Linda Hoover Books Christian fiction
Linda Hoover Books Christian fiction
Boston, February 1880
Don’t worry, nobody knows. The phrase repeated itself in John Phillips’ mind like the rhythmic ticking of a clock as he hurried out of his office and headed for the elevator. His valise bumped against his leg with each step. When he arrived, his finger hovered over the button, indecision swirling in his mind.
Maybe I should take the stairs. No, I never do that. Everything has to look as usual. John pushed the button and a bell sounded faintly several floors below. The car made its slow approach while he ran his finger between his neck and tightening collar.
The elevator stopped with a bump and the metal accordion gate across the doorway folded to the side. John’s mouth went dry and his heart galloped in his chest as a hideous creature with blood red eyes and razor-sharp teeth stalked toward him, pointing its finger and cackling. He stumbled back, but the creature lunged forward and grabbed his jacket sleeve with its clawed hands.
“Noooo.” He twisted and turned, trying to get out of his jacket.
“John, wake up!”
The haze of sleep cleared as John became aware of someone shaking his shoulder. The creature disappeared and he worked to even out his breathing.
“Are you awake?”
He forced words past his constricted throat. “I’m awake, Elizabeth.”
“Was it the same dream? You were moaning and thrashing around. I wish you’d tell me what it’s about.”
“I don’t want to burden you with it. Let’s go back to sleep.” He rolled away from his wife, grateful to be at home in his bed. The situation occurred twenty-five years ago, yet the dream’s frequency had increased to several nights a week. He drew in a shaky breath. It took longer each time to calm his pounding heart when he awoke.
John wiped the perspiration from his face with the sleeve of his nightshirt, then pulled the blanket tight around his shoulders. Could this mean he’d been found out?
Two days later
Julia Phillips didn’t even glance at her friend for fear of losing sight of the handsome stranger she’d been watching. “Sophia, do you see the young man over there?”
The brisk wind blew his golden hair back as his skates flew over the ice with a boundless energy and freedom that filled her with longing.
“The one in the tan coat?”
“Do you think he’s anyone we know?”
“I don’t think so.” Sophia linked arms with her and began skating in the opposite direction. “I don’t know why you can’t be happy with our circle of friends. It seems you’re always looking for someone different.”
Julia met her friend’s eyes for a moment. “I want to get closer.” She skated after him, her hunter green skirt pressing against her legs as she worked her way through the other skaters. Sophia’s skates swished behind her.
The cold, but sunny day had beckoned a laughing, chattering crowd onto Boston Common’s Frog Pond. Adults and children in colorful coats, hats and scarves covered the pond, frustrating her efforts to get close to the mystery man. Just when she finally had a clear view, a woman and her two little girls got tangled together and fell in a heap right in his path. He dodged around them, stopped, came back and helped them to their feet.
Julia could see that something more than falling distressed the woman. Grabbing the man’s arm, she pointed toward the other end of the pond. “Please find my son. Charlie’s wearing a red scarf and black cap.” The man took off, his coat flapping behind him as he weaved in and out through the other skaters.
Julia edged closer yet, and watched.
Sophia caught up with her. “Really, Julia, what are you thinking?”
“I want to see how this turns out.” A coil of frustration tightened in her middle. Who would believe it’d be such a challenge to get a good look at someone?
Before long the young man came back, holding an indignant little boy by the hand.
“I wasn’t lost.” The boy’s voice carried to his relieved mother and anyone else who cared to listen. “Let me go!”
The mother hurried to her child’s side and thanked the young man for his help. Julia saw it all in pieces until a crowd gathered, completely blocking her view.
She drew a deep breath and blew it out, sending her annoyance with it. She turned when Sophia spoke.
“I’m not surprised he caught your attention, but what were you planning to do, introduce yourself?”
Sophia linked arms with her and began leading her across the ice. Julia glanced back at the same instant the crowd parted and the young man looked her way. For a moment his gaze locked on hers. When a group of people moved in front of him again, she realized she wasn’t breathing.
Taking a quick gulp of cold air, she let go of Sophia’s arm and headed back. By the time she reached the spot where he’d been standing, he was gone. She stood, scanning the skaters’ faces until an opening showed he’d left the ice and taken off his skates. After a quick look at his pocket watch, then the skaters, he turned and left, with his swift stride soon taking him out of sight.
With a sigh she went back to where Sophia waited, shaking her head. They glided to a bench to take off their skates. “To answer your earlier question, I look because our friends, with the exception of my cousin Edward, are stuffy. Did you see how gallantly that man helped the woman?”
“Any of the men of our acquaintance would have done the same.”
“Possibly, but I’ve never seen them skate like that.” She paused in putting on her boots to stare into the distance. “I can imagine he has some kind of exciting adventure planned. Something that will take him far from Boston.”
“It’s not as if the young men we know don’t leave Boston for an adventure when they finish Harvard, and they’re excited about their travels when they come back. You don’t give them enough credit.”
Julia could hear the chiding in her best friend’s voice. She turned and looked into her snapping brown eyes. “Maybe I’m looking for my own adventure. In the meantime, we need to find the new jewelry store my sister, Margaret, told me about.”
A bell tinkled as the door to Anderson’s Jewelry closed behind the girls, shutting the noise of people and horses outside. Inside, the only sounds were the ticking of clocks on display and a subdued conversation between a customer and the man helping him. The jewelry and watches in their glass-enclosed cases sparkled in the shop’s gaslights. Julia went to the nearest case and looked at the selection, hoping for inspiration.
“May I help you?”
She looked up and a jolt of recognition hit her. His face mirrored the surprise she felt, then the young man smiled slowly, showing even white teeth and adorable dimples. Her cheeks grew warm while her addled brain tried to come up with the proper words to form a reply.
“She’s looking for a gift for her father,” Sophia supplied. Julia nodded.
“Cufflinks are a popular gift. We have some nice ones in gold over here.”
The girls followed him to a case displaying cufflinks. Julia looked at the selection, trying to remember what her father already had. “Which pair do you like best?” She couldn’t resist gazing at him again.
Their eyes locked for a couple of heartbeats, then after a quick look in the case, he picked out a pair. “These are probably my favorite. They speak of quality without being ostentatious.”
He flashed her a smile and Julia wondered if that’s what he thought, or what he’d heard someone else say. It didn’t matter, though. They could be lumps of coal and she’d believe him.
“I agree. They’re perfect. Thank you for your help Mr...?”
“Anderson. Jacob Anderson. My father and uncle own the shop.”
“I suppose that means you’d be here if I were to come again.”
“I certainly hope so, but I feel I may have rushed you. Pocket watches are a nice gift.” He moved to another case, opened the back and took one out. His fingers brushed hers as he placed it in her hand.
She caught her breath as warm tingles raced from her fingertips to her heart. His eyes widened a bit. Did he feel it too? She quickly turned her attention to the watch, but had no idea what it looked like. She could think of nothing but her response to his touch. Would it happen if their fingers met again? She looked up with a smile. “It’s nice, but I believe I’d like to see another one.”
Mr. Anderson took the watch and replaced it with a different one. Once again, their fingers touched with the same result. Amazing! She would happily have asked to see every watch in the case, but Sophia intervened.
“I think the cufflinks are the best choice. I imagine your father already has a watch.”
Reluctantly, Julia turned from Mr. Anderson to her friend and nodded her agreement.
“I’ll be happy to show you other gift possibilities if you’re not sure.”
The slight frown on Sophia’s face stopped her from taking his offer. “Thank you, but my friend is right. I believe I’ll take the cufflinks.”
“Before you go, I need to get your address so I can have your gift delivered.”
“Oh, of course.” She didn’t mind taking one more look into Mr. Anderson’s deep blue eyes. “It’s Julia Phillips at 5 Louisburg Square. Thank you again for your help, Mr. Anderson. Perhaps I’ll see you again.”
“The pleasure will be mine.”
~ ~ ~
Jacob decided he wouldn’t wait for her to come back to the store. He’d find out what he could about Miss Julia Phillips and arrange to cross paths with her again soon.
Absently drumming his fingers on the cufflink case, he assured himself he hadn’t changed his mind about looking for a farm in Iowa. Jacob had promised his father he’d give the jewelry store a try. It shouldn’t hurt to make friends while here.
He crossed his arms, leaned back against the case and thought about his glimpse of her on the ice earlier. And then she’d walked into the shop. Talk about a surprise.
Blonde curls and a pretty face were enough to make her memorable to any man, but he had no explanation for the pleasant tingling that shot through him when he touched her fingers. It’d be easy to feel more than friendship for her if she’d give him the chance.
A voice came from behind him. “You might as well forget her.” Jacob turned to see his older brother, Joel. “Women in the upper class only consider upper class men. By tonight she won’t remember your name.”
“Maybe.” Jacob turned for another look at the door she’d just gone through. He didn’t want to argue, but he didn’t want to forget her either. He’d find a way to see her again and then decide what he wanted to do.
Julia and Sophia settled under the fur lap robes and their driver clucked to the horses, setting the sleigh bells jingling as they swished through the noisy streets.
“Sophia, tell me truthfully, have you ever seen a man more handsome than Mr. Jacob Anderson? He has to be at least six feet tall and has such broad shoulders. And did you see those dimples when he smiled?” She rested her head on the back of the seat and sighed blissfully.
Her friend laughed. “Yes, he’s quite handsome. I also notice you’re having a package small enough to carry, delivered to your door. I don’t suppose you used it as an excuse to give him your name.”
A tickle in her middle made her smile. “I didn’t ask to have it delivered, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Julia ignored Sophia’s raised eyebrows. “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Sophia shrugged and tucked a strand of chestnut hair back under her hat. “I’m not sure there is such a thing. Maybe you should ask your mother.”
“Oh, you know what she’ll say. Forget love and looks and pay attention to family and finance. I’d rather have love than a fancy family name and money any day.
She gripped Sophia’s gloved hand. “Mr. Anderson is the first man to make me feel weak in the knees just by smiling at me, and it’s not just his good looks. When our eyes met, I felt safe. It’s as if I knew he would be the kind of man a woman could trust with her heart. It has to mean something.”
The girls rode in silence for a few minutes as they considered the possibility. “What about God? Do you believe in him, or maybe fate?”
A slight frown creased Sophia’s brow. “Of course, I believe in God, but I’m not sure he was responsible for you meeting Mr. Anderson, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Well, I’d like to think he’s more than some being way up in heaven who never pays attention to us. My sister, Katherine, talks about him. Maybe he did want me to meet Mr. Anderson and that’s why we went to their jewelry store.”
“I suppose it’s harmless to daydream about a stranger, but what about Mr. Harris?”
Julia frowned, confused. “What about him? I’ve already told him I’m not interested in more than friendship. When he spoke to me of marriage, it sounded more like a business proposal.”
“He may not have given up the idea. Isn’t that him leaving your house?”
As their sleigh approached from the opposite end of the square, the girls watched Lucien Harris come down the steps of the Phillips’ four-story townhouse. He put on his bowler hat and stepped into his sleigh with confidence. Even from the distance between them, Julia could tell by his posture and bearing that the visit had gone favorably for him.
A chill ran up her spine. “There has to be a reason, other than me, for him to be there.”
Sophia squeezed her hand. “Let me know what happens.”
When Julia came in the door, she found their housekeeper, Mrs. Campbell, waiting for her.
“Miss Julia, your mother would like to have a word with you in your room. She’ll be up as soon as she and your father have talked.”
Julia’s apprehension turned to dread. She studied Mrs. Campbell for any sign her fears were justified, but the stout, older woman’s pleasant expression told her nothing. She stood, hands folded in front of her, waiting for Julia’s response.
“All right. In the meantime, will you please send Millie up with tea?”
Julia settled in a rocking chair next to her window. Dwelling on the unknown never made her feel better. Instead she turned her thoughts to Mr. Anderson. By the time she became aware of her mother standing in the doorway, she’d convinced herself she had nothing to worry about. Lucien’s departure and her mother wanting to talk to her were only a coincidence.
She turned to see Elizabeth Phillips gazing at her fondly. Her mother had fair hair, as did Julia and her sisters, and even though she no longer had a trim figure, and lines framed her blue eyes, she was still a striking woman.
“Have you been standing there long, Momma? I’m afraid I was lost in thought.“
"Judging by your smile, it must have been a happy thought. Anything you’d like to share?”
Julia set her teacup aside. “I met someone today, someone who interests me.”
“What’s his name? Do we know his family?”
“His name is Jacob Anderson. I don’t believe you know his family, though. They’re somewhat new to Boston.”
Momma frowned as she walked around the four-poster bed. She sat in a walnut side chair opposite Julia and took her time arranging her skirts before speaking. “I have news from Papa.”
Was Momma nervous? She couldn’t remember a time when her mother didn’t get right to the point. Now fear gripped her for a different reason. “Is Papa ill? Has there been a problem at the bank?
“No, it’s nothing like that. I guess you could say there’s no point in finding out about the young man you met today.”
Icy fingers squeezed her heart. “What are you saying?”
“A nice young man, whom Papa feels has great promise, has asked for your hand. Your father agreed.”
Julia gripped the arms of her chair. “Did I understand you to say Papa has accepted a marriage proposal on my behalf?”
“May I ask who this nice young man is?”
“It’s Lucien Harris. You’ve been acquainted with him for these last five years. He’s practically family. So, you see, it’s not as if it’s someone you hardly know.”
Julia didn’t try to hide her dismay, and her mother hurried on. “He spoke highly of you and said he felt sure you hold him in the same high regard.”
“No.” She hung her head and covered her face with her hands. “Please tell me you’re not serious.”
Momma gently pulled her hands away from her face. “I’m afraid I am serious. I know you haven’t set your heart on any one man, and I don’t need to remind you you’re twenty-one years old. We were lenient when you turned down offers in the past, but the time has come for you to grow up. Lucien will provide a good home for you. His family name will assure you a place in society and you will want for nothing.”
She could only give her mother a blank stare.
“He’s not bad to look at.”
Her chest tightened with frustration. “Lucien Harris is dull and predictable, and he doesn’t care about me. He told me he thinks being an official part of the family would be good for his career, and he’d be able to provide the lifestyle I’m accustomed to.”
Julia realized her volume was getting louder, but couldn’t seem to stop it. She put her hand on her chest. “I told him I’m not interested. I can’t believe he went to Papa anyway. I can’t believe Papa agreed without asking me my feelings! Doesn’t
he care about my happiness? Do you care, Momma?”
“You know I do, but there comes a time when you have to move forward.” Momma reached over and patted Julia’s knee. “I’m sure you’ll grow to care for him. Your sisters made advantageous marriages and they’ve settled in fine.”
Julia gripped her mother’s hands. “Momma, it’s my heart’s desire to marry a man I love, a man who’s in love with me. I want to avoid the mistake my sisters made. You can’t honestly tell me you think they’re happy. Well, Katherine is, but Priscilla and Margaret are only putting on a show. To tell you the truth, I never felt you and Papa were all that happy. Didn’t you ever wish you had married a man you loved?”
In an instant, Momma became the take-charge, no-nonsense woman Julia had grown up knowing. She pulled her hands away and stood.
“You’re treading into an area that is none of your business. Your papa and I will do what we feel is right for you.”
With a heavy heart, she watched Momma leave, then leaned her head against the chair and closed her eyes. Since her parents hadn’t made a fuss when she turned down suitors in the past, she’d believed she would be able to choose her own husband in her own time. If a woman couldn’t marry for love she shouldn’t have to marry at all.
Would she have to leave home to avoid marrying him? What could she do to earn a living?
She slumped in her chair and twisted her pearl ring around her right ring finger, while she considered her lack of options. She’d gone with Sophia’s mother, Mrs. Howell, a couple of times to deliver food baskets to needy families.
The Sewing Circle she and the other debutantes formed at the end of their come-out season came to mind, but she didn’t see how she could make a living doing that. The idea was to sew for the poor, but in reality, all they did was roll hems on handkerchiefs and gossip.
Unable to sit still, she stood and paced. Her shoes tapped out a rhythm on the hardwood floor as she walked past her bed and back to the area rug by her window.
Her piano teacher felt she played extraordinarily well, but her parents wouldn’t hear of her performing for anyone other than family and friends.
She didn’t know of any unmarried, self-supporting woman in her social class. To refuse such a good match would be unthinkable, not to mention ungrateful.
Would she dare join the fight for women’s suffrage? That wouldn’t provide an income, though.
Marriage seemed to be the only way open to her. Although she desired marriage and motherhood, she wanted it to be to the right man for the right reason.
Collapsing in her chair, she considered giving in to the wave of self-pity threatening to roll over her. It might not be too late, though. Julia straightened. This wasn’t the dark ages after all. Surely Papa wouldn’t force Lucien on her. If she had to marry maybe she could talk him into letting her marry the man of her choice.
Julia wasted no time going downstairs to the study. She knocked then pushed open the door. Papa stood at the window, hands clasped behind his back, shoulders slumped.
She entered the book-lined room, wrinkled her nose at the scent of cigar smoke, then paused. Should she go to her father or wait until he acknowledged her?
John Phillips was a tall man aging gracefully. Silver threaded his brown hair, but he maintained the vigor and confidence of a young man firmly in control of his life and family. She admired her father greatly.
“Papa, may I speak with you?”
He straightened and turned to face her. “Julia, I didn’t hear you come in.” He went to his polished oak desk and lowered himself into the chair behind it, indicating she should also take a seat.
Julia sat across from him. He looked sad or tired, or both. Maybe now wasn’t a good time to ask him about Lucien.
He took the decision out of her hands when he rested his forearms on the desk and leaned toward her. “Momma tells me you aren’t happy with the news, but sometimes parents must make a decision for their child that they feel is best, even if it’s not a popular one. Lucien has assured me he cares for you and will make you a good husband. You’ve known each other for the last several years, and you seem to enjoy his company.
“Because of his connection to my great uncle, we know he comes from a good family. He quickly became an asset to the bank, and I feel he has a bright future. I’m sure you’ll get along fine. Lucien will be here tonight after dinner to talk to you himself.”
Having delivered his speech, her father leaned back in his chair, as though that settled the matter.
Julia concentrated on making her voice steady. “Did Lucien tell you he had already talked to me about marriage, and I told him no?”
Papa’s eyebrows rose. “He didn’t mention that. But what could you possibly hold against him? He has all the qualities a father could ask for when thinking of his daughter’s future.”
She moved to the edge of her seat. “What about love? Shouldn’t that be a desirable quality?”
“You’ve spent too much time reading romances.” Papa began shuffling papers around his desk. “Your momma and I have gotten along fine without all that nonsense. The matter is settled. Momma will see to getting out the announcement.”
Obviously, he’d made up his mind. She’d been sentenced, but if a pardon was out of the question, maybe she could get a delay.
“Does the announcement have to be made right away?” He frowned and Julia hurried on. “If we wait until summer, we could have a garden party at our country house. That’s only four months from now. Surely another four months won’t make a difference.”
“All right, as long as it’s agreeable with Lucien. However, from now on, you should limit yourself more to his company. Do we have an understanding?”
She left the room grateful for a small reprieve. There was something special about Jacob Anderson, and she meant to find out what before time ran out.
~ ~ ~
John got up and closed the door behind his daughter, then went back to his desk and rested his forehead on his folded hands on the desktop. The past had indeed caught up in the form of Lucien Harris. John had welcomed the young man into the bank and their family only for him to reveal, today, his relationship to the event of twenty-five years ago. It was blackmail, pure and simple. Make sure Julia became his wife or he’d tell the world what happened.
Sitting up, John scrubbed his hands over his face. Lucien wouldn’t stop with the marriage. He wanted something else. John would have to find out what before it was too late.
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