Valentines heat ii, p.1
Valentines Heat II, page 1
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Look for these titles from the Authors
MOONSTONE PROMISE by Elizabeth Ellen Carter
About Elizabeth Ellen Carter
Also by Elizabeth Ellen Carter
A PERFECT JUDGE by Cynthia Hampton
About Cynthia Hampton
Coming Soon from Cynthia Hampton
More Valentines Heat from Etopia Press
Look for these titles from the Authors
By Elizabeth Ellen Carter
Coming Soon from Cynthia Hampton
More Valentines Heat Anthologies
Valentines Heat I (Paranormal/Urban Fantasy)
Ally Shields, Nessie Strange, Keith Melton, CL Bledsoe
Valentines Heat II (Historical/Contemporary Romance)
Elizabeth Ellen Carter, Cynthia Hampton
Valentines Heat III (Erotic Paranormal/Sci-Fi Romance)
Christy Gissendaner, Jayne Ripley
Valentines Heat IV (Erotic and Ménage Romance)
Anne Lange, Nikki Dee Houston, Lyssa Jackson, Arianna Archer
Valentines Heat II
Historical Romance and Contemporary Romance
Elizabeth Ellen Carter
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
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Valentines Heat II
“Moonstone Promise” Copyright © 2015 by Elizabeth Ellen Carter
“A Perfect Judge” Copyright © 2015 by Cynthia Hampton
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First Etopia Press electronic publication: February 2015
~ Dedication ~
To everyone who has asked me to give Toby his own Happily Ever After.
MOONSTONE PROMISE by Elizabeth Ellen Carter
1 February, 1791
The siren wailed, its long, mournful cry echoing down Coal Hill in a single-mouthed chorus, alerting those in the town below. Ann Sellars stopped tending the till at the first note, hoping it was her imagination and not the warning siren from the mines across the Monongahela River, but it continued.
Dread filled her.
“Is it the Penventen?” she asked, keeping her voice steady. Ann’s young assistant swung the telescope in the display window toward the mountain overlooking Pittsburgh and peered up at the hills.
“Can’t tell,” Patience Lockwood answered. “I don’t see any rushing about the camp though.”
Ann breathed out a prayer and locked the cash box. There would be no more customers today. She stepped outside where the siren screamed louder. The townsfolk on the street gravitated to the building that housed the offices of the three district mining companies, Penventen, Valentine, and Yankee Star.
A crowd had already gathered. Worried faces expressed their fears more eloquently than words. Fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands all worked those pits. When the sirens sounded like this, not all of them would be returning home.
“Any word?” Ann queried, tapping an old man gently on the shoulder.
“No, Mrs. Sellars. I think it’s the Star. My boy works there…”
She didn’t try to reassure him. She knew what it was like to have well-meaning folk tell you everything was going to be all right.
But it wasn’t. They knew it, and she knew it.
The siren eventually stopped. An hour dragged by, but the crowd did not disperse. Finally, a smartly dressed man, a manager, climbed ashen-faced and grim onto the back of a flatbed wagon.
“A shaft has collapsed in the Yankee Star. Thirty-nine men are trapped.” He cleared his throat. “We’re grateful for the support of our colleagues at Penventen and Valentine who have promised men and equipment. I assure you, we will be working night and day to bring the men home.”
The Reverend Greenwood stepped up to the makeshift podium to announce the church would be open through the night. The rescuers needed food, and the families needed comfort. The church stood ready to offer both.
Ann would be there. How could she not? Nearly four years ago she learned she had become a widow at twenty-three.
She turned toward the church where schoolchildren milled on the grass, their lessons disrupted by the emergency. An endless stream of people entered the building to prepare for the rescuers and any men they could bring home.
Her son, aged six, rushed toward her. He had her coloring in his soft brown hair and blue eyes. There was very little of his father in young Andrew’s looks, but his personality was another matter entirely.
Andrew looked up at her. “We heard the siren. Is it Mr. Jackson’s mine?” They had become close to the Penventen miners and particularly to manager Toby Jackson.
Ann shook her head. “It’s the Yankee Star.”
The revelation didn’t cheer the lad. He had friends whose fathers worked there.
“What can we do, Mama? I want to go up and help but…” Andrew shuffled his feet. He was such a serious young boy, mindful that he was the man of the house.
“Well, we can pray, and you can help Patience and Ruth with preparing supper—or you can help me count out equipment the men might need for the rescue.”
Andrew perked up at the suggestion of something manly to do.
She led him down the long, straight street away from the church, stepping clear of the traffic that had increased since the alarm.
“I wish Mr. Jackson was here,” the youngster admitted after a period of silence. “When did the letter say he’d be back?”
“It’s the same as the last time you asked, two weeks’ time.” Not that Ann would tell her son, but she had memorized every word of the letter she’d received three days ago: Toby had arrived in New York safely after the voyage from England, and he had much to tell her, which he would do in person.
He had proposed marriage at their last meeting a
It seemed too soon after the loss of Robert, but now after twelve months without Toby’s slow and steady courtship, she missed him terribly and was ready to call what she felt for him love.
And what of Toby? Had twelve months away in civilized England dampened his love of pioneer life in the United States? She had received only three letters from him in all that time. Would he return with his feelings for her changed?
The first letter had been filled with details of ancient castles and cathedrals and the family of his friend, James Mitchell—the sixth baronet of Penventen if you please, although James had never made much of his title when he’d lived here in Pittsburgh.
That was one of the things she liked about him. He might have been one of the successful men in town, but he was no Lord Mucky-muck, despite being friends with William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of England, and Pitt’s father, the man after whom their very town was named.
Sellars’s Mercantile was on the main shopping street. Rather than unlock the shop door, she steered Andrew down the lane alongside the private entrance to their home behind the shop. The housekeeper, a large Irish woman called Ruth, was already in the kitchen if the sound of banging pots was any indication.
“Patience! We’re going to need more potatoes. Where are you, girl?” Ruth called, her voice accompanied by a bustling that could be heard from the kitchen to the parlor where she stopped short at seeing Ann.
“Oh, Mrs. Sellars,” she said, her round face flushing red, “I didn’t know you were back.”
Ann waved off the apology just as Patience appeared at the door with a young man in tow, a hessian sack over his shoulder.
“I thought you might be needing more potatoes,” Patience called across the room to the housekeeper, and she directed the young man down the hall to the kitchen.
Ann left the two women to the cooking. She and the boy would only be in their way. She fished for the keys in her practical leather purse and unlocked the door that led through the storeroom to the mercantile. It would be faster to count the stock in the backroom herself, but Andrew wanted to help. She reasoned he would sleep more soundly tonight if allowed to exhaust himself on something he believed would make a difference to the men in the pit.
Shovels, ropes, lamps and blankets, picks and crowbars—all would be needed to help those who could be saved. The accounting would come later. The clock in the hallway chimed a half hour. Ann prepared a list and dispatched Andrew with a note for the Yankee Star foreman that additional equipment awaited his use.
He would not begrudge it. Neither would he resent taking help from a woman.
She had proved herself in business over the past two years, though admittedly, her venture was made easier with the patronage of the owner and the manager of the Penventen Mining Company.
Dear God, it seemed only yesterday in some ways, yet also an age ago. A long night, just like this one. Before she owned the mercantile, before…
Ann pulled herself from her reflections and joined Ruth and Patience in the kitchen. Doing something would stop the haunting memories, at least for a while.
Eighteen Months Earlier
Dear Ann, Mrs. Sellars, Ann
I hardly know how to address you after our last meeting. I suppose I can understand why you refused my proposal of marriage, but still…
Anyway, you didn’t forbid me to write to you, so I am; I’ll presume you haven’t revoked the privilege of calling you by your first name. If I am mistaken, then correct me now and accept my apologies.
Now, let me see if I can steer this letter onto safer subjects.
England is both larger and smaller than I imagined. St. Paul’s Cathedral is the biggest building I have ever seen, but the streets are small and so are the houses Londoners live in. I’m no artist, so I bought a sketch from one of the street artists, which I have included.
We travel to Cornwall to James’s ancestral home next week. He promises me I’ll like it better than the city. I know I can tell you this in confidence, but there seems to be no love lost between James and his mother.
James seems different here, less happy, although I suppose that is to be understood. His father has died and there seems to be a lot of work to do bringing the estate accounts to order. Hence our trip to Padstow.
I met another person of interest. A Lady Abigail Houghall. I mean, that is her title; she is a real-life lady. I was aware there was someone in James’s past who hurt him badly, and I’ve come to suspect it is she, yet he seems all too ready to fall into her clutches once more.
Anyway, enough of me. How are you? And Andrew? Tell him there will be a gift for him with my next letter. How’s the mercantile? Do you control half of Pittsburgh yet? And please tell me Mr. David Neville is no longer a bother.
Yours in friendship (and more if you agree)
London, August, 1789
* * *
Fourteen Months Earlier
Ann was at the church, helping nurse the badly burned men. There was no possibility of sleep, not while her husband was still missing. Robert was a mining engineer and shouldn’t have been at the Penventen pit today, but he’d insisted he wanted to see the opening of the new branch for himself.
Ruth had assured her hours ago that Andrew still slept and that she would send word when he awoke; perhaps there would be news of his father then. Until it came, Ann would stay, bathing wounds and holding the weak hands of men who were too far gone in their injuries to cry out pain.
The men so far rescued from Penventen Mine were badly injured. It had been a firedamp explosion, and six men, including her Robert, were still missing. Ann watched the preacher pray for one of the men who lay still—much too still—on a cot. Another life lost. How many more?
A red sunrise marked the dawn of the new day, and four men staggered into the church, their clothes filthy, faces blackened, exhaustion evident in every movement, grief written on their faces.
One woman grasped the import before anyone else and wailed hysterically. She was ushered outside by the minister and his wife. Two other women went to comfort the poor woman. Two of the men slumped wearily onto a pew.
The remaining two, men she knew by sight as the mine owner, James Mitchell, and his foreman, Toby Jackson, approached. Together, they went to one woman and then another to personally deliver the bad news. Ann lowered herself onto a chair in the corner and busied her hands rolling bandages.
Perhaps they would pass her by. Perhaps Robert was safe and helping up at the mine…
If they didn’t make eye contact with her, he was safe.
And yet with every beat of her heart, she knew.
She knew, she knew, she knew…
“Mrs. Sellars?” asked the blond one, Jackson. She nodded. He turned to the dark-haired Englishman.
“Mrs. Sellars, I…” James Mitchell cleared his throat, his voice hard and dry. “I regret to inform you your husband is dead. I want to express my most sincere condolences and give you my personal assurance that you and your children will be taken care of.”
It was plainly a speech he had given more than once today, but it seemed no less sincere for the repetition. It was clear by the pain in the man’s eyes.
Jackson spoke, drawing her attention back to him. “I believe you have a son?”
Ann nodded mutely, not trusting herself to speak; if she did, her veneer of composure would crack. They stared at one another. Anguished disbelief was evident on her face from the answering expressions of regret from both the men before her.
Yesterday she had been a wife. Today she was a widow. Her mind processed what her heart would not.
New arrivals walked into the church, a day shift of helpers who would nurse the wounded and see to the care of the newly bereaved. Mitchell acknowledged them with a nod of his head and turned to Jackson.
“Could you escort Mrs. Sellars home? Then get some
Jackson returned a frown. “You’re nearly out on your feet yourself. Surely it can wait until you’ve rested too.”
Strangely detached from the grief wracking her, Ann’s tired mind noted the unusual relationship between the men, more friends that employer and employee.
Jackson’s admonishment was answered with a pat on the shoulder, a demonstration of camaraderie. “I’ll find time to rest soon enough.” The mine owner moved away to exchange a few quiet words with Reverend Greenwood before disappearing into the sunshine outside.
Ann turned at the gentle enquiry.
“Are you ready?”
She nodded and followed Toby Jackson outside, where the spring day seemed heedless of the tragedy it witnessed. It was strange; it didn’t seem right. Ann stared at the rose garden in the churchyard. Surely the flowers should be different; the clouds, the town, the steady stream of horse-drawn traffic on the street looked unreasonably unaffected and out of place.
She didn’t react when Jackson assisted her into a buggy and set the horses into a sedate trot. The shops, saloons, and houses seemed familiar but were not. Ann turned to the man beside her and blinked in surprise. He wasn’t Robert… No, that’s right, Robert was dead. The man with the reins was Tobias Jackson. Mr. Mitchell’s man.
The buggy pulled up outside a modest but well-kept little house. It looked like her house. That must be why Mr. Jackson pulled on the brake and jumped down. The door opened and the housekeeper, Ruth, ran out, tears streaming down her face. “Mrs. Sellars, oh, Mrs. Sellars…”
It’s all right, Ruth, she wanted to say. He’s not dead. Robert’s not dead. But the words wouldn’t clear her throat.
Jackson stood beside the buggy, his hand raised, ready to help her down. His face looked fierce, smeared with dirt and sporting a days’ worth of reddish-colored stubble. His mouth was a tired line, his clothes filthy. She placed her hand in his and felt warm for the first time in hours.
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