The Heiress's Courtship (Heartsong Presents)

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9780373486892: The Heiress's Courtship (Heartsong Presents)

LIBERTY JUDD IS A RULE BREAKER 

The Chicago heiress has shaken off the trappings of society—and the man who crushed her heart—to follow her artistic dreams. But when Gerrett Divine suddenly reappears in her life, she can't ignore the way she still feels about him. 

Architect Gerrett Divine IV has always been the dutiful son—that's why he plans to marry a woman he doesn't love. But when he meets Liberty again, that resolve is severely tested. Can he go through with an arranged marriage just to please his family, or will he make a leap of faith and choose the free-spirited woman who captivates him?

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Gina's first manuscript featured a traveling gypsy circus, twins separated from birth, a duke, his secret baby, masque balls, and sword-fighting on rooftops all in in Regency England. Twenty years later, she learned plots possible to write aren't necessarily plots possible to published. Gina and her pastor-husband and their five children live in Oklahoma. When she's not writing or having family fun moments, she pondering if applying to be on the next season of Survivor is worth the exercise.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Hillsdale, Michigan, February 1856

The Reverend Scott didn't even know he had ruined her life. He would, after Liberty Judd confronted him. In the meantime, she patiently listened to the engine's brakes screech to a halt at the Hillsdale station.

Her parents would be horrified to learn she'd sat on a burlap sack in a pitch-black railcar instead of on a seat in a private coach. The mail train's passenger car had been full. To return to Hillsdale tonight, her only option had been a seat in the baggage car—given only because she'd begged repeatedly and offered a more than generous price. She'd even been in too much of a hurry to take the time to change out of the olive-green ballgown she'd sewn specifically for her stepmother's fortieth birthday extravaganza. The same ball she should be enjoying instead of fleeing Chicago on the Southern Michigan Railroad's last eastbound train.

Not only did she likely smell of the smoke seeping through the car's wood-planked walls, but her gown and winter cloak were filthy, her pocketbook empty and her life miserable. At least she'd wisely exchanged her dancing slippers for woolen socks and sturdy winter boots before her preball escape.

The baggage car's center doors slid open with a harsh squeak, paining her already noise-weary ears, sending in an onslaught of wintry wind and snow flurries to bite at her face.

"Miss Judd," said the gravelly-voiced engineer, "you ready?"

"Yes, sir," Liberty said over the engine's clamor.

She stood and drew her fur-lined cloak's hood over her head, then stepped to the open doors. Steam from the churning engine billowed about. Under the glow of the gas lamps, she noticed the redness of the engineer's nose and cheeks, and she imagined she looked the same. Her face certainly felt cold.

"I am much obliged for the assistance." Like Cinderella returning home from the ball at midnight, she placed her leather-gloved hands in those of the engineer and the baggage-master. As they helped her down from the baggage car to the depot's snow-covered wooden platform, she added, "I'm sorry I put you even further behind schedule."

"The blizzard is the sole blame." The engineer's frown deepened. He touched the brim of his hat, muttered, "Evening," and walked toward the engine.

A heavy gust of snow blew across the platform. Her crinoline belled. Liberty shivered and drew her fur-lined cloak tighter across her chest. After hurrying into the stove-warmed telegraph office, she rested against the closed door. If she weren't still so angry at her parents and at the Reverend Scott, she'd fall to the ground and give in to the tears she'd fought during the slower-than-normal train ride. Only she wouldn't cry, because doing so would validate her parents' view that, fitting for her twenty-two years, she was "selfish and immature." She felt her upper lip curl.

She'd spent too many years as their doormat. Time to pick herself up and walk—no, flee—away.

"Uhh, Miss Judd, why are you here at this hour?"

Liberty drew back her hood, sending snowflakes fluttering to the ground. Almost midnight!

"Charlie, I must send an immediate telegram," she said to the rotund telegrapher standing behind the counter. "Could I impose upon you to loan me the money until later?" She held up her beaded pocketbook. "I would leave this as collateral."

"Keep it, Miss Judd. Paying for your telegram is the least I can do considering you altered my suit again without charge."

"I insist upon a loan. The alteration was a gift."

"But I—" Clearly convinced by her I-insist look, his words broke off, and he picked up his pencil in preparation to write her message. Then he eyed her strangely. "Why are you wearing a tiara?"

She touched the diamond-and-emerald circlet her stepmother had inserted in her strawberry-blond hair, before Father informed her that she would not be returning to Hillsdale to finish the semester. Instead, the youngest member of his advisory board, Mr. Xavier Peabody, Esq., would propose to her at the ball, and she would accept.

Liberty lowered her hand and sighed.

"It's a wretched and tedious story." No one at the school or in the village, save for a select few, knew of her parents' wealth. She'd prefer to keep it that way. "The telegram needs to say, 'Back in Hillsdale. Will return in June per original agreement.'" Unless I've figured out a way to live on my own without your interference.

After giving her parents' names and address, she glanced at the frost-covered window. If she were staying in the ladies' dormitory instead of Bentzes' Boarding-house, she would have three times the distance to walk. Although, thinking of school—

She focused on Charlie and maintained as much calmness as she could despite the sinking feeling in her stomach. "Could you not tell Lady Principal Whipple of my midnight arrival?"

"Ahh, those dastardly deportment rules."

Seeing his grin, she smiled, too. "I have succeeded thus far in not breaking any. I would rather not begin tonight." Or do anything to risk being expelled.

The locomotive's whistle blew—a deep, guttural sound. A forlorn call in the night.

Liberty stepped to the window to watch the train ease out of the station. The vibrations under her feet increased along with the compounded chugging sound. She grabbed the window frame to hold steady.

One…two…three…

She continued to count as each boxcar slowly passed. From what she could tell, everyone in the lone passenger car was asleep. Not that she blamed them. The normal four-hour ride from Chicago to Hillsdale had taken almost twice as long tonight with nothing to watch sail by except snow.

Charlie then focused on a paper in his left hand while his right was poised over the iron telegraph. He started tapping. Likely he would first contact the Adrian depot, the next stop before Toledo, before sending her message.

Not wanting to disturb him, Liberty exited the telegraph office and released an immediate groan at the crisp wind. She hurried past the Freed family's carriage parked next to the depot, with their driver, Jonas, likely keeping warm inside. Was Dalton Freed finally returning home? Less concerned with gossip than with getting to a comforting fire, she dashed down the street. Her boots crunched on the snow, sinking several inches into what had accumulated throughout the evening, soaking the bottom flounce of her gown.

One more block and around the corner and she'd be at the boardinghouse.

No matter how dreadful she felt at the moment, life would have been worse had she never left Chicago four months ago. She didn't care about impressing everyone with the latest innovations from New York and London, or attending parties for the sole purpose of being seen, or pretending to enjoy the opera. Always smile. Sit up straight. Eat the snails even if you don't like them.

Artifice and pretense.

Thank the Lord she had never married Gerrett Divine. Life as his perfect society wife would have been suffocating. Not that he'd ever asked her to marry him. Not that he'd even cared that she'd loved him. She had, though. Faithfully. Desperately. Miserably. Wastedly.

With a sad chuckle, she turned the corner on the last block to the boardinghouse. Love should never make a person feel less. That's why she wasn't going back to Chicago and agreeing to her parents' demand. She'd find a way to support herself, to stay in college. After all, this was 1856, not 1756. The world was evolving, despite her parents' wishes, and like her roommate, Katie, she was joining that change.

Maybe she would open a sewing shop like Katie kept suggesting.

BOOM. At the sound of the explosion, Liberty jolted to a stop. Time seemed to stand still. A sliver of smoke snaked from the boardinghouse's chimney. Despite the placidness of the immediate view, Liberty looked beyond the boardinghouse. In the distance, in the direction of the sound, a section of the charcoal night sky grew pink and brighter. Almost aflame.

That would be about where the railroad track curves—

She gasped, then darted across the street and into the boardinghouse.

She slammed the door. "Ursula! Josef! Oh, Katie, there you are! Why are you still up?"

Dr. Katie Clark stood from her seat at one of the four dining hall tables. The anatomy students she was tutoring stood, too. Doors throughout the boardinghouse opened and slammed closed; stomping across the floor overhead increased.

"Why are you back?" Katie asked with a what-have-you-done-this-time gleam in her eyes. "You aren't supposed to return from Chicago until Sunday."

"Doesn't matter. Train wreck!"

Liberty and Katie arrived at the crash not long after the explosion. Ash mixed with the falling snow and spreading smoke. Eastbound and westbound passengers were exiting the upright cars, some carrying children. Liberty forced down her tears and wished her train had only tipped over, instead of slamming into another engine.

She stayed in the six-passenger sleigh while Katie and her study group climbed out. Until she had train wreck victims to transport back to Hillsdale, she had nothing to do but watch and pray.

Myriad sleighs and wagons pulled up next to them.

Katie, holding a lantern high, commanded the attention of those around her. "Spread out along the tracks. We don't want to miss any victims who might have been thrown free of the wreckage."

With a collective nod, the students fanned out.

Katie then looked over her shoulder at the village of Hillsdale in the distance. Her eyes closed.

Assuming she was praying, Liberty followed suit. Help us save these people, Jesus. Help me not panic. Help Katie know exactly what to do, although I really don't know why I'm praying that because Katie always knows what to—

At Katie's "hello," Liberty opened her eyes. Her roommate trudged through the snow toward the bungled cars of the westbound train. The cries from passengers grew with each passing moment. Men worked frantically to put out the fire in the eastbound mail car.

Her attention drew to a college student standing on the top of a passenger car lying on its side. George Quacken-bush held a lantern while motioning to someone below. Soon he stepped back, and a man wearing a fur-trimmed greatcoat climbed through a side window. Once through, the man reached down, lifted out a crying child and gave it to George, then with his free hand, he helped the mother climb out. The man looked out over the wreckage, talking to the Quackenbush twin and never once focusing on where Liberty sat.

Still, the light from the lantern was enough to highlight his face for her to recognize him. To recognize Ger-rett Divine.

Her hands shook, pulse raced. Not him. Not here.

Not now.

With a groan Liberty dropped to the floorboard of the sleigh, hoping the wooden front would block her from his line of sight. Her lungs pressed tight. Her skin felt as aflame as the mail car. What was Gerrett doing here? Had he come for her? That made no sense. Not after the last words he'd said to her five years ago before leaving for his grand tour. He was returning home to Chicago with a bride to introduce to his parents and grandparents. A French heiress. Yes, her brother had told her that at Christmas.

Liberty peeked over the front of the sleigh for another look.

He wasn't even close enough for her to appreciate the color of his eyes, yet she remembered the exact shade: azure-blue. A hue perfectly matching the fraternity blazers Gerrett and her brother had worn when home on holiday. Some odd quickening inside chased away the chill from the snowy night, making her think of sunshine, sewing machines and crisp butter cookies—her favorite things.

As Gerrett had been.. for far too many years of her life.

She sighed, as she had every time he'd visited the house to see her brother or had walked blindly past her at the opera or helped her father's Masonic lodge plant flowers in Lake Park. His extended European tour had done nothing but improve his powerful presence. His cheekbones were as well sculpted as she remembered, hair light brown, albeit tousled by the wreck. If anything, his bristled jaw only made him more dashing.

Gerrett Henry Divine IV. Heir to the vast Divine hotel, railroad and shipping fortune. The man was once the premier bachelor in Chicago society. She had spent six months practically fasting morning, noon and night for his return. Not that he'd cared. Took another six months of aimless daily walks around Lake Park before she gained enough clarity to realize she'd been a self-absorbed seventeen-year-old who laid all her hopes for happiness and significance at his well-shod, indifferent feet. That epiphany had led her into serving others through mission projects, which led her into attending church, which introduced her to Jesus.

Unrequited love wasn't all bad.

The cruel irony of it all! She had finally decided to break free from her parents, to live life on her own, and the antithesis of all she'd become returns. For the rest of the night, as she aided the wounded and ministered to those in need, she would have to do everything she could to avoid the last man she ever wanted to see again.

All because he'd said she meant nothing to him.

All because he'd broken her heart.

All because—

She blinked at the horrid tears in her eyes. Because seeing him made her pine for what could have been if he had loved her. And that, truly, was the most pathetic reason of all.

"Liberty Adele Judd," she whispered, "it's time to put aside all childhood dreams and grow up."

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Gina Welborn
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Welborn, Gina
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