Mallory pointed to. “I see we have a full day today, but when I’m on vacation it will be very quiet here.”
   Amber would be taking her vacation at the same time. A few patients were scheduled to see Erin for routine followups, and Mallory planned to get caught up on insurance filings. But overall, she was looking forward to a little down time. Mallory smiled.
   “We’ll see about that.”

BY THE TIME SHE GOT TO THE OLIVE GARDEN, MALLORY was pooped. Tate and his mother were waiting for her outside the restaurant. Sweating. July had been brutal, and August was already looking worse.
   “So,” Regina said after they’d gotten settled at a table and ordered, “Tate said you told your parents that you signed up in the kidney exchange program. Didn’t go so well, huh?”
   Mallory wasn’t sure what Regina’s position was on the issue. “No, not really. They feel the same way now as they did when I was seventeen.” She paused. “Plus they can’t stand the fact that I work for a Muslim. I’d never introduce my parents to Soraya. I’m afraid they’d embarrass me.”
   They were quiet while the waitress placed salads in front of them. Then Regina reached for Mallory’s and Tate’s hands. Tate prayed silently before every meal, which was fine with Mallory, but his mother’s out-loud blessings in public made her uncomfortable. She couldn’t recall her family ever praying before meals, silently or aloud.
   “Amen.” Regina let go of their hands and picked up her fork. “You know, Ramadan just ended a few days ago. They don’t eat or drink anything during the daylight hours for a month.”
   Mallory popped an olive into her mouth. “Yeah, I know. Soraya and Ismail are really liberal Muslims, but they do observe Ramadan. And I saw Ismail pulling out his prayer mat more than usual. He usually closes his door, but we’ve had to interrupt him during prayer a few times.”
   “I went to a mosque once.”
   Tate sat taller as he swallowed a piece of bread. “Really, Mom?”
   “Yes, I know,” Regina said. “It’s surprising that this staunch Catholic would do that, but I had a friend who was Muslim. It was before you were born, so it was long before September 11. I’d made a deal with the woman.” She paused, frowning. “Good grief, I can’t even remember her name. Anyway, I told her I’d go with her to the mosque if she’d attend Mass with me. And she did.”
   Tate smiled. “Were you trying to convert her?”
   Regina shook her head. “Not really. We were both checkers at the grocery store, and we worked the same shift. We became friends and were curious about each other’s religion, but neither of us had any interest in converting. I remember a few things about Islam; it’s really a very peaceful religion.
   Unfortunately, after what happened in New York and the Pentagon, I think most Americans see Muslims in a different light now.” Regina got quiet. “I wonder what ever happened to her . . .”
   “Well, I’m pretty sure that my parents see them all as terrorists.” Mallory sighed.
   “The woman I was friends with was a kind and loving person. I can’t seem to remember her name, but I do remember that. I haven’t thought about her in years.”
   “Soraya is like that,” Mallory said. “Kind and loving. We’ve gotten to be good friends, and I don’t care what God she prays to.”

TATE WASN'T SURE IF CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS prayed to the same God or not. Or Allah, as they called him. Mallory’s casual attitude about the Lord bothered him sometimes, but he wrote it off to the very different ways they were raised. And by the time he and Mallory got back to his place, religious preferences weren’t foremost in his thoughts.
   She’d followed him home, and they’d barely crossed the threshold of Tate’s house when he pulled her into his arms. He cupped her cheeks in his hands and covered her mouth with his, and as she responded, Tate edged them toward his bedroom—and was disappointed when she gently held him at arm’s length.
   “We need to talk,” she said softly.
   Tate sighed, never sure what that meant. “Good talk or bad talk?”
   Mallory walked to the couch and sat down. She patted the spot beside her. “It’s not really good or bad, I don’t think. I mean . . . I just think we need to talk about us in the event that you get the job in Chicago.”
   Tate plopped down on the couch and forced a smile. “Okay. Let’s talk.”
   She grinned. “I know you have other things in mind for this evening, but I really think we should talk about this first.”
   Tate knew Mallory well enough to know that she was probably still analyzing the situation. This conversation was part of the process, and he doubted much would be resolved tonight. Especially since it would all be speculative. “Okay. So you’ve been thinking about it. What have you come up with?”
   She twisted on the couch and tucked one leg beneath her. “Well, first of all, I have a few questions. Number one . . . if you are offered the job, when would they want you to start?”
   “I don’t know. Les, the guy I know who teaches there, said he doubted they would make a decision before school starts up in a couple of weeks. So it could be that I wouldn’t start until after Christmas. They’re actually creating the position because they’re expanding. It’s not like I’m replacing someone, so I don’t think there’s a huge sense of urgency.”
   Mallory tapped a finger to her chin. “Okay, let’s just assume you are offered the job.”
   “Okay.” Tate shifted his weight on the couch, eager to hear her thoughts but fearful at the same time.
   “You would move to Chicago. I would stay here, and—”
   “Wait a minute. I know you love your job, but you wouldn’t move with me? I’m sure there are plenty of jobs for office managers in Chicago, at a doctor’s office or anywhere else.”
   “So my job is less important than yours?”
   She smiled, but in Tate’s opinion it was one of those thin-lipped smiles women offer up, often in an effort to trip a guy up.
   “I didn’t say that. But jobs like this for me don’t come up very often. I’d be crazy not to jump on it.”
   She was quiet for a while, and Tate could practically hear the wheels in her head turning.
   “I love you, Mallory. If you don’t go with me, I won’t take the job.” His stomach flipped as he said it. How could I pass this up?
   “Oh no,” she said quickly. “Then you would resent me.”
   “Well, it sounds like you’ll resent me if you have to quit your job. So what’s the solution?”
   They were quiet again. For much longer. Finally, Mallory said, “I’m not relocating with a man I’m not married to.”
   Oh, thank You, God. Every time he’d hinted to Mallory that he wanted to get married, she’d changed the subject. “Oh, baby.” He reached for her hand and squeezed, then brought it to his lips. “I know this isn’t the right kind of proposal, but marry me. I didn’t think you wanted to get married. Or that you were ready.”
   The color drained from her face, and Tate was glad he was sitting down.
   “That’s just it.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I’m not ready to get married. And I don’t know when I will be.”
   Tate felt the sting of her words, but he willed himself to be calm and took a deep breath. “What does that mean?”
   Mallory dabbed at her eye with one finger. “If you get the job in Chicago, Tate, you have to take it. I understand how big an opportunity this is. But . . .”
   Tate held his breath.
   “I won’t be going.”

ISMAIL FLIPPED THROUGH HIS MAIL WITH HIS CELL phone to his ear. When he heard Soraya opening the door with her key, he told his cousin that he needed to go. He hadn’t yet told his fiancée that he had wired Abdul a substantial amount of money to help with Majida’s care in Pakistan. Not nearly enough, but all he could spare right now. He hadn’t been close to his cousin since they were kids, but Abdul was family and it was Ismail’s responsibility to help however he could.
   Soraya fell into his arms, and he kissed her gently, then eased her away. “What is the matter, my love? Tell me. What is wrong?”
   “Nothing, really,” she said as they walked to Ismail’s black leather couch. “I’m just tired. It was a long day filled with many customers.” Soraya owned a high-end rug shop, and one of her favorites was spread beneath his living room furniture.
   She had decorated Ismail’s condo, and the woman had a thing for black, white, and red. But somehow it all worked, and even if it didn’t he would never say so. The forty-gallon fish tank lent some color to the space. Soraya had filled it with exotic fish, but Ismail forgot to feed them sometimes.
   He moved a red throw pillow out of the way as he twisted to face her. Soraya was beautiful inside and out. A silken mass of black hair hung in graceful waves past her shoulders, and her dark eyes were set above high cheekbones against an olive complexion. She looked extra stunning today in a deep purple pantsuit.
   After she’d filled him in on her day, he told her about his phone call from Abdul, leaving out the part about the wire transfer.
   “Ismail, that makes me so sad.” Soraya shook her head. “Is he sure he can’t get Majida here for treatment?”
   “He says he can’t. And I do know it is difficult to get a visa from there to here.” He sighed, deciding he didn’t want to keep anything from his future wife. “I wired Abdul some money today. Hopefully it will help him find good care for her.”
   Soraya smiled. “You are a good man.”
   “I try,” he said. He smiled back at her, glad she didn’t ask how much.
   “Oh, I hired a wedding planner today,” she said as she pressed her palms together. “He said eight months isn’t long enough to plan the kind of wedding we want, but I explained to him that we are working around Ramadan next July as well as planning two celebrations.”
   Ismail wished they didn’t have to travel so soon after their wedding here, just to have another wedding in Lahore, but it was important to Soraya. “I would think that’s plenty of time to plan.”
   Soraya giggled. “And just how many weddings have you planned?”
   Ismail shrugged, grinning. “Not so many.” He leaned over and kissed his future wife. “I know it will be wonderful. Both weddings.” He briefly thought about the cost of two weddings—thankfully, Soraya’s parents were paying for both. Ismail had more money than most, but spending a half million dollars to get married seemed extravagant, even in America. And he wouldn’t have been able to send nearly as much to Abdul if he was paying for the weddings.
   “I hear your stomach growling.” Soraya laid her hand across Ismail’s stomach.
   “And I’m happy that fasting is over.”
   She gave his stomach a gentle pat. “Fasting has been written down upon you as it was upon those before you.”
   “Yes, yes,” he said. Soraya came from a very liberal Muslim family in Lahore, but she could cite the Quran better than most people. “Stay with me tonight,” he whispered as he leaned forward and kissed her.
   She didn’t answer as she got up off the couch and rounded the corner. Ismail heard the bathroom door close, then listened to his stomach growl some more. During the past month of Ramadan, he wasn’t sure which had been more difficult—abstaining from food during the daylight hours or abstaining from Soraya in the nights. Ismail knew they weren’t the best Muslims in the world, and they seldom went to the mosque. But they did practice the call to prayer five times per day, and they did abstain from things that would be displeasing to Allah during Ramadan.
   Despite the rumbling in his belly, when Soraya came back into the room in a flowing black dressing gown, he was clear about his priorities. The phone vibrating in his pocket was an unwelcome distraction, but he was a doctor, so he pulled it out and checked the caller ID. He quickly pressed Ignore, stood up, and walked toward his beautiful Soraya, with no plans to return his father’s call. The man still terrified him. Even from across the world.
https://bethwiseman.com/books/the-promise/ Beth Wiseman, The Promise Thomas Nelson, registered trademark of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., © 2014.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky, © 2014

The Edwardian Brides Series ~ Book Two

But seek ye first the kingdom of God,
and his righteousness; and all these
things shall be added unto you.
     --MATTHEW 6:33

The afternoon post brings more changes. Not at all as I would expect on this fine day. A letter has come. My sister, Helen, has left home. Mother beseeches me to watch for her. Helen? How could she venture out on her own without a fitting companion? Whatever does she have in mind? Helen.   --Lydia Chambers, The Daughter of Highland Hall

Are you surprised I am narrating this review of The Daughter of Highland Hall? But you see, Helen is a huge part of the change that comes to my employer, Katherine Evangeline Ramsey. I have come with staff from Highland Hall to stay during Miss Katherine's debutante social season with Sir William Ramsey in his London boyhood home, Ramsey House. Upon the death of her father, Miss Katherine is unable to inherit and is under the guardianship of her cousin, Sir William.

We are not allowed to speak of the household affairs below stairs, but they have some interesting comings and goings. One who has come from Berkshire to stay awhile is her aunt, Lady Louisa Gatewood. It makes one wonder whether she is looking out for Miss Katherine truly, or indebted to her society airs primarily. Another houseguest is a young doctor-apprentice, Jon Foster, attending the local college. I quite like him. He is genteel and looks out for others. It appears he is becoming quite sweet on Miss Katherine, although he certainly tries to hide it. He has been a great aid in searching to find my sister, Helen. He volunteers at an East End medical facility. My parents sent me a letter saying that Helen may be found there, being the poorer section of London. Sir William's brother, David, has gotten himself into some trouble. How the newspaper has taken wind of that! Now Miss Katherine's hopes of a gentry gallant admirer offering marriage may be a bumble indeed! Well, I cannot go on and speak unadvisedly, other than to say things are beginning to look up in this household. My lady's maid position has gained entry into a vast world I wouldn't have known otherwise as a household maid back at Highland. Come along and read of these adventures in London ~ you may be surprised where we are led.
Bricks and Brass: Gallery: Late Victorian London Home of Sir William Ramsey

Fun interview with author

Bricks and Brass: Gallery: Late Victorian London Home of Sir William Ramsey ~ author posting

Litfuse blog tour landing page ~ check out what others are saying about Carrie Turansky's The Daughter of Highland Hall!

***Thank you to Litfuse Publicity Group for inviting me to be part of this blog tour for Carrie Turansky's The Daughter of Highland Hall, Book Two in the Edwardian Brides series, and to WaterBrook Multnomah Press. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Enjoy an excerpt from Carrie Turansky's The Daughter of Highland Hall ~ Chapter One


London, England
April 1912

If she lived to be one hundred and five, Katherine Evangeline Ramsey would never understand why every debutante must begin the London social season by curtsying to the king and queen. Of course, she was excited to be presented at court and to take part in her first season. She had looked forward to it for years, however, mastering the required skills had proven more challenging than she’d expected.
   But her aunt, Lady Louisa Gatewood, insisted that was how every wellbred young lady made her debut into English society and announced she was ready for marriage. Kate certainly hoped her aunt was right. Because marriage to the right man was the only way she would gain control of her life and create a future for herself.
   Pulling in a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and prepared to practice her curtsy once more.
   Mr. Philippe Rounpear, her gray-haired dancing master, lowered his bushy, silver eyebrows and pointed his white-gloved finger at Kate. “You must float over the floor like a swan gliding across a lake.” He gave a firm nod. “Try again, please.”
   How many times was he going to make her do this? Kate stuffed down her frustration and cast a heated glance at her aunt Louisa, who sat on a high-backed chair by the piano, taking on the role of King George V.
   Her aunt stiffened. “Katherine, the only way you will gain a position in society is to take your training seriously.”
   “I am taking it seriously!” The words flew from Kate’s mouth before she could stop them.
   “Then you must conquer these presentation formalities and do them perfectly.”
   Kate swallowed the sharp reply rising in her throat, tugged her skirt aside, and stepped into her next curtsy.
   Mr. Rounpear’s voice rang out. “No, no! You look as stiff as a broom.” He crossed the oriental carpet of her cousin William Ramsey’s London drawing room and tapped her left shoulder. “You must relax your posture. Think grace, think poise.”
   Heat flushed her face. She looked past the dancing master at her younger sister, Penny, who sat next to their aunt, pretending to be Queen Mary. Penny’s eyes danced as she waited for Kate to attempt her next curtsy.
   Kate narrowed her gaze at her sister. Just wait. In two years you will be eighteen, and you’ll have to prepare for your own presentation. You won’t be laughing then!
   Mr. Rounpear clapped his hands. “Miss Katherine, our hour is almost over. One more time, please.”
   “All right.” Katherine blew out a breath and tried to relax her shoulders. She would get this right or expire in the process. She had to. Her future depended on it.
   Lifting her chin, she stepped to the side, then crossed one leg behind the other, and slowly sank down in front of her Aunt Louisa.
   “Better.” Mr. Rounpear nodded. “Not perfect, but better. Now lower your head, count to three, then rise slowly.”
   Katherine’s legs burned as she waited and then rose.
   “Now take two steps to the right, and curtsy to the queen.”
   Katherine glanced at Penny and took the first step, but when she took the second, her foot tangled in her skirt. She gasped and her hand shot out.
   Penny smirked and covered her mouth.
   Katherine swayed, struggling to recover her balance. Mr. Rounpear scowled. “Is that how you will conduct yourself at your presentation?”
   “Of course not.” Kate untangled her skirt and turned toward the windows, frustration bubbling up within. This man was impossible! She would like to see him curtsy fifty times and never lose his balance.
   “Face this way!”
   Kate clenched her jaw and turned around.
   “You must never turn your back on the royal family.” He motioned toward Penny and her aunt.
   “They are not the royal family, and neither are you!”
   His eyes flashed, and he lifted his hand. “Very well. That will be all for today.”
   “Mr. Rounpear, please!” Aunt Louisa rose from her chair. “There’s no need to cut the lesson short.”
   “It appears your niece is tired, and that has made her irritable.”
   “But Katherine’s presentation is Friday.”
   “Yes, the time is short.” The dancing instructor lowered his eyebrows and studied Kate. “I suppose I could come again on Wednesday at three o’clock.”
   “Yes. Thank you. We’ll look forward to it.” Aunt Louisa sent Kate a pointed glance and waited for her response.
   Kate thanked Mr. Rounpear for the lesson, though it nearly killed her.
   Louisa crossed the room and pulled the cord to summon the footman. He arrived and escorted the dancing instructor out. When the door closed, she swung around and glared at Kate. “There is no excuse for your rude behavior toward Mr. Rounpear.”
   Kate lifted her chin. “I don’t see why he has to come back. I know how to curtsy.”
   “There is more to court presentation than learning how to curtsy.”
   “Of course, but he’s so superior and demanding.”
   Louisa’s nostrils flared, sending a warning. “You will have one more lesson with Mr. Rounpear, and I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
   Kate’s face burned. She clenched her hands, barely able to keep herself under control. But her aunt was her presentation sponsor, and if Kate didn’t hold her tongue, she might lose her opportunity to be presented.
   Louisa didn’t seem to notice Kate’s response, or perhaps she didn’t care. She turned to Penny. “Have you tried on those two new dresses?”
   “Yes, but the hem of the green silk is terribly uneven. Should we send it back to the dressmaker, or should I ask Lydia to fix it?”
   “Goodness, you would think with the price I’m paying that dressmaker, she could at least hem a dress properly.” Louisa motioned toward the open doorway. “I’m going to the Tremblys’ for tea at four, and I need to change, but I suppose I have time to look at it.”
   “Splendid.” Penny turned and dashed out of the drawing room.
   “Penelope, slow down!” Louisa raised her hand to her chest and hurried after her. “This is not a racetrack!”
   Kate shook her head as she watched them go, then turned toward the window. Sunlight poured through the tall panes, drawing her gaze up to the blue sky.
   It would be a perfect afternoon for a ride. Of course, a tame promenade down Rotten Row in Hyde Park wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as a high-speed race across the beautiful rolling hills at Highland Hall, her country estate in Berkshire.
   That thought stopped her cold, and pain pierced her heart.
   It wasn’t her estate anymore.
   It had been almost a year since her father’s death, and when she lost him, she lost control of Highland as well. It wasn’t right, but it was the law.
   She had no brothers, and daughters could not inherit their father’s title or the estate that was tied to it. So even though they barely knew him, William Ramsey—her second cousin once removed—had taken her father’s title as baronet and become master of Highland Hall. Even worse, her father had named Cousin William to be her guardian until she married, and that had made her life very difficult these last few months.
   Of course, her father had not left her penniless. Money had been put aside for her marriage settlement. But if she wanted freedom from her cousin’s control and a home of her own, she would have to find a husband this season.
   Which was exactly what she intended to do.
   She crossed to the center of the room to practice her curtsy a few more times before tea. Perhaps without everyone hovering over her and criticizing her every move, she could relax and master the graceful movements she needed to impress the king and queen. And everyone else who would be watching.
   Closing her eyes, she pictured the motions. Then she lifted her hand, stepped to the left, and sank down once more. Lowering her head, she counted to three, then slowly rose. There, that was better. She smiled at the imaginary queen. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I’m very pleased to meet you.”
   A giggle drifted in through the open doorway.
   Kate glanced to the right, following the sound.
   Six-year-old Millie, Cousin William’s daughter, peeked around the edge of the doorway. Her ginger curls spilled over her shoulder as she leaned in.
   A smile broke across Kate’s face. “Millie, are you spying on me?”
   “No, I’m just watching. What are you doing?”
   “I’m practicing for my presentation to the king and queen.”
   Millie’s blue-green eyes glowed. “You’re going to the palace to see the king and queen?”
   “Yes, I am. There will be two hundred other young women presented that day, but I’ll have my turn to meet them, and you’ll do the same when you’re my age.”
   Millie’s impish smile spread wider. “Really?”
   “Of course.” Kate’s spirit lifted. Millie was right. Presentation at court was an exciting opportunity that would open the door to Kate’s future. She shouldn’t let her overbearing aunt or her gloomy dancing instructor squelch her happiness.
   It was time to make the most of the day. She focused on her young cousin again. “Would you like to learn how to curtsy?”
   “Yes!” Millie hurried across the room toward Kate.
   “All right. Stand like this.” Kate showed her young cousin the first position.
   The little girl watched Kate with eager expectation, then lifted her skirt and followed along.

• • •

Jonathan Foster hopped down from the London omnibus and set off across Hathaway Court, a broad, tree-lined street in the heart of Kensington. The late April sunshine warmed his shoulders, and the fresh spring breeze carried a faint floral scent. What a perfect day.
   The pleasant spring weather wasn’t the only reason for his cheerful mood. In less than two weeks, he would finish his fifth term at medical school, and he could enjoy a bit more freedom and a lot more sleep for the next few months.
   Jon glanced at his watch. He didn’t need to be back at St. George’s Hospital until seven this evening. That gave him plenty of time to call on his sister, Julia, and her future husband, Sir William Ramsey, and welcome them to London.
   Although their parents were in favor of his sister’s upcoming marriage, Jon wanted to become better acquainted with William and be sure he was the right man for Julia. Ramsey might be a baronet and master of a large country estate, but it was Julia’s recent inheritance from their grandfather that had saved Highland Hall from financial ruin just two months earlier.
   Did William truly love Julia, or had he pursued her for the inheritance? With their father still recovering from a prolonged illness and living miles away in Fulton, Jon wanted to make sure his sister was protected and her future secure.
   He rounded the corner, and Ramsey House came into view. He studied the impressive three-story Queen Anne–style home built of red brick. It had white trim, an intricate dutch gable with a scrolled roofline on the left, and a large round turret at the corner on the right. Another arched gable sheltered the front entrance.
   He stopped at the wrought-iron gate and surveyed the property. Two well-kept flower gardens and neat boxwood hedges lined the walkway leading to the front door. They added a warm welcome and softened the formal appearance of the house. He was sure his sister appreciated that.
   William Ramsey’s London home was certainly different from Jon and Julia’s simple childhood home at the mission station in India—and the thatched cottage where their parents now stayed in Fulton. His sister would lead a very different life here. But he imagined she would accept those changes with the same grace and goodwill she had always shown.
   Still…was this marriage what was best for her? Would she be happy here? That’s what he needed to discover.
   He pushed open the gate, mounted the steps, and rang the bell.
   A few moments later, a stout butler in a neatly pressed black suit answered the door and ushered him in. “Please wait here, sir.” The butler motioned toward a chair in the entrance hall.
   “Thank you.” Jon removed his hat and glanced around as the butler passed through a doorway at the end of the hall.
   The interior of the house was even more impressive than the facade, with beautiful hardwood floors, thick carpets, and an elaborately carved wooden staircase leading up to the next floor. A large mirror in a gilded frame hung on the wall to his right between two large family portraits. He stepped closer and examined one of the paintings.
   Could that be William Ramsey when he was a boy? The young lad had the same features as the man he’d met at his sister’s engagement dinner at Highland Hall in February. Two boys stood with him. Jon guessed they were his brothers. A younger sister and their parents sat in front of them in a garden setting. If that boy in the middle was William, he looked rather somber, even as a child.
   A soft female voice followed by a little girl’s giggle drifted from the partially open doorway down the hall.
   Jonathan tipped his head and listened. Was that Julia with Sir William’s daughter, Millie? Julia had grown very fond of Sir William’s two young children since she’d become their governess at Highland Hall six months ago. And in a few months she would become their stepmother.
   “Very nice, Millie. Let’s try it again.”
   No, that wasn’t Julia’s voice. Perhaps it was Katherine Ramsey or her sister, Penelope. Jon had met William’s cousins at Julia’s engagement dinner at Highland, and he had seen them again at William’s sister’s wedding earlier this month.
   “Show me again.” Millie’s young voice carried a smile.
   “All right. Follow me.”
   Jonathan moved closer and looked into the drawing room. The plush furniture had been pushed back. Katherine Ramsey stood in the center of the room wearing a sky-blue dress, with Millie standing beside her. Katherine’s back was to the entrance hall, so she didn’t see him step into the doorway.
   Katherine lifted her skirt a few inches and exposed a bit of ruffle around her slim ankles. “Step to the left and place your right foot behind. Then slowly sink down until your knee almost touches the floor, but not quite.”
   Millie copied each movement, though hers were not as smooth as Katherine’s.
   “Now, lower your head.” Katherine demonstrated and Millie followed. “Hold perfectly still while you slowly count to three before you rise.”
   Millie wavered, then gasped and tipped to the side.
   Katherine lunged to catch her, but Millie crashed onto the carpet, and Katherine landed in a heap beside her.
   Jonathan dashed across the room. “Miss Ramsey, are you all right?”
   She looked up at him, and her cheeks flushed bright pink. “Mr. Foster…Yes, of course, I’m fine.”
   Millie giggled as she pushed herself to her hands and knees and then stood. “I guess I need more practice.”
   “I suppose I do as well.” Katherine started to rise.
   Jon extended his hand to her. “Please, allow me.”
   She glanced up at him, her eyebrows slightly arched. “I promise you I’ve curtsied dozens of times today, and this is the only time I’ve fallen.”
   “Of course. I’m sure it was only because you were trying to help Millie. Now, please, let me be a gentleman and help you.” He smiled and continued to hold out his hand.
   She hesitated a moment, then reached out and clasped his fingers. He helped her to her feet, then she slipped her hand from his.
   “Thank you.” As she looked down and brushed off her skirt, Jon had a moment to observe her more carefully. Her long, golden-brown hair was tied back with a blue ribbon that matched the color of her eyes. One wavy strand of hair had come loose when she fell. She reached up and tucked it behind her ear, her hand grazing her flushed cheek.
   His gaze drifted from her cheek to her full, pink lips.
   She looked up. “Mr. Foster?”
   He swallowed and looked into her eyes. “Yes?”
   “Have you come to see your sister?”
   She glanced over her shoulder and then back at him. “Does she know you’ve arrived?”
   He blinked, struggling to find an answer. “Yes.”
   She searched his face with a slight frown. “Mr. Foster, are you quite all right?”
   “Yes.” He shook his head and looked away. What was the matter with him? “The butler asked me to wait in the entrance hall, but I heard your voice and thought you were Julia, so I looked in. Of course then I realized you weren’t Julia… You were you.” His neck warmed. He was rambling on like an idiot.
   A hint of amusement lit her eyes. “Well, we’re very grateful you came to our aid, aren’t we, Millie?”
   The little girl nodded, her curls bobbing on her shoulders. “Are you staying for tea?” Millie looked up at him with a friendly smile and wide, innocent eyes.
   He glanced at Katherine.
   “Yes, of course. You’re welcome to join us for tea. I’m sure Cousin William and Julia will be down soon.” She placed her hand on Millie’s shoulder. “Why don’t you go tell them Mr. Foster is here?”
   Millie nodded and turned to go just as William and Julia walked into the drawing room with Andrew, William’s eleven-year-old son.
   “Jonathan, what a wonderful surprise.” Julia crossed the room and greeted him with a kiss on his cheek. “I’m so happy to see you.”
   “Thank you. I’m very glad to see you as well. Welcome to London.” He shook hands with William and turned to Andrew. “How are you, young sir?”
   “Very well, thank you.” The sturdy little fellow’s face was covered with freckles, and his red hair was an even brighter shade than his sister’s.
   “We hope you’re still coming to dinner on Thursday,” Julia said.
   “Yes, I’m looking forward to it. But my classes were canceled this afternoon, so I thought I’d stop in and say hello.”
   “That’s wonderful.” Julia turned to Katherine. “Thank you for entertaining Jonathan while he waited for us.”
   Katherine shot him a questioning glance, and he returned a reassuring smile. Her secret was safe with him. He would not mention her fall.
   “Yes, Katherine and Millie were very kind and…quite entertaining.”
   “We invited him to stay for tea,” Millie added with a proud smile.
   William touched his daughter’s shoulder. “That was very thoughtful, Millie.”
   Millie looked up at her father, soaking up his praise.
   “Yes, please stay for tea and tell us all your news.” Julia took his arm and led him out of the drawing room.
   As they crossed the threshold, he glanced over his shoulder at Katherine. Her gaze connected with his for a split second, then she looked away, a hint of a smile on her lips.

• • •

Kate took a sip of steaming hot tea and glanced across at Jonathan, who sat opposite her in the library. He stirred sugar into his tea, his movement smooth and relaxed. The discomfort he’d shown earlier in the drawing room seemed to have disappeared, leaving Kate wondering, What was that about?
   Julia poured a cup of tea and passed it to William. The children were gathered around a small table near the library fireplace.
   William helped himself to a scone and glanced at Julia. “Won’t Penny and Louisa be joining us?”
   “They’ve gone to call on the Tremblys, and then they plan to stop at the dressmaker’s on the way home.”
   William lifted his dark eyebrows. “More dress fittings?”
   “An adjustment was needed on the hem of one of Penny’s gowns.”
   Kate nibbled on a lemon tart and glanced at Jonathan again. His blue eyes looked very similar to his sister’s. But his hair was light brown with a touch of gold rather than dark brown like Julia’s. He had pleasant features with a high forehead, straight nose, and a strong, square chin. With his broad shoulders and athletic build, he would be considered quite handsome by most women.
   That certainly didn’t matter to Kate. She knew what she was looking for in a husband. She and her aunt had discussed it at length. If Kate hoped to gain a place in society, she must marry a wealthy man from an aristocratic family, preferably one in line to inherit a title and estate. Of course, he would also be handsome, with pleasant manners and fine character, but that went without saying.
   Jonathan looked up and smiled at her, with an invitation to friendship in his eyes.
   Was it right to judge a man so quickly because of his lack of fortune and family connections? She looked away, dismissing the slight wave of guilt that pricked her conscience.
   William set his plate aside and settled back in his chair. “The stories in the newspaper about the Titanic have certainly been tragic.”
   Julia glanced at the children, concern in her expression. But Andrew and Millie were enjoying their fruit tarts and sandwiches and didn’t appear to be listening.
   “Did you know anyone on board?” Jonathan asked.
   “I went to school with Kirby Brumfield. We belonged to the same club.” William lowered his voice. “His wife and two children were rescued, but he was not.”
   Sorrow flooded Julia’s expression. “It’s such a tragedy. We must pray for them all.”
   Jonathan nodded and looked across at Kate. “Have you read the articles about the Titanic, Miss Ramsey?”
   The temptation to say she had rose in her mind, and her face warmed. A few months ago she would’ve easily lied to give a better impression, but since Julia’s arrival Kate had been learning the value of telling the truth, even when it reflected poorly on her.
   She lifted her eyes and met Jonathan’s gaze. “No, I haven’t.”
   He studied her for a moment with a hint of disappointment in his eyes, then glanced down at his teacup.
   Regret washed over her. Of course she’d heard about the Titanic sinking a week earlier, but with their move to London, the dress fittings, and her preparations for the season, she hadn’t thought much about it. But now, hearing how William’s friend had lost his life, the tragedy seemed more real—and her lack of concern, more shameful.
   Julia shifted in her seat and glanced at Andrew and Millie again. “Perhaps we should talk about something else. I don’t want to upset the children.”
   “You’re right, dear. That’s a topic for another time.” William turned to Jonathan. “How is your training coming along at the hospital?”
   “Very well. Making rounds with the doctors and observing surgeries is much more helpful than sitting in a classroom or pouring over textbooks.”
   Julia nodded looking pleased. “You always have liked learning from practical experience.”
   “That’s true.” Jonathan helped himself to a small sandwich. “How are your plans coming for the season?”
   “Katherine’s presentation is Friday.” Julia smiled at Kate. “I’m sure she’ll receive several invitations after that. We expect to have a very full calendar.”
   Jonathan turned to Kate. “This Friday?”
   A bite of lemon tart stuck in her throat. She nodded and forced a slight smile.
   “And her ball is planned for the eleventh of May,” Julia said. “We hope you’ll be able to come.”
   “Of course. I’d be honored to.” Jonathan glanced around the room. “Will you be holding the ball here?”
   “We planned to.” William frowned and shook his head. “But Lady Gatewood, Katherine’s aunt, insists there’s not enough room. We have over one hundred and fifty guests on the list.”
   A thrill ran through Kate, and she couldn’t hold back her smile. “Aunt Louisa helped us make arrangements to hold it at Sheffield House. They have a large ballroom with a lovely terrace and gardens.”
   “Katherine’s aunt is friends with the Tremonts, who own Sheffield,” Julia added. “They’ve been very kind to allow us to host the ball there.”
   Jonathan focused on Kate with a slight smile. “I’ve never been to a debutante ball.”
   “It should be wonderful.”
   “I’m sure it will be.” Julia turned to Jonathan. “So, when will you finish your classes?”
   “Just two more weeks. Then I’ll start two mornings a week at the hospital for the rest of the summer.”
   “That should be a nice change for you,” Julia said.
   “Yes, I’m looking forward to it, although I’ll have to hunt for a new flat right away.”
   Julia tipped her head. “You’re moving?”
   “I must. The owner of our building is selling the property. I have to be out by the fifteenth of May at the latest.”
   William frowned. “That’s certainly short notice.”
   “Yes, it is. Theo Anderson, one of my fellow students, invited me to stay with him, but I’m afraid his flat is even smaller than mine. I’m not sure how well that would work.”
   “Why don’t you stay here?” William set his plate aside and continued. “We have four guest rooms, and we’re not expecting to fill them all.”
   Kate darted a glance at Jonathan. She supposed having him stay with them wouldn’t be too awkward, but what would people think? Of course, with her aunt, cousin, and Julia as her chaperones, even London’s scandal-loving society shouldn’t object.
   “Sarah and Clark will be coming to town for Katherine’s ball,” William added, “but they’re only staying for a few days. We don’t return to Highland until early August. You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you’d like.”
   “Thank you. That will give me plenty of time to look for a new flat before classes start again in the fall.”
   “How soon would you like to bring your things over?” William asked.
   “I could come tomorrow, if that fits in with your plans.”
   “Excellent. We’ll send the car around. Just name the time.”
   “Would three o’clock be convenient? I have a trunk and a few boxes of books, so it would be very helpful.”
   William nodded and set his teacup on the table. “I’ll ask Lawrence to arrange it.”
   Julia’s expression brightened as she looked from William to Jonathan. “It will be wonderful to have you here with us.”
   Jonathan offered them both a grateful smile. “It will be a pleasure, and it should give me a chance to get to know William and the rest of the family.” His gaze shifted from William and Julia to Kate.
   Kate looked down at her plate. She doubted she would see much of Jonathan Foster after her presentation. Once the season moved into full swing, invitations would pour in, and her days and nights would be filled with parties, dinners, balls, and outings. She glanced at Jonathan once more, and a twinge of regret traveled through her.

• • •

Lydia Chambers hurried down the back stone stairs, carefully carrying Miss Katherine’s large lavender hat. Perhaps Mrs. Adams, the housekeeper, would know how to reattach the ostrich feathers that had somehow come loose on the trip from Berkshire to town.
   Lydia heaved a sigh as she passed the main floor landing and continued downstairs. She’d been so happy with her promotion from Highland housemaid to lady’s maid for Miss Katherine and Miss Penelope. The idea of traveling with the Ramsey family to London had been thrilling for a simple farm girl, but now she had a whole new set of responsibilities: fixing the young ladies’ hair, caring for their clothing, and even sewing their undergarments.
   There was much to learn! And if she didn’t do it well, she’d be demoted back to housemaid and find herself on the next train back to Berkshire.
   Had she been a fool to accept the promotion?
   She bit her lip and knocked on Mrs. Adams’s door.
   “Come in.”
   Lydia opened the door and stepped into the housekeeper’s cozy parlor. “Good afternoon, ma’am.”
   Mrs. Adams turned in her chair. “What can I do for you, Lydia?”
   “Miss Katherine wants to wear this tomorrow.” She held out the hat and pulled out the three ostrich plumes. “And I’ve no idea how to get these blessed feathers back in place.”
   A hint of a smile touched Mrs. Adams’s lips, and her eyes crinkled at the corners. “Let me see it.” Lydia handed her the hat, and Mrs. Adams turned it in her hands, inspecting the flowers, feathers, and netting. “My goodness there’s quite a garden here, isn’t there?”
   A smile tugged at Lydia’s lips. “Yes, ma’am.”
   “Well, you’ve come to the right place.” Mrs. Adams looked up, her soft gray eyes shining. “My mother was a milliner, and I grew up making hats. I’ll show you how to fix it.”
   Lydia clasped her hands. “Oh, thank you. I thought I was going to be sacked before I finished my first week in London.”
   “Don’t worry, my dear. By the time we’re finished, Miss Katherine could wear this hat in the worst windstorm and never lose a feather.”
   “I’m ever so grateful. I really do want to learn to be a proper lady’s maid.”
   “Of course you do, and I’m happy to help. Now let me find what we need, and then we’ll take it to the servants’ hall. It’s almost time for tea.” Mrs. Adams handed Lydia the hat, then took her sewing basket from the shelf in the corner. She motioned toward the door. “After you, my dear.”
   Lydia’s tense shoulders relaxed as she walked into the servants’ hall and took a seat at the long wooden table. Most of the other servants had already gathered there and were enjoying their tea and a short break from their busy day.
   Ann Norton, the nursery maid, looked up and smiled as Lydia settled in next to her. “You better watch out for that hat. You don’t want to get jam or tea on it.”
   “You’re right about that.” Lydia carefully laid the hat in her lap. “I wouldn’t have brought it in, but Mrs. Adams is going to show me how to fix the feathers.” Lydia glanced across the room at the housekeeper.
   Mrs. Adams stood at the head of the long table, speaking in a low voice to Mr. Lawrence, the butler. Together they oversaw the staff. Mr. Lawrence took charge of the male servants, including the two footmen, the chauffeur, and a groom. Mrs. Adams watched over the female servants, two housemaids, Ann, and herself.
   Mrs. Murdock, the cook, bustled in and set a tray of sandwiches on the table. She frowned at Nelson, the footman, who was already eating. “You’re certainly in a hurry. Couldn’t you wait for the rest of us?”
   “Sorry.” Nelson glanced at Mr. Lawrence.
   The butler turned to Mrs. Murdock. “I told them to go ahead. We have quite a bit to do, and I saw no need to wait.”
   Mrs. Murdock rolled her eyes. “Oh well, that explains it.”
   Lydia and Ann exchanged a smile. Since their arrival in London, Mrs. Murdock and Mr. Lawrence seemed to be testing each other, trying to determine who was truly in charge at the meals. Although Mrs. Murdock oversaw two kitchen maids and all the meal preparations, she still answered to Mrs. Adams and Mr. Lawrence.
   Each one had their place and knew they needed to keep to it and show the proper respect to those above them.
   Ann glanced at the housekeeper. “That’s nice of Mrs. Adams to help you with the hat.”
   “Yes, she’s kind.” Lydia leaned closer. “Ever so much nicer than Mrs. Emmitt.”
   Ann’s lips puckered as though she’d tasted something bitter. “I’m glad we won’t be taking orders from her when we go back to Highland.”
   “So am I.”
   Mrs. Emmitt, the previous housekeeper at Highland, had tried to sack Ann last winter when she’d been caught alone with Peter Gates, a former groom. But Miss Foster had spoken up for Ann and convinced Sir William to overrule the housekeeper and keep Ann on.
   Ann brushed a breadcrumb from her apron. “It’s good the truth about Mrs. Emmitt finally came out. Imagine, her trying to get rid of Miss Foster.”
   Lydia shook her head. “She ought not to have done that.”
   “Especially since Miss Foster and Sir William had feelings for each other.”
   “It’s quite romantic, isn’t it—a fine gentleman like Sir William falling in love with a governess?”
   Ann shrugged one shoulder. “I suppose. I’m just glad Mrs. Emmitt was the one who was sacked instead of Miss Foster or me.”
   The staff had been told Mrs. Emmitt had resigned and gone to live with her sister in Bristol, but the truth had been whispered from one servant to the next, and few were sorry to see the old housekeeper go.
   Lydia carefully poured herself a cup of tea, making sure not to splash any on Miss Katherine’s hat. “Do you think Mrs. Adams will be coming back to Highland, to replace Mrs. Emmitt?”
   Ann shook her head. “I heard she has two daughters and a grandchild here in town. I doubt she’d want to take a job so far from her family.”
   “Well, they’ll have to find someone to run the house.”
   Ann spread butter on a slice of bread. “I wish I could apply, but they probably want someone with more experience.”
   Lydia nodded. “It’s a big job to manage a house like Highland.”
   Patrick, the second footman, walked into the servants’ hall. His light brown hair was neatly combed, and he wore a smart livery. “The afternoon post, sir.” He handed Mr. Lawrence a stack of envelopes.
   “Thank you.” Mr. Lawrence quickly sorted through the pile and set most of the letters aside. He looked down the table. “Lydia, you have a letter.”
   Lydia hopped up to accept the envelope from the butler. “Thank you, sir.”
   He nodded and passed out two more pieces of mail.
   Lydia glanced at the envelope and her spirit lifted. Letters from home were a rare treat, and she eagerly tore open the envelope. She unfolded the one sheet of paper and scanned the first few lines. Her breath caught in her throat as she quickly read the rest.

Your sister Helen has run off, and we are heartsick and so worried. We have no idea who she is with or where she’s gone. Have you heard from her?
     Your father has spoken to some of the young people in the village and nearby farms. He even offered a reward. No one has come forward yet, but we hope someone will speak up soon. I feel certain one of them knows where she’s gone.
     Please pray for her and for us. Your father is beside himself, and my heart is breaking. If you hear from her, please send word right away.
     I hope you are well and you are able to learn all that’s needed in your new position. There are many temptations in London. I hope you will avoid them all and stay on the straight and narrow path.
     Your loving Mother
   Lydia’s hand trembled as she stared at her mother’s script. Why would Helen run away? Of course, life on the farm was not easy, but how could she just up and disappear without telling their parents? Where would she go? How would she live?
   If she longed to leave home that much, why didn’t she take a respectable job in service with a good family, rather than running off and causing so much trouble for their family? But Helen had always been a romantic soul and longed for the day when a young man would woo her and whisk her away to a charmed life.
   Foolish girl!
   Lydia folded the letter and slipped it back in the torn envelope.
   “Lydia? What’s wrong?” Ann leaned toward her. “Is it bad news?”
   Lydia swallowed and looked around. She couldn’t speak of her sister’s troubles here in the servants’ hall, not with everyone listening.
   Ann reached for her arm. “Goodness, your face has gone as white as a sheet.”
   Lydia pulled away and stood, but her legs felt shaky. “I’m all right. I just need…some fresh air.” She turned and strode out of the servants’ hall.
   “But what about Miss Katherine’s hat?”
   “I’ll come back for it.” Lydia hurried down the hall, then pushed open the back door. Stepping out to the rear courtyard, she squinted against the late afternoon sunlight. The smell of horses and hay drifted from the open stable door past the carriage house.
   She leaned against a stack of wooden crates and tried to still her racing thoughts. Oh Helen, what have you done?
The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky Copyright © 2014 by Carrie Turansky. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

An interview with Carrie Turansky, Author of The Daughter of Highland Hall

When family expectations and societal pressures collide with love and faith, which values will emerge the victor? Award-winning author Carrie Turansky explores this theme in her new book, The Daughter of Highland Hall (Multnomah Books/October 7, 2014/ISBN: 978-1601424983/$14.99).

Book two in the Edwardian Brides Series, The Daughter of Highland Hall, follows 18-year-old Kate Ramsey on a journey of self-discovery as she travels to London to make her societal debut. Her overbearing aunt insists she secure a marriage proposal from a wealthy, titled man. As Kate begins making the round of balls and garden parties, she attracts the attention of a man who seems to have all the qualifications on her list. Yet, is he the best choice? Will this lifestyle bring her true happiness?

Q: At the beginning of The Daughter of Highland Hall, readers will find the scripture Matthew 6:33. What is the significance of that verse in the story?
I chose Matthew 6:33, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” as the theme verse for this story because it summarizes the faith journey of the heroine, Kate Ramsey. The novel opens as Kate comes to London for her first season, hoping to make a good impression and find a wealthy, titled husband. She believes this will give her a prominent place in society and secure her future. But when she meets others who have a sincere faith and different goals, everything she has believed is called into question. What is most important in life? How does her faith impact her choices? Kate discovers when she lays down our own plans and seeks God first, He guides her toward the best path for her future.

Q: Your heroine, Kate, is a debutante trying to find her place in society and ultimately a husband. Why will readers be able to identify with her experiences?
Everyone wants to live a meaningful, fulfilling life. That was true in 1912, and it’s true today. Readers will identify with Kate as she faces the challenges of pleasing her family, meeting society’s expectations and trying to understand her own desires and motivations as she looks toward the future. Some of those challenges and expectations may be different today . . . but many are the same, and we can learn from all Kate experiences on her journey of faith and self-discovery.

Q: The Daughter of Highland Hall is your second book in the Edwardian Bride series — what is it about that time period that interests you?
The Edwardian era (1900–1918) is an interesting time of change in England. The class system and cultural influences of the Victorian era were still present, but they were beginning to change. Many modern inventions became popular and impacted people’s lives, such as cars, electricity, airplanes and several time-saving appliances. Those make the Edwardian lifestyle similar to today, and that in turn helps readers relate to the characters and the issues they face.

Q: What first drew you to writing English historical fiction?
I enjoyed watching Downton Abbey and was intrigued by the lifestyle, time period and the upstairs-downstairs aspects of the series. I met with an editor at a conference, and she encouraged me to research the time period and submit a proposal that had a similar feeling but was unique. At first I thought the research would be too difficult. However, Cathy Gohlke, a friend and fellow author, had recently published a wonderful story set in 1912 titled Promise Me This. Cathy encouraged me to accept the editor’s challenge, and she offered me several research books. So I jumped in and discovered I loved the research and enjoyed learning more about this time period in England. The characters and story rose out of the research, and it has been a fun series to write.

Q: You’ve even taken your research efforts all the way to Europe. What were some of the highlights of your trips? Did anything you saw make it into the book?
My husband and I visited England in 2012 and focused our time in Oxfordshire, the Peak District and the Cotswolds. Our tour of Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is set was the highlight of that trip for me. I loved seeing all the rooms where Downton is filmed, including the great hall, the library, the upper gallery and bedrooms. The gardens and greenhouse were lovely, and I had those in mind for several of the scenes in The Governess of Highland Hall. But I wanted to find a unique estate and setting for my books. My online research led me to Tyntesfield, a beautiful estate near Bristol in southwest England. It was a perfect choice. Tyntestfield is featured on the cover of The Governess of Highland Hall, and I used the interior design of this house to help me envision the scenes in my novels.
I was very excited to visit Tyntesfield in May 2014. What a thrill to see all the rooms and take a private tour of the day nursery and the governess’s bedroom! It’s even more beautiful than my online research revealed. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Tyntesfield. I have a Pinterest board filled with photos to help me remember everything I saw there.

Q: How was culture changing during the period in which you wrote, and how does The Daughter of Highland Hall reflect that?
As the Victorian era came to an end, the moral climate became less strict. This is reflected by incidents in both The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall. William Ramsey, the head of the family, is impacted by the choices of other family members and must decide how to respond. The differences between the classes were also changing. Working-class people were less satisfied with being “in service” as maids and butlers, and they wanted increased wages and benefits, putting pressure on the upper class. Taxes, especially death duties, put tremendous financial stress on families who inherited large estates. This plays a role in books one and two in the series. All these changes were even more apparent in the later half of the era because of the changes World War I brought to English society. The Ramsey family and the staff at Highland will be going through World War I in book three, A Refuge at Highland Hall.

Q: Another character in the book, Jonathan Foster, is committed to helping the poor in London’s East End. Was that common practice among physicians during that time? Was that kind of work as respected as it is now?
During the late Victorian and Edwardian eras many people became more concerned for the poor and worked for social change. Some offered practical help, including free and low-cost medical care. One of those who was concerned for the poor and encouraged practical assistance was William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. When he first started his work among the poor he was scoffed at and criticized. But near the end of his life he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford and was respected and admired for his work. When he died in 1912, Londoners lined the streets by the thousands to see his casket pass by. A speech given by his granddaughter, Catherine Booth, is featured in The Daughter of Highland Hall, and it has a great impact on Kate Ramsey.

Q: In Edwardian England, women had fewer options available to them, and marriage was the primary way they could secure their future. Yet books and TV shows such as Downton Abbey, based in this time period, are incredibly popular with women. Why do you think this is?
I think women love the fashions, houses, manners and social customs we see on Downton Abbey. Looking back, it seems like a “romantic” period when men were gentlemen and women were ladies. Life seems simpler, especially if you were from a wealthy family. I don’t think most women today would like to take on the role of a servant in that time period. In fact, there was a reality show called Manor House with that premise. People took on the roles of the family and servants and had to live as the Edwardians did for a period of time. Watching that series was a fun part of my research.

Q: While our modern circumstances will vary from Kate’s, we still face expectations placed on us by our family and society. How can we navigate those expectations while still pursuing God’s best for us?
Balancing our love for our family and our commitment to the Lord is an important issue. Following the principles in Scripture we can find help and guidance. When we are children we are told to obey our parents. As we get
older the roles change, but we are still to honor them. That means asking for their input and advice on important decisions and listening to their fears and concerns before we prayerfully make decisions. If we’re married, our mate’s input should carry more weight than our parents’. I think meeting society’s expectations is less important than pleasing the Lord and living in a way that honors Him. Once again, using principles from Scripture and getting input and advice from wise and godly people can help us make the best decisions.

Q: What can readers learn from The Daughter of Highland Hall about the importance of seeking godliness in a mate, rather than looks, financial security or social status?
Both The Governess of Highland Hall and The Daughter of Highland Hall touch on the importance of choosing a mate who has a strong faith and good character. That is still an even more important message today. I hope the issues the characters face and the lessons they learn will challenge and encourage everyone who reads the series.

Q: Kate must ultimately decide what the right thing to do is based on her new relationship with God. How does her faith ultimately guide her?
The influence and examples of people who are strong Christians and who live out their faith in their daily lives have a great impact on Kate. When unexpected events in her family cause her to be excluded from social events, she has time to volunteer at a free clinic in one of the poorest areas of London, and her heart begins to soften and change. Rather than seeing the poor as a mass of humanity, she sees them as individuals who each have a story and needs not so very different than her own. Her growing attraction to a man with deep faith and convictions also has a great impact on Kate’s faith. Ultimately she must weigh her choices and use what she has learned to make important decisions about her future.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away after they’ve put The Daughter of Highland Hall back on the shelf?
I hope my readers will enjoy the journey with Kate and Jon and feel as though they have been transported back to London, England, in 1912. But I also hope they will be drawn closer to God as they identify with experiences Kate and Jon face and the challenges and choices they must make.

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