It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Thomas Nelson (June 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Katie Bond of Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy.***
Cara Lynn James is a debut writer who has received numerous contest awards from Romance Writers of America chapters and the American Christian Fiction Writers. She resides in northwest Florida with her husband Jim. They have two grown children, Justin and Alicia; a grandson, Damian; and Papillion named Sparky.
Visit the author’s website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (June 1, 2010)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
N e w Y o r k C i t y , M ay 1 8 9 3
Jack slowed his pace, his courage once more waning at the sight of the Westbrook home across the way. Anxiety twisted his stomach in a knot. But in the dusky light, Lilly’s glow of confidence reignited his own flame. She understood her parents far better than he did. Since she believed her father would agree to the marriage, why should he hesitate?
Arm-in-arm they strolled across the road. Among the row of fine brick townhouses facing them, the Westbrook house stood three stories tall like all the rest, with long, paned windows overlooking Washington Park.
Mr. Ames, the ancient butler, opened the front door. Jack and Lilly entered the dimly lit foyer.
“Where is my father this evening?” Lilly asked the butler.
“In the back parlor, miss.”
“Shall I go with you, Jack?”
“No,” he whispered, squeezing her hand, “I’d rather do this on my own. Say a prayer all will go well.”
Jack strode toward the parlor, determined to plead his case. Every nerve ending in his body fired with life—and more than a few with apprehension. He’d calm himself and then ask Mr. Westbrook for Lilly’s hand in a respectful tone, solicitous, but not fawning. He’d restrain his usual brash attitude and hope Mr. Westbrook would consent to a marriage most would deem unsuitable. If he weighed the odds of success, he wouldn’t even try.
Jack inhaled a steadying breath and increased his pace down the narrow hallway leading to the back of the house. Gas sconces threw a pale light along the Persian runner that muffled his footsteps to a soft shuffle. The house lay silent except for the noise of a sledge hammer beating against his chest.
Lord, I need a large dose of Your strength. Don’t allow me to cower. I’ve never been a quitter and I don’t want to start now.
He hadn’t asked God for much in the past, but this was too important to rely on his own untested powers.
Jack paused before he came to the door of the back parlor, straightened his bow tie, and squared his shoulders. Voices stopped him before he moved forward. He recognized Mrs. Westbrook’s high, girlish tone. He’d wait for a lull in the conversation, excuse his entry, and then ask to speak to Mr. Westbrook. Jack waited for several minutes before he heard his name.
“Thomas, I noticed Jackson Grail seems especially fond of Lilly. You don’t suppose he wants to marry her, do you?”
Jack winced at the worry in her voice. With his back to the wall he stepped closer to the parlor.
Mr. Westbrook chuckled. “No, my dear, he’s George ’s friend, not Lilly’s. She ’s hardly more than a child.”
“For goodness’ sake. Lilly’s nineteen, certainly old enough to catch the eye of a young man.”
“All right, she ’s not my little girl anymore. But ready for marriage? No, Nessie, I don’t believe so. She has lots of time to choose a mate. There ’s no rush.”
“Hmm. I wouldn’t want her to delay too long. I’ve given considerable thought to her future.”
“I’m sure you have,” Mr. Westbrook murmured. Jack pictured his wry smile.
“Well, it’s my duty as her mother to guide her. Oliver Cross or Pelham Mills come to mind as possible suitors. Maybe Harlan Santerre. He’s such a polite young man and his mother and I have been friends since childhood. Yes, he’s most definitely my first choice.”
Jack let out the breath he’d been holding, knowing he should break away, cease his eavesdropping—
“They’re all acceptable to me. But what about young Grail? You say he might be interested in her. He’s got a good head on his shoulders.”
“But no money in his pocket. Need I say more?”
Jack frowned and tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry.
Mr. Westbrook sighed. “No, my dear. You’re absolutely right. He’s not suitable, though I do like him.”
“I do as well. And now he’s as finely educated as our own George. But he would have to strike it rich quickly in order to court Lilly,” Mrs. Westbrook added. “And that’s highly unlikely.”
“Nearly impossible, I’m afraid. So I hope you’re wrong and young Grail hasn’t set his heart on Lilly.” Her father sighed. “He’s an intelligent boy. I’m sure he’d know better. Especially when she has an ambitious mama anxious to make her the perfect match.”
Mrs. Westbrook laughed. “Thomas, do stop your teasing.”
Jack bumped his shoulder against the curlicues of a large gilt picture frame. Turning to give it a hard shove, he stopped himself. He wouldn’t let his temper get the better of him. Leaving the oil painting crooked, he stumbled down the patterned runner, away from the awful voices. When he came to the foyer he dropped into a rosewood chair and ignored the curious stare from Mr. Ames.
Jack buried his head in his hands and tried to gather his wits before he had to face Lilly. But the Westbrooks’ conversation resounded through his mind. Poor. Unsuitable. Why had he ever thought they’d accept him as a son-in-law? His love for Lilly had banished all reason. He’d lived in a fog of hope these last several months, but now it cleared.
At the sound of light footsteps he looked up. “What did Papa say?” Lilly asked, grasping his hands.
He glanced at her without speaking and then saw his own anguish reflected in her eyes. He so wished his answer could bring her joy. She gently pulled him into the dimly lit sitting room. The sheers and heavy velvet curtains blocked all but the final rays of daylight from seeping through the windows overlooking the park.
They faced each other in front of the unlit marble fireplace, his arms tight around her slim waist, her hands lightly touching his vest.
“Tell me,” she said in a rasping voice, barely audible.
“I never had the chance to ask, Lilly. When I got to the back parlor your parents were already discussing appropriate husbands. And my name wasn’t on the list.”
“That’s because they don’t know we love each other. Papa has never refused me anything. It might take some persuasion, but you can do it. We can approach him together.”
Lovely, pampered Lilly, who owned her father’s heart— except when it came to marriage partners. And marriage among the rich was certainly a business transaction. Their kind never married Jack’s kind. He’d gone to St. Luke ’s and Yale with the wealthy, but as a scholarship student, he didn’t belong to their set no matter how hard he tried to fit in. Maybe he would’ve accepted the impenetrable barrier if Lilly hadn’t swept into his life.
He gazed at her, drinking in her passion, memorizing her large, expressive eyes and flawless skin, her tall, slender form and thick brown hair framing her face.
Her eyes blazed like blue fire. “Come. We ’ll speak to Papa. Right now.”
Jack caught her wrists. “No, I can’t. I’m so sorry. He won’t change his mind. It’s pointless to even ask.” Save me the humiliation.
Her strangled cry pierced his heart. “You won’t even try? We love each other. Isn’t that worth fighting for?” Lilly’s voice rose with disbelief.
How could he explain he couldn’t abide her father’s rejection? He refused to hear again that he wasn’t good enough to court Lilly—once was enough. And he didn’t want her to elope with him without her parents’ approval. Jack groaned. As much as he adored Lilly, he wasn’t acceptable to the family. The daughter of a prosperous banker, Lilly couldn’t marry a man without a family fortune.
“We can marry without their consent. You’ll find a good job. I know you will. Don’t you see, Jack, we don’t need my parents’ permission.”
“But I want their respect.” And he’d never gain their esteem by stealing their daughter away. He turned from her, running a hand through his hair. He ’d been fooling himself. How could he provide for Lilly, care for her in a manner in which she was accustomed? What could he promise her? A one room apartment in a dingy part of town while he made his way in the world, if he ever made it at all. How long before his beautiful, young and idealistic bride would realize she ’d sacrificed too much for an improbable dream? He ’d harm her if he stole her from her family.
He glanced at her and could see in her face the stubborn, naïve hope that lingered there. But he understood reality as she never would. He ’d let his love blossom before he should have.
Jack slowly moved away, steeling himself for the hurt yet to come. “Your parents are right. I’m in no position to marry. I should never have proposed, because I have nothing to offer.”
Lilly rushed to him and flung her arms around his neck, tears spilling down her cheeks. “What about our love? Why do you need more than that?”
“Lilly, we can’t exist on dreams. I have to earn a living. And I can’t support you on a clerk’s salary. You’d miss your old life.”
Her lovely, soft features hardened. “You must think my love is too weak to withstand hardship. It’s strong enough to survive anything. Why do you doubt me so?”
Jack shook his head. “I doubt myself, not you.” What if her confidence in his abilities weren’t warranted? What if he never rose above petty clerk, despite his fancy education? A girl from a society family, proud and successful for generations, could never be content washing laundry, cooking meals, and scrubbing floors on her hands and knees. She ’d grow bitter and resentful.
“I can adapt to less. I don’t care about a beautiful home. I only want you,” she said, her voice rising with frustration.
He wouldn’t argue about the effects of poverty and how it wore on a person. She wouldn’t understand. “If we came from the same background, I wouldn’t hesitate to speak to your father. But we didn’t.”
“But you will. I know it. I’ll wait until you feel ready to marry me. There’s no hurry. I’m patient. I can wait forever.” She pleaded with beautiful eyes glistening with tears.
“No, please don’t wait for me.” Jack’s voice cracked like ice.
He wanted her to wait, but he couldn’t ruin her chances of making a suitable, maybe even a happy marriage. The odds of succeeding in the business world without connections were small. If and when he’d proven himself, he’d return and hope she ’d still want him. And forgive him. But he couldn’t ask her to wait.
He blotted her tears with his handkerchief, but they kept streaming down her face. Her slender shoulders heaved with soft sobs. He kissed her again gently and then retreated to his bedroom before he was tempted to crush her in his arms and beg her to elope. He’d planned to stay for the week as George ’s guest, but now he needed to leave quickly.
Within ten minutes he was gone.
Jack’s heart slammed against his ribs. The past two weeks had been a misery. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t eat. Go back, go back! his mind and heart screamed. You’ve made a terrible mistake! His stomach roiling, Jack fought to keep a dignified pace and not run all the way to Washington Square. At last, he stood before the Westbrook home and tapped the front door knocker against the heavy wood.
He’d explain he couldn’t manage without her and his infernal pride had blocked his common sense and their tender love. Would she accept his apology? They’d work something out. He didn’t know how exactly, but they would. He knew their union was sanctioned, indeed designed, by God.
Mr. Ames pulled the heavy door open. “May I help you, sir?”
“Yes. Is Miss Westbrook at home?”
The hunched-over butler shook his head. “They’ve all gone abroad. They sailed yesterday.”
Jack’s cautious optimism collapsed in a heap of despair. “And when will they return?”
Next spring. Jack groaned. “G-Good day,” he mumbled, turning from the door.
I’m too late. I’ve lost her.
* * * * *
N e w p o rt , R h o d e I s l a n d — J u ly 1 8 9 9
Six years later
With a deep sigh of satisfaction, Lilly Westbrook whipped the last page of her manuscript out of the Underwood typewriter. Carefully she shredded the carbon and threw the messy strips into the wastebasket. No meddlesome maid could possibly reconstruct her work and tattle to Mama.
For a moment, a wave of sadness overshadowed the pleasure she felt at finishing another story. How she longed to share her secret with her mother, but as much as Lilly hated deception, she knew Mama would never understand. Mama was proud of her for dabbling in poetry, but this?
No. It was best to stay behind closed doors to write her dime novels.
Lilly shuddered to think of the disgrace she ’d bring upon herself and, even worse, upon her family, if her secret was revealed. The very notion of social ostracism weakened her knees and left her legs wobbly. A twinge of guilt pinched her conscience as it often did when she considered her concealment. Yet why look for trouble when her work was progressing so well?
Lilly scrubbed her hands until all evidence of the carbon paper and inky ribbon disappeared into the washbasin near her bed, then covered the typewriter Mama had given her as a birthday gift a few years before. Mama thought a typing machine unnecessary for a poet, but she wasn’t one to begrudge her children anything within reason.
Lilly withdrew a letter from her skirt pocket and smiled as she re-read the last lines.
My dear Lilly,
I want to again express my thanks for all you’ve contributed to the Christian Settlement House of New York. We so value the time and effort you have devoted to assisting our young ladies with their sundry life skills and English fluency. Your exceptional generosity and financial support have enabled us to continue our work in accordance with the Lord’s purposes.
Phoebe Diller, Director
Miss Diller’s kind words sent a rush of warmth to Lilly’s heart and strengthened her resolve to continue writing. For without the profits from her novels, she couldn’t afford to donate more than a few dollars to her favorite charity. How could she possibly quit writing when her romance novels provided so many blessings to others?
Lilly locked the final chapter in the rolltop desk by the bay window and hid the key beneath the lining of her keepsake box.
Time for a well-deserved walk by the sea. She removed her reading spectacles and placed her straw hat decorated with bright poppies squarely on top of her upswept hair. After a last furtive glance toward the desk, she left her bedroom to the morning sunshine that splashed across the shiny oak floor and floral carpet.
All the way down the staircase she congratulated herself for typing “The End” of her story, though it was only a few days before deadline. That was much too close for comfort. She sighed.
Too many social events had disrupted her normal writing routine this summer. But she had no choice but to force a smile and attend the functions, even though most of them bored her to distraction.
She wouldn’t think of that now. At least she’d finished the manuscript before the deadline and for that she’d treat herself to a few minutes out of her room. With a light heart, she strolled through the deserted foyer, past Mr. Ames, the butler, and out the front door. A beautiful day greeted her with its sun-blessed smile.
As she crossed the veranda, her sister-in-law Irene Westbrook, seated at the end of the porch, peered over a small, familiar book. The lurid cover of Lilly’s latest novel, Dorothea’s Dilemma, popped out in garish color. Lilly stopped short and pressed her palm over her gyrating heart.
“Oh my,” she murmured. She’d never expected to see one of her novels in her own home, let alone in the hands of her brother’s wife.
Irene smoothed her halo of silky blonde curls caught up in a loose pompadour. She laid the slim paperback on her lap, her eyes gleaming with curiosity. “Why hello, Lilly. Where have you been on this beautiful afternoon? Cooped up in your bedroom again? My goodness, what do you do in there all day?”
“Sometimes I enjoy a few hours of solitude.” Lilly’s nerves seized control of her voice and it rose like the screech of a seagull. “I’m sorry I interrupted your reading.” Heat crept into her skin as Irene watched her, face aglow with interest.
“Do sit down, Lilly.”
She slipped into a wicker chair opposite Irene. A gust of salty air, typical of Newport’s summer weather, blew in from the Atlantic and brushed its cool breath across her cheeks. She prayed it would fade the red splotches that came so easily when embarrassment struck.
Irene cocked her head. “Is something wrong? You look positively ill.”
“No, I’m fine.” Though every fiber of her body continued to quiver, Lilly steadied her breathing. She folded her hands in the lap of her charcoal-gray skirt and willed them not to shake.
“You aren’t shocked by my novel, are you?” Irene smirked.
“Of course not.” Lilly squirmed around on the soft chintz cushion and avoided Irene ’s skeptical stare. “Why should I be shocked?”
Irene leaned forward. “Some people claim dime novels are trash, and from your reaction I thought you might be one of those faultfinders. Of course they’re wrong. These books are filled with adventure and I love adventure.” She rolled the last word around her tongue like a stream of honey.
Irene, the niece of Quentin Kirby, one of San Francisco’s silver kings, fancied herself an adventuress, but Lilly inwardly disagreed. Irene merely appreciated fun and frivolity more than most. That hardly made her a woman like the heroines of Lilly’s books. “I’m so sorry, Irene. I didn’t mean to criticize your choice of books. I just wondered where you obtained your copy.”
“I discovered it in the kitchen while I was searching for a blueberry tart.” Irene grinned as if Lilly ought to admire her cleverness. “One of the scullery maids must have left it there.”
“You took it without asking permission?” Lilly could scarcely believe Irene had wandered downstairs to the basement kitchen, the domain of servants who strongly disapproved of visitors, even the family.
“Why yes. Well no, not exactly. I borrowed it. As soon as I finish reading, I’ll give it back. Of course.” Irene tapped the big, red letters spelling out the author’s name across the cover. “Fannie Cole. She’s a splendid writer, the very best. Have you ever read any of her books? I devour them like chocolate.”
Lilly’s heart lurched. “Naturally I’ve heard of her. I believe her stories are rather popular.”
At the sound of the front door squeaking open, Lilly looked away with relief.
Mama bustled onto the veranda, a frown knitting her eyebrows. “What’s that about Fannie Cole? She’s quite infamous, I hear.” Glancing from Lilly to Irene, Mama’s eyelashes fluttered, a sure sign of agitation. “Oh, I see you have one of her books . . .”
Lilly knew her mother couldn’t let this breach of propriety pass without comment. On the other hand, the kind and ever tactful Vanessa Westbrook would hate to offend her new daughter-in- law.
“Mama, Fannie Cole writes harmless fiction. You needn’t worry.” Lilly smiled her assurance, hoping she’d veer off to another topic.
Her mother sunk into a wicker chair beside Irene. “Perhaps, my dear, but you must admit, there are so many more uplifting novels.” She patted Irene ’s arm, which was robed in a cream silk blouse that matched the lace of her skirt. “Lillian is a poet, you know. Her work is delightful. You must read it. I’ll go fetch you a copy.”
Lilly cringed. “No, Mama. I wrote those poems years ago. She wouldn’t be interested in the meanderings of an eighteen-yearold ninny. It’s sentimental tripe.”
“Nonsense, my dear. You’ve always been much too critical of yourself.”
“Nevertheless, I’m sure Irene would prefer Fannie Cole.” Who wouldn’t? Lilly thought. Still, she appreciated her mother’s enthusiasm for her meager literary efforts.
Irene tossed her a wide, grateful smile. “There, that’s settled.”
Mama’s round, girlish face tightened with distaste. “I wish you wouldn’t read dime novels because . . .” She looked toward Lilly for support.
“Really, Mama.” Lilly softened her voice, not meaning to scold. “While some of the dime novels are sensational, others are written to help working girls avoid the pitfalls of city life. They’re moralistic tales that encourage virtue. Nothing to be ashamed of reading.” Or writing.
“Exactly.” Irene beamed. “I couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, I read for the story, not the moral lesson, but I’m sure it’s beneficial for those who enjoy a good sermon.”
Lilly suppressed a sigh of resignation. “No doubt Miss Cole hopes and prays her words touch the hearts of her readers and bring them closer to the Lord.” Lilly looked at Mama and Irene, hoping they’d somehow understand her purpose and approve.
But both looked puzzled over her words.
Irene ’s gaze narrowed. “An odd way to spread the gospel, don’t you think?”
“Not at all. The Lord is more creative than we are.” Lilly bristled and then glanced away when she found her mother and sister-in-law still staring at her.
She’d spoken up much more forcefully than she intended. With a sinking heart, Lilly realized Mama would never accept her viewpoint; it flew in the face of beliefs and opinions ingrained since childhood.
Irene picked up a sheet of paper resting on a small table between two pots of ferns and waved it like a flag on the Fourth of July. Lilly immediately recognized Talk of the Town, a gossip rag published by that scandalmonger, Colonel MacIntyre, the bane of Newport society. He shot fear into the hearts of all upstanding people and others who weren’t quite so virtuous.
Lilly swallowed hard. Mama gasped. Her pale skin whitened. “Oh my dear, that’s hardly appropriate for a respectable home.”
Irene shrugged. “Perhaps not. But if you don’t mind my saying so, it’s great fun to read. I’m learning the crème de la crème of Newport are up to all kinds of mischief.” She laughed with pleasure.
“Listen to this.” Irene leaned forward. “One hears that Miss Fannie Cole, author of wildly popular dime novels, has taken up residence at one of the ocean villas for the season. The talk about town claims this writer of sensational—some might even say salacious— stories, belongs to the New York and Newport aristocracy. Which of our fine debutantes or matrons writes under the nom de plume, Fannie Cole?
Speculation runs rampant. Would the talented but mysterious author of Dorothea’s Dilemma, Hearts in Tune, and several other delectable novels please come forward and identify herself for her public?”
Lilly’s throat closed. She clamped her hands down on her lap, but they shook like a hummingbird’s wings. Had a maid or a footman stumbled across her secret and sold the information? Colonel Rufus MacIntyre of Talk of the Town paid handsomely for gossip. No one was safe from his long, grasping tentacles, including some of the most prominent people in society.
“The colonel has mentioned Miss Cole in his column for the last two weeks, so I expect we’ll hear more about her during the summer.” Irene grinned as she studied the sheet. “I wonder who she is. I’d love to meet her.”
Mama’s mouth puckered into a small circle. “Undoubtedly someone from the wrong side of the tracks. No one we’d know.” She punctuated her words with a firm nod.
Irene persisted. “You must have an idea, Lilly. You seem to know everything that’s going on in society.”
Lilly turned away, sure that a red stain had again spilled across her pale skin. Her sister-in-law was right. She did listen to all the tittle-tattle, but she prided herself on her discretion. The foibles of her set provided grist for her novels, not for spreading rumors and innuendo.
“You give me far too much credit, Irene.” She hated to dodge questions to keep from lying, but what was her option short of confessing? She twisted the cameo at the neck of her tailored shirtwaist.
Mama wagged her finger. “Mark my words. By the end of the summer someone will discover Fannie Cole’s true name and announce it to the entire town. Oh, my. What humiliation she ’ll bring upon her family. They’ll be mortified.”
“How delicious,” Irene murmured.
Lilly groaned inwardly. Her subterfuge gnawed at her conscience, worsening day by day, but she couldn’t turn back the clock and reconsider her decision to write in secret.
She rose. “Will you excuse me? I need to take my walk now.”
With her head held high and as much poise as she could muster, Lilly descended the veranda’s shallow steps. She strode across the wide, sloping lawn that surrounded Summerhill, the old twenty-two-room mansion the Westbrooks rented for the season.
Once she reached the giant rocks that separated the grounds from the ocean, she picked her way over to a smooth boulder that doubled for a bench. As she ’d done every day since her arrival three weeks ago, Lilly settled onto its cold surface. Instead of watching the breakers pound against the coast and absorb the majesty of nature ’s rhythm, she rested her head in her hands and let the breeze brush against her face.
What would happen if her beau, Harlan Santerre, discovered that she and Fannie Cole were the same person? The wealthy railroad heir, a guest of the family for the eight weeks of summer, miraculously seemed ripe to propose. Her mother kept reminding her how grateful she should be that such a solid, upstanding man
as Harlan Santerre had shown interest in a twenty-five-year-old spinster with no grand fortune and no great beauty. Mama and the entire family would be humiliated if her writing became public knowledge and Harlan turned his attention elsewhere.
Yet the Holy Ghost had urged her to compose her simple stories, and as she wrote, her melancholy gradually faded. Her enthusiasm never waned thanks to the joy she received from doing the Lord’s work. Why would He allow someone to ruin her and end the good deeds she accomplished? He should smite her enemies instead. All her life she ’d trusted the Lord to guide her and protect her, but never had she needed His help more than now. But would He continue to shield her?
Trembling, Lilly tossed a stone into the roiling surf and watched it sink into the foamy white waves. What if the surge of curiosity aroused by Colonel MacIntyre didn’t fade away and everything she held dear was threatened?
Lilly Westbrook is the privileged daughter of a prominent family who feels obligated to meet their expectations but cannot restrain herself from writing those scandalous dime novels under the pen name of Fannie Cole. If members of Newport society were to find out her secret, the entire family would be shamed. To compensate for her rebellion, Lilly has agreed to marry a suitable man although her heart still mourns the loss of an earlier love who did not measure up to family expectations.
Things get interesting when that former suitor, Jackson Grail shows up for a visit with Lilly’s brother at their rented summer estate at the seashore and it is obvious that his expectations are quite different from Lilly’s. Her situation becomes even more complex when a gossip columnist begins a public campaign to uncover the true identity of Fannie Cole and it escalates into blackmail attempts. So the big questions are – Will Lilly and Jackson get back together? – What will Lilly do about her secret occupation? – Will her family find out and if so how will they react? You will just have to pick up a copy of Love on a Dime to find out for yourself. I have not even begun to hint at a fraction of what goes on in the book.
Love on a Dime is a pretty good story for a first novel. I would have liked to have seen a bit more interaction and conversation between the characters but overall the author is definitely on the right track. I look forward to the next installment of the Ladies of Summerhill.