You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Whitaker House (January 1, 2014)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
www.christianfictionhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com). Book 1 in her Pioneer Promises series, Whispers on the Prairie, was chosen by Romantic Times as a top “recommended read” last summer. A member of ACFW, Vickie served as treasurer for three years and treasurer for her local chapter. She and her husband, Robert, live in Oklahoma and have four grown sons, one daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. When she isn’t writing, Vickie enjoys reading, shopping for antiques, watching movies, and traveling. The final book in her Pioneer Promises series, Song of the Prairie, releases the summer of 2014.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
In her 22 years, Sophie Davenport’s overprotective parents have taken every possible measure to keep her from exacerbating her asthma—she feels like a prisoner in her own house with her activities limited to reading and needlework. Yet Sophie longs for adventure and love, so when an aunt living in Windmill, Kansas, falls ill, she volunteers to travel from St. Louis to help out. Sophie’s new role brings her into contact with two children boarding at her aunt’s home, along with their handsome uncle, Josh Harper. Josh has worked for his family’s stagecoach stop on the Santa Fe Trail for most of his life, but he’s far more bookish than his brawny brothers. It’s his book smarts that recently landed him a job in Windmill managing his uncle’s bank. Josh also looks after his niece and nephew who are living in Windmill to attend school. Josh loves spending time with them, but yearns for a family of his own.
List Price: $12.99
Series: Pioneer Promises (Book 2)
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (January 1, 2014)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
St. Louis, Missouri
Sophie Davenport held back the curtain and peered out the front window, her heart jolting as a handsome man exited the carriage. He paid the driver, then turned and studied her house. He was taller and nicer looking than she’d expected. She dropped the curtain and stepped back, hoping he hadn’t seen her spying. She pressed her hands together and tapped her index fingers against her lips, unable to hold back her grin. Blake had finally arrived!
A knock of confidence, not apprehension, sounded at the main entrance. Sophie hurried to her bedroom door, which opened onto the main entryway, then held her breath and listened. Blake stood on her porch, introducing himself to the butler. Sophie could barely hold back her giddiness. She bounced on her toes as Blake told the butler he had an appointment with her. His voice, deeper than she’d imagined, floated through the open transom window above her like a beautiful cello solo at the symphony.
She patted her hair, hoping the humidity of the warm day hadn’t sent it spiraling in rebellious curls. The swish of silk accompanied her as she hurried across the room to the full-length oval mirror that stood in one corner. Pressing a hand over her chest to calm her pounding heart, she surveyed her deep purple gown. Was the fabric too dark? She’d chosen the violet silk taffeta because her brightly colored day dresses made her appear younger, but today, she wanted to look the twenty-two-year-old woman she was. Turning sideways, she checked her bustle and bow, making sure they were straight. Everything was as orderly as it could be. Would Blake like what he saw? Would he think her too short? Her light brown hair too nondescript?
Flicking a piece of lint off her bodice, she turned and faced the door. She would know soon enough. After more than a year of correspondence, Blake knew everything about her, and he had adamantly insisted that none of it mattered. He’d fallen in love with her through her enchanting missives, and he wanted her for his wife.
A vicious knock rattled the glass in the transom, and Sophie jumped. The apprehension racing through her was less about meeting Blake and more about the fact that she hadn’t told her parents about him. They would have cut off her correspondence faster than their gardener could lop off the head of a snake. But it was too late now. She attempted to swallow the lump lodged in her throat, but it refused to move.
Her mother walked in, her whole face pinched like a prune, and quickly closed the door. She stood there facing it for a long moment, her head down, then heaved a loud, exaggerated sigh.
Not a good sign.
Finally, her mother turned. “You have a guest, Sophia—a male guest.” One eyebrow lifted. “Would you care to explain to me how you are acquainted with this man, especially since neither your father nor I have ever met him?”
Sophie pressed a hand to her throat. She knew this wouldn’t be easy. “His name is Blake Sheppard. He and I have been corresponding for over a year.”
Her mother’s brown eyes widened. “A year? But how? I’ve never seen a letter from him in the mail.”
Ducking her head, Sophie stilled her hands and held them in front of her. “Ruthie sent and received them for me. Blake is her cousin—and a gentleman.”
“A gentleman doesn’t go behind the backs of a young woman’s parents to contact her.” Maintaining her stiff stance, her mother puckered her lips. “So, you’ve been deceiving your father and me?”
Wincing, Sophie turned toward the front window. “Would you have allowed me to correspond with Blake if I’d told you about him?”
“Proper ladies don’t exchange letters with men they’ve never been introduced to, and certainly not without parental approval.”
Drawing a steadying breath, Sophie turned to face her mother. She’d known this would be a battle. “Mother, please. Blake is a good man. Ask me anything about him.”
“There’s no need. We will go out to the parlor, share a cup of tea, and then you’ll make excuses that will send him on his way. Is that clear?”
Sophie gasped. “But he’s traveled so far, and I’ve waited so long to meet him.” She despised the pleading in her voice. Why couldn’t her parents let her grow up like her sister? A wheeze squeaked out of her throat. She had to stay calm. The last thing she wanted was to have an attack in front of Blake.
Her mother moved closer, her expression softening. She took Sophie’s hand. “You know how things are, dear. You had no business getting that young man’s hopes up.”
“That young man is my fiancé, Mother.”
“Fiancé—why, that’s absurd! You know you can’t lead a normal life.”
Closing her eyes, Sophie fought back tears. Why did her parents seek to limit her? Given the chance, she was certain she could be a proper wife and mother, but her parents just wanted to coddle her and keep her close. “You have to face the fact that I’m grown up. I want to live a normal life.” She hurried past her mother and reached for the door handle.
“But you are not normal, dear. Your father and I only want to protect you. We couldn’t bear to lose you, and you know we’ve come close to doing that very thing on several occasions.”
Sophie shuddered at the declaration. Her mother’s words rang in her ears: You are not normal. Yes, she had a breathing problem; but, as she’d gotten older, the spells had happened less often. Maybe in time, they’d go away altogether. Her parents were afraid to let her live as her sister did. If she didn’t get away from them, she’d become a spinster—if she wasn’t one already. She stiffened her back and pasted on a smile, trying to ignore the pain of her mother’s chastisement. Blake was waiting.
She opened the door and stepped into the entryway, her gaze searching for the man she’d dreamed about so many times. Blake stood in front of the parlor sofa, speaking with her father. He hadn’t noticed her yet.
“I’m sorry you’ve wasted your time traveling all this way, Mr. Sheppard,” her father said. “But, as I’ve already stated, my daughter is not in the habit of receiving male visitors.”
Blake’s eyebrows drew together, his shoulders slumping, as he looked down at the carpet. Sophie blew out several breaths and tried to calm herself, then hurried through the entryway into the parlor, avoiding her father’s glare. Her gaze latched onto Blake’s, and she saw the confusion in his hazel eyes. He offered a tentative smile. “Miss Davenport, a pleasure to finally meet you.”
She smiled, her cheeks warming, as she curtsied. “I’ve looked forward to this moment for a very long time.” She waved a hand toward her father, and noticed that her mother had followed her into the room. “I apologize, but I failed to tell my parents about your arrival.” Because I knew just how they would respond. “I fear they are both a bit surprised.” An understatement of mammoth proportions, if ever there was one.
Sophie gathered her courage and turned to her father. “I see you’ve met Blake, Father.” Her throat tightened at his stern stare. Another wheeze squeaked out. “B-Blake is my fiancé.”
Her father’s eyes widened, and his mouth dropped open. A pomegranate color climbed up his neck, turning his ears red. He turned his fiery gaze on Blake. “You presume a lot, young man. Did Sophie not inform you that she is not fully well? She is not in a position to accept an offer of marriage.”
Blake cleared his throat and straightened, as if he wasn’t ready to give up the battle. “Yes, sir, she told me, but I thought—” His gaze captured Sophie’s, and then he glanced at the floor again. He shuffled his feet, as if he were trying to figure out a new dance step. “I thought Sophie—uh, Miss Davenport—was free to make her own decisions, sir. I’m sorry that she failed to inform you of my interest in her.”
“Inform me?” Her father puffed up like a tom turkey whose hens were in danger. “A daughter doesn’t ‘inform’ a father that she is planning to marry a stranger. A decent fellow seeks permission before approaching a man’s daughter.”
Blake swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I’m sorry, sir.”
As if an angry fist clutched Sophie’s throat, she felt it closing. She expelled a wheeze, and Blake shot a glance in her direction. Her father’s tirade blended with the words her mother had uttered, causing an ache within her so painful, she didn’t know if she could bear it. She was losing Blake, and they’d only just met. Was she doomed to live with her overprotective parents the rest of her life?
She’d fight for Blake. He was worth it.
She opened her mouth to defend her fiancé, but the sound that came out more resembled the bleat of an ailing goat than her own voice. Humiliation blistered her cheeks.
Blake took a step backward, away from her, his handsome face drawn in a scowl.
“You see, Mr. Sheppard, the slightest excitement can set off one of my daughter’s attacks.” Father turned to Sophie’s mother. “Ring for some coffee, if you will. It seems to help our Sophie’s spells.”
Spells. Attacks. What would Blake think?
Sophie held out her hand to him. Instead of taking it, he cast another worried glanced at her father. She sucked in another wheezy breath, struggling to stay clam in the midst of such turmoil. The room tilted. Sophie closed her eyes until the spinning stopped. All was silent for several long moments, except for her screeching breaths.
When her eyelids fluttered open, Blake met her gaze with an apology in his eyes. She knew in that moment she’d lost him.
He sighed. “Perhaps I have been too hasty. I sincerely apologize, Miss Davenport, but I must withdraw my offer of marriage. I hope you and your parents can forgive me for troubling you so.”
Tears stung Sophie’s eyes. She held out her hand again, hoping—praying—he’d take hold of it. “No, please—”
He skirted around her as if she were a leper, nodded to her mother, then snatched his hat off the hall tree and rushed out the door.
Sophie collapsed in the nearest chair and watched her dreams march down the sidewalk and out of sight. Tears blurred her vision as all hope of a future with Blake died. How could her parents be so cruel as to not even allow Blake to express his interest in her? How could they embarrass her so?
Her father walked to her and leaned over. “Try to calm down, Sophia.”
She jumped up so fast, her head almost rammed his chin. He stumbled backward. The room swerved as she struggled for a decent breath. “How c-could you, Father?”
A wave of guilt washed over his face. “It’s for your own good, you know.”
She clutched the end table for support for a moment, then stumbled past him.
He took her arm. “Here, let me help you, precious.”
“No! Please.” She yanked away. “I can…take care of…myself. I’m a grown woman, and you both need to f-face that fact.” She inhaled a decent breath and then charged on, by pure willpower. “I’m twenty-two and not your little girl anymore. Stop sheltering me…let me live my life. It’s mine to live, not yours to stifle.”
The flash of pain in her father’s eyes only made her feel worse. Her shoes tapped across the entryway as she hurried back to her room—the former library, where her parents had relegated her, as if she were a pariah. She shut the door and collapsed on her bed, wanting to cry but knowing that doing so would only make breathing harder. She slammed her fist against her pillow. “Why, God? Why can’t my parents let me grow up?”
She’d had such hopes. Thought that when her parents met Blake, they’d see what a quality man he was. But they hadn’t even given him a chance. Could she have been mistaken about him? She smacked the bed, a futile outlet for her frustrations and disappointments. Blake hadn’t bothered to fight for her one bit; he’d fled out the door the first chance he’d gotten. She’d tried to prepare him—to warn him about her episodes—but she must have failed.
She barked a cough that sounded like a seal she’d once seen at the menagerie in New York City’s Central Park. Sophie pushed up into a sitting position, in order to breathe better. Blinking, she attempted to force away her tears, but new ones came like the spring rains that flooded the banks of the Mississippi River. Why had God cursed her with this hateful condition?
The door opened, and her mother entered, carrying a tray. Coffee. She despised the foul-tasting stuff, but it was thought to be helpful to people with asthma, as were garlic, whiskey, and a number of other nasty-tasting concoctions.
“How are you, dear?”
Sophie slid back down on the bed and turned to face the wall. She didn’t want to talk—couldn’t talk.
“Don’t be that way. You need to drink this coffee.”
She shook her head.
“Turn over, Sophia.” Her mother’s tone left no room for refusal.
She obeyed but didn’t look at her mother. Instead, she started counting the thin, blue lines in the wallpaper—all nine hundred sixteen of them—as she’d done a thousand other times. Focusing on the task would keep her from weeping and from lashing out in anger.
Her mother blew out a loud breath, then held out the coffee cup. “Drink this.”
Sophie shook her head. “Doesn’t help.” She sucked in a breath, thankful that this episode was a mild one and already beginning to pass, in spite of the day’s traumatic events.
Her mother set the cup back on the tray with a loud clatter and stared across the room. “Whatever made you do such a thing? Don’t you know that young man must have spent hard-earned money to come here? Taken time away from his job, assuming he has one? You gave him false hopes, Sophia, and now he’s wasted a year of his life pursuing a woman he can never have.”
Sophie clenched her eyes shut, losing count of the lines. Did her mother not care that her heart was breaking?
Guilt nibbled its way into her mind like a mouse in a sack of grain. She hadn’t thought how things would affect Blake if they turned sour. She’d been so certain everything would work out in their favor. So certain that she could persuade her parents to let them marry, that she hadn’t considered the negative side. But her mother was right about one thing. Blake had taken leave from his job as bookkeeper for a shoe factory in Chicago so that he could travel to St. Louis to meet her. He had wasted his time and money to come here.
And it was all her fault.
She sucked in a sob.
Her mother patted her shoulder. “There, there. Things will work out.”
Yes, her father would go back to running his company. Her mother would attend her social clubs and church functions. Her sister would continue as a happily married wife and soon-to-be mother, while Sophie would continue her boring existence as a lonely spinster living in her parents’ home.
The bed lifted on one side as her mother stood and quietly left the room. After the door closed, Sophie sat up and stared out the window, at the very place she’d first seen Blake. She hated feeling sorry for herself, and she normally didn’t, but today, her emotions were raw.
She rose from the bed and crossed the room to her desk, where her Bible lay. She picked it up and hugged it to her chest as she gazed out at the garden. Bright yellow butterflies flitted from flower to flower. A big bumblebee disappeared in a clump of pink azaleas. The beauty of God’s creation never failed to cheer her, even on the saddest of days.
Sophie blew out a loud sigh. “Forgive me, Lord, if I’ve been selfish.” She hugged the Bible tighter. “But please, Father, make a way for me to break free from my parents. To prove to them—and to myself—that I can stand on my own. That I can take care of myself. And please, Lord, if it be Your will, send me a man someday who will love me for the woman I am and overlook my…flaws.”
Tears pooled in her eyes, and her throat tightened. “But if it is Your will for me to remain in my parents’ home and to never marry, help me to accept that and to be content.”
If that was the Lord’s will, He certainly had a monumental task ahead.