So important to communicate. Maude Welling thought she wasn't worthy; her father was trying to spare her a life of overwork when he wanted her to enjoy just being Maude. Expectations. Her life comes crashing down when her intended comes back to the island with an unexpected surprise. A change in her life plans.
Journalist Ben Steffen is sent to cover a story incognito ~ name only as he is sure to be recognized. His aspirations too are shattered when he discovers a switch of duty when he gets to Mackinac Island from what he expected.
As their true assets are revealed, Maude and Ben keep running into each other. Following the correct path will do that when lives merge. When Maude has to be gone, Ben teaches her Sunday school class. When she returns, the children ask where he is!
Maude's younger brother, Jack, adds spark to the story. He watches Ben for direction. So many times others are taking account of our actions and our word. I enjoyed Jack coming in and out of the story.
And... Jo! We get to visit her bakery again. I am so glad she reentered this story as I have missed her and her lumberjack St. Ignace country. If you don't know who she is, you have a treat in store for yourself! Be sure and read The Christy Lumber Camp Series by this author.
So much firsthand information is given about the Island and views from the Grand Hotel. Delightful to travel and experience the locale. A beautiful story of trust and honor revealed. A true heart cannot be hidden from view.
|The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is shown between 1895 and 1910.|
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Monday, June 3, 1895
Maude Welling’s twelve-year-old brother, Jack, raced across the waxed wood floor of the soda shop, straight toward her, then skidded to a halt.
“Greyson’s back!” His loud pronouncement caused several people seated at nearby tables, to cease their conversation and look up.
Perched atop an oak stool at the counter, Maude choked in surprise on her cherry phosphate and struggled to maintain her balance. Finally, he was home—and she would see him face-to-face. She pushed the frosted glass away and grabbed the napkin from her lap and wiped her mouth, dread and excitement comingling in her gut. She looked down to inspect her white cotton pin-tucked bodice.
Finding a tiny spot above her waist, she frantically dabbed at the crimson dots. “I need some seltzer water, quick.”
Al spritzed some seltzer on a clean white cloth and passed it to her.
“Thanks.” Luckily the red stain began to blot up. “There. That’s better.”
Hands shaking, Maude slid her uncle’s reconciled account records across the marble counter to him. Soon Father would allow her to resume handling the Winds of Mackinac record keeping, once she was married to her childhood sweetheart. “Your books are all in order now, Uncle Al.”
He winked at her. “You need to get to the dock.”
Beside her, Jack shifted from foot to foot, his jaw muscles twitching. She realized that he hadn’t said another word since coming into the shop.
Something was wrong. Maude’s sweetheart had returned to Mackinac Island. Everyone should be smiling, happy for her. Even Maude’s own hands perspired, as they did when she was afraid, not when she was excited.
Jack drew closer and tugged at her mutton-leg sleeve. “Sis, he’s got someone with him—real pretty redhead.”
Maude stiffened from the top of her pinned-up hair, down to her tailbone. No word from Greyson in over a month. She glanced at her bare left hand. Snapping her mossy-colored short capelet up from the coatrack, she draped it across her arm.
“What would you know, Jack? He was probably just being polite to someone.”
Jack scowled. “Yeah, right. Thought he was gonna marry you—not some old carrot top.” Her brother ran out into the street, the bell ringing as the glass-paned door slammed shut.
Maude exited the soda shop, lifted her skirts, and crossed the busy street to the wharf, dodging carriages and piles of manure the horses had left and the street sweepers had yet to clean up. Her phosphate fizzed inside her gut. She pressed a hand over her mouth, feeling the cherry-red liquid churning. Removing her hand, she pressed her lips together and strode toward the docks. When a chill, stiff breeze greeted her, she wrapped her capelet over her shoulders and tried to button it as she walked, but the large buttons wouldn’t cooperate. She pulled the garment close, overlapping the front and hugging herself tight.
Maude gasped for breath as she wove among the passengers at the dock. She spied Jack as he ducked behind one of the narrow whitewashed wood buildings that trailed onto the waterfront.
Arrivals chattered happily as they clustered around their luggage in the center wood platform on the boardwalk that surrounded the dock. Liveried men, all in various colors denoting their particular inn, toted the boxes off and hoisted them into the baggage drays bound for the hotels.
Maude moistened her lips as she spotted her old beau, so handsome in a suit she’d never seen before. Greyson stood beside a huge black-leather trunk, which was banded by contrasting brown straps. Adjacent to him stood a slim woman with red hair—just as Jack had said. Sucking in a breath, Maude waited for the tightness in her chest to ease. Relax. Breathe slowly. Inhale in, then exhale out.
As the porter pushed the luggage toward one of the island’s cabs, Greyson turned and looked directly at Maude. Then flinched. He said something to his companion and pulled the young woman in Maude’s direction. Maude froze; her feet glued to the boardwalk like the green-flocked wallpaper newly hung in their parlor.
Jack popped out from behind the dockmaster’s building. He squinted at the red-haired woman as he often did insects he was about to secure inside a mason jar. The woman snapped her fan against Greyson’s arm, and he ceased dragging her.
Now the young lady floated along the wide wooden planks of the walkway, her gauzy confection of a dress billowing in the light lilac-scented breeze. Lace, embroidery, and glistening tiny beads seemed to cover the entire fitted bodice. A House of Worth gown—one advertised in the latest edition of Harper’s Bazaar. Maude glanced down at her simple blouse and skirt—a country bumpkin’s clothing compared to this woman’s elaborate attire. Maude had ceased wearing mourning and had been so happy to wear something with color again. But now, she wanted to run home and don her black frocks to hide.
Everything within her urged Maude to flee, even as the duo edged closer to her.
“Maude?” Greyson raised his tall hat, golden hair glistening beneath the midday sun.
When they were children, she and Greyson had enacted a play about the French Revolution. Why did she suddenly feel as though he was about to take her hand and haul her off to the executioner?
A tremor twitched the young woman’s full lips as she linked her arm through Greyson’s.
Standing several feet back from the couple, Jack pointed at the stranger then turned to address Maude. “See, I told ya so!”
Heat seared Maude’s cheeks as her brother raced away toward the park across the street. She turned and watched him go, wishing she could chase after him.
When she turned around, Greyson’s companion narrowed her eyes and scanned Maude from her scuffed boots to her white blouse tucked into her wide-banded skirt, lingering on her waistline, which was, thankfully, very slim. “Greyson, aren’t you going to make introductions?”
When he responded, wind from the lake rushed past Maude’s ears, obscuring what he said, except for “. . .Anna.”
Once again, the young woman withdrew her arm from Greyson’s grasp. As the young woman minced toward Maude, swirls of titian hair dipped beneath her wide-brimmed hat.
Extending a lace-gloved hand, a glittering bulge visible on her left ring finger, the woman offered a tight smile and a challenging stare. “I’m Anna Luce—Greyson’s wife.”
Heartbeats hammering in Maude’s chest escalated, reminiscent of the months of incessant noise from the construction of the Grand Hotel eight years earlier—when Mother had wondered if their inn would survive with such competition.
“I. . . I see. . . .” But she didn’t, as her vision faded slightly.
Surely even Mrs. Luce, Greyson’s mother, didn’t know, for she would have told Maude. What would the poor woman think when she discovered her son was now married to someone other than Maude?
Greyson extended a hand, but she recoiled.
Maude forced a breath and exhaled as slowly as she could, waiting to calm her nerves. Betrayal knifed her gut, and she clasped her hand to her stomach.
“Excuse me. . . .”
She strode from the dock, her heel catching on an uneven board. She yanked her heel free. Two angry tears spilled, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
“Maude!” Greyson’s voice trailed her.
“Let her go, darling,” his wife urged.
And against the backdrop of island breezes, birdsong, and carriage wheels, Maude heard Greyson walking out of her life, with Anna.
❤Ben Steffan pulled at his starched linen collar, anxious to leave the White Star Line steamship behind. Painful memories of a different voyage rushed over him. Yet this time, he stood aboveboard, not in steerage. Ahead, Mackinac Island, an emerald jewel, lay nestled within Lake Michigan’s azure velvet. Even from miles out he spotted the clifftop outline of the Grand Hotel, his destination. Pristine beauty. No wonder the wealthy flocked here each summer. Perhaps even Roosevelt, who had urged Mackinac’s National Park status, might be spotted. But Ben wasn’t here for a political or social column, despite being the society columnist for the Detroit Post.
Soon they moored. Two other gentlemen, who’d appeared as nervous as Ben was trying to not be, moved alongside two young ladies and offered assistance disembarking the ship. Was their aim on the island to find a wealthy wife? Ben would have to draw upon all his observational skills to spot the targets for his article. Despite his qualms about this charade, if he hit pay dirt with this story, Banyon may finally make him assistant editor. And he could finally afford to support a wife, should he ever have time to court someone.
The scent of engine smoke dissipated as Ben merged into the crowd heading off the dock. A winsome brunette bumped into him, wafting the scent of musky flowers. As Ben met the woman’s gaze of open appreciation, his cheeks warmed. Apparently well-dressed “Friedrich König” was worthy of appreciation. His boss had outfitted him at a gentleman’s store in Detroit, and Ben’s transformation was quite complete.
No. How well he knew that one’s character—one’s heart and soul— wasn’t altered simply by donning fine attire. If only the young women who read his exposé might realize the same.
Around him, the crowd separated into jagged queues that edged toward a line of carriages stretched seven deep. Gold embroidered letters “GH” glistened in the sunlight on one surrey’s red topper.
He strode forward, not wanting to miss his conveyance. Almost there, a bronze-haired beauty with wet rosy cheeks, whirled toward him and ran smack into his chest. When he grabbed her shoulders to steady her, he looked over her shoulder and caught the glimpse of familiar faces behind her. Greyson Luce and Anna. What were they doing here? The couple moved away toward a small one-horse carriage.
Shoulders stiffening, Ben took one step back from the woman in his arms.
“I’m very sorry, miss. Ich habe dich nicht gesehen.” Obviously, something had distressed her, and from the looks Anna and Greyson cast her way, they had something to do with it.
The young lady before him stood erect as a queen, her tiny cape fluttering in the breeze, hands now fisted. Corkscrew curls trailed her long neck, which was streaked with angry red. Despite her angst, here was a woman of fortitude. Or had she thought he’d insulted her in German? He lapsed into his native tongue when stressed.
“Of course you couldn’t see me. I plowed right into you.”
“You speak German?”
“A little.” She sniffed, and Ben offered her his handkerchief. She accepted the linen square. She kept her head lowered, shame etched on what little he could see of her features.
Dressed in plain but well-made clothes, she appeared to be an islander. Something about her called to his heart. He didn’t trust in emotions—he was a journalist, and facts were what mattered. But right now, he longed to understand how she felt. Must be the island air and the boat trip unsettling him.
“Miss, is there anything I can do to help you?”
A deep blast from the ship’s horn startled him. His shoulders jerked against the constraints of the tailored jacket, but she appeared unaffected by the intrusion.
For a split second she raised her pretty amber eyes, tears spilling down her flushed cheeks. Just as quickly she lowered and shook her head.
Focus, Ben. Pay attention to your job. He needed to get to his carriage.
“Excuse me, miss, but I must get to my lodgings.” Ben drew his straw boater low over his eyes.
“Yes, please don’t let me keep you.” With that, she lifted her skirts and moved swiftly away from him.
He’d not even introduced himself. He was Friedrich König now, wealthy industrialist, and headed for the Grand Hotel. He recollected his conversation with his editor, and could almost smell the man’s pipe smoke and the scent of paper fresh from the press. His editor, Banyon, hadn’t mentioned Anna and Greyson would be on Mackinac, yet he knew of Ben’s “friendship” with Anna.
A slow sizzle, like tinder catching in the fireplace, began to burn. Was Banyon setting him up? He rubbed his chin then headed toward the line of carriages, now thinning, as one after another of the drivers directed the horses to pull their conveyances away from the curb.
Ben moved on to the loading area.
A strongly built black man dressed in full livery, his wide gait steady, approached. “Grand Hotel, sir?”
“Name, sir? I’ll get your baggage.” He pulled out a pad of paper and a short pencil.
“Friedrich König.” If he kept saying it, maybe he’d even believe it himself.
❤The stranger’s compassion unnerved Maude, as had that glimpse of admiration she’d caught in his eyes—even though her face had to have been red with humiliation. It was as though God had allowed her that tiny moment of kindness to assuage the pain Greyson’s betrayal had delivered.
Even early lilacs couldn’t entice her attention as she strode on the curving wood walkway toward the Winds of Mackinac. Woodsmoke from chimneys nearby tickled her nose. She didn’t bother to wipe her cheeks, for more tears would follow. Angry, rage-filled tears. When Father found out about Greyson’s marriage, he’d sell the inn, and then. . .
Seagulls swooped overhead and squawked. She longed to screech along with them—to throw back her head and rail at the injustice of having Greyson marry another. Oh God, why me?
You refused him.
She sniffed. She’d not really refused him—she’d asked for clarification. And then his letters dropped off. He’d never sent word that he was courting another woman, much less about to marry her. Two-timing scoundrel.
Maude continued walking alongside Lake Michigan. Sunlight dappled the azure water as sailboats’ canvases unfurled. She belonged here with a sense of connectedness that was in her blood. She and Greyson were Mackinac Islanders: year-round residents, not some tourist or seasonal visitor. Not a stranger—like Anna.
Not a stranger like the man who’d held her at the wharf. The best marriages were those formed by long-term relationships and mutual respect and friendship, Father had insisted.
How had Greyson managed to woo and win a wife in such a short time?
Greyson’s accusation from their last private encounter, at Christmas, echoed in her mind. “You never loved me. Not as a woman loves a man she wants for a husband.” He’d certainly pressed that point enough for her to know it was true—she’d always pulled back from his rather frantic kisses and embraces.
Sadie Duvall’s warnings—were they true? “He’s after one thing, Maudie—and it isn’t what you think.” And what did that mean?
After she arrived home, Maude went to their private parlor, seated herself at the Baldwin piano, and poured herself into a favorite Tchaikovsky piece, her fingers pounding the instrument as though she could overpower the discordant melody in her heart. But to no avail. She ceased the melancholy piece. Tentatively, she began to play the strains of her own composition, this song full of crescendos more hopeful—of finding one’s own true love. She pulled her tingling fingers from the piano, as though the inanimate object discerned her ambivalence. Why did her thoughts continue to drift off to the stranger rather than to her childhood sweetheart?
She rose and arranged her skirts before moving toward the fireplace. Soft footfalls announced their new maid—her friend Sadie’s sister. Although it sometimes seemed awkward to have her friend’s sister in their employ, Maude was happy the girl received steady pay and was safe, fed, and warm every night.
Bea Duvall set down a box of cleaning supplies and rags near the hearth. “She fired her, Miss Maude.”
“What?” She’d not yet grown accustomed to Bea’s cryptic messages. “Who fired whom?”
“Sadie’s been fired. She’s looking for a job.”
Maude reached an unsteady hand out to the back of the nearby divan. “Mrs. Luce can’t. . .”
“You go tell her that, then.” Bea huffed and commenced polishing the revolving mahogany bookcase near the wall. “Greyson’s wife, the new Mrs. Luce, fired her. Too bad you weren’t her.”
❤The Grand Hotel’s porch stretched several football fields long. Ben forced himself to not gawk. He affected a blasé air as he approached the building. Gleaming alabaster white, it nestled high on the hill overlooking woods and verdant fields. Pavilions punctuated the lush grounds here and there like Bavarian Easter eggs nestled in rye baskets. A folly built at one end of the lower park was meant to entice sweethearts, no doubt. Would he find himself entangled there with someone who believed he was the wealthy Friedrich König?
Once inside, the multitude of crystal chandeliers rivaled anything he’d viewed as a newspaperman covering the swankest events in Detroit. Yet the decor was more “affluent rustic camp” for a fair amount of the building, particularly the halls leading to the bedchambers. Unpainted paneling covered the entryway, which was as wide as his entire apartment building in Detroit. Overhead, the coffered wooden ceiling with its impressive intersecting beams and sunken panels suggested a large lodge in the north woods. Yet moving into the social areas, the decor became more formal. Highly polished hardwoods and marble reflected in the gilded baroque mirrors in the spacious lobby.
Ben followed the man toting his baggage to a semicircular walnut counter, behind which a silver-haired clerk wiped his glasses. Adjacent stood a large, rectangular, wheeled cart, similar to those used at the newspaper to transport papers to carriages for delivery, but this one was covered with luggage.
“König,” the porter told the clerk. “Friedrich König.”
Donning his eyeglasses, the man blinked at Ben before bowing quickly. “Welcome, Mr. König. You have one of the diplomat rooms—one of our best.”
“I’m Mr. Morris, and we’ve been directed to assign a manservant to you.” The clerk handed a heavy brass key to a tall dark-skinned servant wearing the hotel’s distinctive red jacket. “Blevins will be caring for your needs, since you didn’t have your valet accompany you.”
“No.” Because he had no valet.
When the men frowned, Ben corrected himself. “I mean, ja, I’d appreciate the assistance.”
The porter grinned over his shoulder. “This way, sir.”
Following the red-jacketed man down the hallway, Ben again appreciated the difference a fine pair of shoes made. He’d had neither foot nor leg discomfort, which he often did running all over the city in his old broughams. And his jacket’s cut facilitated his movements, as well.
A young woman attired in a low-cut gown sashayed by them, fixing her gaze on Ben.
“Good afternoon.” His voice came out low, almost a growl. He didn’t find such immodest attire appealing. But Friedrich König might, and he needed to act the part. He smiled at her in what he hoped was a charming fashion.
She raised one golden eyebrow. “Good day.” Her accent was pure New York. She slinked past.
Two doors down, the employee paused. After turning the key in the door, the servant pushed through, bringing the cart ahead of Ben. As he entered the room, a faint musty odor battled with the breeze, wafting in through the open, expansive mullioned windows. The hotel had only recently been reopened for the season. Extravagant wallpaper in hues of ivory covered every wall. A large bed covered in sumptuous silks featured prominently in the room.
“I’ll put your clothes up for you, sir.” Blevins chuckled. “I do have other duties, but I’ll be assigned to you as your manservant.”
He recalled his uncle’s manservant, Hans, an overworked but loyal man who used to slip Ben pfefferminze candies. “Go ahead and unpack then.”
“Yes, sir.” He opened the heavy brass latches on the black leather trunk stamped in gold with “Crosley’s Luggage,” the London shop being the finest purveyor of such goods and on loan to Ben from his boss.
The big man began hanging Ben’s clothes in the armoire.
Crossing to the window, Ben gazed out at the brilliant blue water and whistled in appreciation. Then realized such behavior could be considered crass. He fisted and unfisted his hands.
“Your first visit here, sir?”
“Ja. Indeed.” Ben assumed a casual slouch, attempting to give the air of a wealthy gentleman accustomed to such digs. But his uncle would have stood erect, soldier stiff, awaiting orders. Ben straightened.
“If I can be of any assistance to you, please let me know.” He lifted Ben’s undergarments between two meaty hands and transferred them to the open bureau drawer.
Ben needed a friend in his corner, inside the hotel. And he didn’t want to ask for assistance from too many people. This man seemed to be an honest fellow.
But a little cash incentive couldn’t hurt.
“Ask for Ray downstairs at the counter.” He grinned. “Mr. Morris is the only one calls me Blevins.”
“Thank you, Ray.” He pulled out some crisp bills, but the man shook his head.
“No tipping at the hotel, sir.” The man’s brilliant white teeth contrasted with his dark skin.
He’d forgotten the hotel’s policy. He shrugged and grinned, and then Ray’s features relaxed.
Ben frowned at the dark, liquid-filled cut-glass decanters that covered a low table. “You can remove those from the room.”
Another faux pas—most wealthy young men would be celebrating the premium brandies, sherry, and whiskey contained in the crystal containers.
“Always good to wait on a fellow temperance man.”
“Yes, a temperance man. That’s right.” But Friedrich König would surely imbibe. “At least when I’m keeping my own company. For business, I must keep up appearances or I’ll be considered staid.”
Ray’s dark eyebrows pulled together and then relaxed. “There’s a dance tomorrow night in the ballroom, sir. Sure to be plenty of young ladies there—including some who live nearby. Some you might know, you being from the city and all.”
Fear prickled up the back of Ben’s neck. He could identify most of the elite from Detroit because of his work. Hopefully they’d not recognize him if he crossed their paths. He strafed his hand over his naked jaw. No more thick beard. And his unruly hair had been cut in the latest fashion. He’d even begun oiling it and using pomade to keep his thick hair well dressed.
Might he get a chance to see the young lovely he’d spied earlier at the docks? Would the young woman reside in one of the fancy “cottages” that dotted the cliff side like miniature castles? He cringed. Without love and Christian charity, even life in a castle could bring das Elend, complete misery.
Only a day had passed since Maude’s encounter with the kind stranger at the wharf, but it seemed several had trailed by. She’d tossed and turned all night long as dreams became nightmares, but turned out to be the truth when she awakened. Greyson was married. They’d not be wed this summer. Nor would they run the inn together.
She was thoroughly humiliated, but in her heart of hearts she was more angry than lovesick. For months now, God had seemed to be telling her that Greyson was not the man for her. With Greyson’s marriage, deception’s cloth had been lifted from her eyes—not sheer bridal veil mist but a heavy swath of wool thrown free.
Sitting at her dressing table, brushing out the knots in her hair, her errant thoughts diverted back to the man at the dock. Tall and well dressed, the newcomer to the island had never been on Mackinac before—she’d have remembered. His behavior and strong features suggested a man of purpose.
Rarely had she daydreamed about Greyson. Maybe he was right—she hadn’t loved him, not like when two were to be married. Last night she’d prayed for Greyson and Anna and asked God to help her to forgive them. She chewed the inside of her lip. Next, she’d need to pray to forgive herself. She should have obeyed the prompting of God to write to Greyson at school and share her concerns. Regardless of what he had done, she, too, had a responsibility she’d overlooked. Three light knocks on the door announced Bea. “Good morning, Miss Maude.”
“Good morning.” She continued pulling the brush through her waist-length hair.
“Wish my hair was so pretty.”
“Thank you.” Maude glanced into the mirror, wishing that, rather than her medium brown hair, she viewed the ebony tresses that were the Cadotte women’s legacy—as was this inn. “Your eyes are beautifully expressive.”
The girl’s cheek turned crimson. “Always give me away, miss. Don’t be wishing that.”
Maude laughed. “Have you heard anything from Sadie?” She set down her boar-bristle brush.
“Yes, I went home and treated my little sisters to ice cream while Sadie looked for work, again. Nice having my own money to spend, Miss Maude.” Bea rocked back and forth in her sturdy black shoes.
She couldn’t help smiling at the girl’s pride in doing something kind. “I spoke with Father last night about Sadie.” She’d not worked up the nerve yet to tell him about Greyson, but she’d have to face him this morning and get it over with. “He’ll address the matter this afternoon with both Mrs. Luces.” Not that Maude expected Greyson’s new wife, Anna, to reinstate Sadie, but Father should at least say something since they’d been paying for Sadie’s help.
“There’s no need.” Bea opened the chifforobe and retrieved a hanger for Maude’s wrapper.
“Why is that?” Maude stood so Bea could help her get ready.
Bea took Maude’s dressing gown from her and hung it. “Sadie’s found a spot.”
“Wonderful!” Maybe it would be easier than caring for poor Mrs. Luce.
The girl examined the garments hanging in the center of the wardrobe, chewing on her lower lip.
“I’d like the skirt that Jane just pressed.”
With Bea’s assistance, Maude soon stepped into her skirt. “Who is Sadie working for?”
Maude stiffened. “What?”
“Needed something right away, and Foster had an opening.”
Mr. Foster? The proverbial cat could have gotten her tongue, for Maude couldn’t find another word to say. The man was the worst employer on the island. A bald-faced liar, with the shiny pate to match.
Bea pulled a matching blouse from the armoire. “Don’t you have the church’s social meeting this afternoon?”
Groaning, she held out her arms. “I forgot.” She waited as Bea slipped the sleeve on and then walked behind her to button the back.
“Won’t all those ladies ask about Greyson?”
Maude sucked in her breath as together they tucked her blouse into her skirt band. “I think you’re right.”
“You might be too upset to go to those old biddies’ meeting.” Bea handed Maude her stockings, and she sat on the vanity chair and pulled them on.
“It’s true. I didn’t sleep well.” Maude fished her everyday shoes out from beneath the vanity. “They aren’t biddies—they’ve all been very sweet to me, especially since Mother died.”
“Begging your pardon, but none of those ladies lifted a finger to help us when Pa went missing.” Moisture glinted in Bea’s green eyes.
Maude exhaled a puff of air. “I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault.” Bea bent and helped wrap the laces over the large black hooks on the shoes and then expertly tie off the bow.
“I best get down to breakfast.”
“I’ve got to run to the kitchen and see if Jane needs help serving.”
Maude followed Bea downstairs. They parted in the hallway, where Jack was just entering the family’s private dining room. Maude strode in behind him and ran smack into the back of her chair at the oval table. “Oh!”
“You’re getting even clumsier, Muddie!” Jack grinned as he moved behind her and pulled her Windsor chair out.
She frowned at him. “Don’t call me that.”
He laughed. “Aren’t you gonna thank me for holding your chair for you?”
“Thank you, Jack.” Praise might not be perceived as such when said through gritted teeth, so she tried again but with a sweeter tone, “You’re becoming quite the gentleman.” Unlike Greyson, who’d not even bothered to warn her he was pursuing Anna.
Father, seated by the bay window, sun streaming in over his shoulder, looked up from his copy of the Free Press.
Oh, no. Too late. She cringed, recognizing his piercing glance. An accusation was forthcoming.
Father’s glasses slid down the narrow bridge of his nose. “I hear Greyson is home.”
Should have realized that by now every islander had likely heard the story.
Jack, now seated opposite her, chomped on a peach, juice trickling down the cleft in his chin. “Yeah, he’s got himself a real purty redheaded wife!”
Removing his reading glasses with one hand, Father snapped his paper closed with the other. “Who’ll run this hotel then?”
“I will.” Maude deftly speared a piece of sliced peach from the blue willow china bowl set before her. Hadn’t she proven she could keep accounting books straight?
Stony eyes glared unblinking at her. She wouldn’t look away. Unflinching, she stared back at her father. When he averted his gaze, she didn’t feel she’d won anything. Disappointment clouded Father’s eyes. A sheen of moisture filmed them, and his complexion remained ashen. Worry gripped her heart as a cramp began in her stomach. He needed to go to the mainland to see a specialist—but he wouldn’t go.
“Maude, we’ve had this conversation many times. I’ve made my position clear.”
One of the maids tapped on the door. “Hot breakfast ready, sir.”
“Bring it in.” Father’s grumpy tone contradicted his command.
The young woman glided past Maude and set a tray before her father. The savory scent of bacon, eggs, biscuits, and fried potatoes tempted her appetite.
“Are ye eating this mornin’, miss?” The servant’s Irish brogue announced her recent arrival in America and her origins.
“Yes, Jane, if you have any left after the guests are served.” They’d had a family arrive earlier than expected. Maude had failed to send to the mainland for extra groceries. She’d been too busy hiding in her room and fretting over Greyson. She pressed her hands to her cheeks—what had happened to her? She’d always been so unflappable. But it wasn’t every day a girl got jilted.
Her father frowned. “No need to wait, Maude.”
To wait—for love again? She blinked at her father. Then dropped her hands as he pointed to the tempting food Jane set before her.
Stomach rumbling, Maude succumbed and filled her breakfast plate. Cook had outdone herself with the eggs. And the bacon was perfect. Hadn’t they been out of it, though?
“I ran down to Uncle John’s store last night.” Jack grinned and grabbed an extra biscuit for himself. “Got some extra stuff for that new family we got.”
Father shook his paper out and cleared his throat. “Thought you children should know I may sell the inn.”
Bacon stuck in Maude’s throat, almost choking her. She cleared her throat as icy tentacles of fear seemed to trickle down it.
“You can’t!” At Maude’s raised voice, Jane’s ruddy cheeks reddened further, and she tugged on her frilly apron before slipping out the door. “This hotel belonged to Mother’s family for decades.”
She fisted her hands until her nails bit into her palms. How dare he? What could he be thinking? She loved this gorgeous island—couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Furthermore, Mother had prepared her since childhood to take over the running of the inn—she said per Grandmother’s will that Maude would be inheriting eventually. Uncle Robert, her mother’s younger brother, had yet to meet with Father about the stipulations in the will. But he’d hinted that she should prepare herself. Could it be that Father would sell off the inn and all their properties purposefully, to ensure she wouldn’t be running it? She pushed her plate away, suddenly queasy. “Father, I don’t see how. . .”
If possible, Father’s skin glowed even paler than minutes earlier. “Quite enough, young lady!”
Young? At almost twenty-one and now with Greyson married, she’d soon be considered—an old maid. She had to do something. “Sorry, Father.”
He scrutinized her face before his features relaxed again.
“Here. Read the local paper—I’m finishing up the Free Press.” Jack passed her the thin local newspaper, the Islander. Maude flipped to the back, tremors in her hands shaking the thin pages. Print inside a square box advertised: “Wanted for immediate employment—Grand Hotel seeks local workers. Contact Mrs. Ada Fox, Housekeeping Manager.”
She knew about running a hotel. If Father wouldn’t allow her to assume management of the inn, Maude would look elsewhere. Today. She’d prove herself capable.
Bea entered the room, her clothing clean but the hem dragging and a small patch peeking through in the pleats in her skirt. The girl reached over Father to pour juice from a silver pitcher into his goblet.
“Thank you, Bea.”
“Yes, sir.” Their new maid bobbed, but the bow in her hair flopped forward and she shoved it back awkwardly with her hand.
Jack covered his mouth, but Maude could see that he was stifling a laugh. She cleared her throat and shot a scolding look in his direction. Bea’s face crumpled, and she poured a splash of juice, just a jot, into Jack’s glass before coming around the table.
When their father went back to his newspaper, Bea wrinkled her nose at Jack.
“Hey!” the boy protested.
Father’s head shot up. “Young man, you shall conduct yourself with decorum at this table.”
How many times had Father fussed at Uncle Robert to do the same when he had lived with them? Where was Captain Robert Swaine now? And why wasn’t he answering her letters?
❤Ben allowed the manservant assigned to adjust his cravat.
“How you like dinner last night, sir?”
Mostly Ben had enjoyed learning more about those seated at his table. “I met some interesting people.” Like Marcus Edmunds, who purported to be a wealthy Detroiter, but whom Ben had never met on the social scene, which he covered for the paper.
“Good.” Ray Blevins assisted Ben into his superfine wool jacket. “Find the billiard room earlier?”
“Sure did.” Ben stretched out his arms, amazed that his sleeves, for the first time in many years, were tailored expertly and hit perfectly at his wrist. “Played with Casey Randolph.” Whom he suspected of being a man in pursuit of wealthy conquests.
“You gonna give Mr. Randolph a run for his money if that Miss Ingram sees you tonight.”
“She was all eyes for him at the billiard tables.”
“Mr. Ingram a lumber baron.” Ray adjusted the jacket sleeves until they lay perfectly at Ben’s wrist. “He sure he gonna find his girl a good match up here.”
“That so?” Would Ingram discern that Casey Randolph was all polish and no substance?
“Yes, sir.” The servant nodded. “Enjoy the dance.”
“I won’t be dancing.”
Ray slipped almost silently from the room.
Ben tucked a pencil nub and a minuscule square notepad in his pocket, in case he needed to jot a note.
Inside the ballroom, crystal chandeliers illuminated the inlaid mahogany-and-oak dance floor, around which were clustered tables covered in pristine linen tablecloths. He scanned the room. No bronze-haired vision—the woman from the dock. Many families sat together. Single people lingered by the dance floor. A mixed group surrounded an ice sculpture of a swan—similar to one recently pictured on the cover of the New York Times social section.
If only this exposé could garner the attention that New York papers had given to tales of Britishers seeking American heiresses for their fortunes. Maybe then Ben’s life would finally fall into place. Finally—a promotion, a raise, and journalistic respect.
Marcus joined Ben and pointed toward the arched entryway. “Can you believe someone as rich as Anna Forham would marry an island sap?”
Anna floated into the room, on her husband’s arm. Her crème anglaise skin glowed beneath the hotel’s new electric lights.
Ben moved back farther into the shadows. He’d not stay. If he watched Greyson and Anna waltzing, then he risked being discovered.
“Greyson Luce was engaged to be married to the daughter of an island inn owner.”
Slacking his hip, to affect a nonchalance he didn’t possess, Ben inquired, “Which one?”
“Prettiest one on that curve as you approach the Grand. Light lemon color.”
“I meant the young lady, not the inn.”
“Oh.” Marcus shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Greyson Luce was engaged to an island girl. Instead he married Anna. Could that have been the fiancée crying at the wharf? Granted that girl looked angry, rather than devastated over the loss of the love of her life. Still. . .
As the band began to play, Marcus glanced in Miss Ingram’s direction. “Excuse me, I see Myra is here.” He headed off toward his target.
If Ben got a scoop on Anna, daughter of their newspaper owner’s rival, both Ben’s editor and he could benefit. But pursuing such a story would be mean-spirited. Surely Banyon hadn’t sent Ben up with muckraking in mind.
After only a night on the island, how might he feel after several weeks? Editor Banyon’s suggestion to pose as a wealthy businessman seemed so persuasive at the time, but now Ben felt more like a spy than a journalist.
Ben turned on his heel and returned to his room. When he entered, he stepped onto a piece of paper. Ben bent and retrieved the telegram. Already Banyon was issuing directives from afar. Ben groaned as he read the terse words, “Expose Luce.”
Crossing to the bed, he flopped down on his back, shoes and all. Did his editor simply wish to humiliate the owner of their rival publisher? And so soon after Zofija Forham’s death. Other than Greyson Luce having ended his relationship with the loveliest creature Ben had laid eyes on, there were no leads on Luce. While Banyon expressed his belief that Luce had pursued Anna for her money, he’d never tasked Ben to investigate. Until now. Had Banyon set him up with a diversionary story as a pretext to muckrake against the Forhams?
Carrie Fancett Pagels, My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island: Maude's Mooring Barbour Books, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., © 2017.
|Mackinac Island Arch Rock|