I've decided to add names of some of my FB friends to this story. Tim, Kim, Garrett, Marsha, Connie, and Cynthia will be minor characters in this American Historical Romance.
I thought I'd let you read the first chapter... (aren't I nice?)
Copyright © 2015 by Marie Higgins
New York, 1889
Marry me and be mine forever? Had he really just said those words?
Gnashing his teeth, Christopher Morgan stormed down the steps of the fancy porch wrapped around an even fancier house that bordered one of the best flower gardens in Hempstead. The white with green trim, two-story, home had large windows, and stood out as if advertising its wealth. When he’d first seen this place several months ago, he wanted a chance to look inside. Now that he had been inside, he wished he’d never stepped foot on their polished-to-perfection walnut-wooded floors.
What had he been thinking a moment ago, asking Rosanna Townley to marry him? Obviously, he’d lost his mind at some time during the last three months. Knowing a woman for that length of time certainly didn’t qualify her for marriage.
Anger mixed with the sting from his damaged heart, as his mind whirled in confusion like a stubborn tornado in Texas. He still couldn’t believe Rosanna had rudely refused his offer of marriage. Her excuse; he just wasn’t good enough for her or her family. Chris’ profession as a school teacher wasn’t sufficient, and the house he’d built with his own hands certainly hadn’t impressed her. It was a good thing he found out about her now instead of after they were married.
He stormed across the yard and away from the white-picket fence surrounding Rosanna’s elaborate home. The scent of roses and daffodils tickled Chris’ nose as he walked past the flower garden. Never again would he think about flowers without remembering Rosanna. He’d never forgive her for that.
The noise from the hustle of the busy town tried to crowd his thoughts, but he couldn’t stop hearing Rosanna’s rejection ring through his ears. The salary you make will not keep me in the lifestyle to which I’m accustomed. Unless you’ll agree to work with my father in his bank, I cannot marry you.
Misery flowed through him like a waterfall, drowning out any happiness he’d once had. The sweet fragrance of the daffodils he’d given her had surrounded him, and her beautiful eyes had beckoned him to stay and agree, but he wouldn’t relent. He had his honor...or would have as soon as he could sweep up the pieces of his shattered heart.
The commotion of horse’s hooves on the road and the shout of a woman brought his mind back to reality. Coming straight for him was a one-horse buggy. The lady driver tugged on the reins as she tried to steer the horse away from him.
As he eyed the out-of-control horse, white-hot terror surged through him. Jumping as hard as he could, he moved out of her way before horse and vehicle could plow into him. He landed and fell to his knees. He rolled across the patch of dirt at the edge of the sidewalk.
A loud grumble from the woman in the buggy drew his attention toward the irritable female as she stopped the horse. Her irritation was so piercing he was certain the bystanders up the street could hear her displeasure as she climbed down from the vehicle. Marching toward him, her skirt swished around her legs in rhythm with her quick steps. She stopped above him, planted her hands on her hips, and narrowed her gaze. The sunlight emphasized her petite waistline. Her green blouse contrasted with her azure eyes and made them stand out.
“You imbecile,” she ground out in an aristocratic British accent. She swept back the large ostrich feathers on her hat that had fallen in her face. Wisps of her brownish-blonde hair curled around her ears. “Could you not see where you were walking, Sir?”
He rolled his eyes. Wonderful. Here stood another high and mighty aristocrat whose sole purpose was to criticize him. She and Rosanna must be related somehow, either that or all women of higher class must have received the same instruction on how to treat a commoner. Why else would he run into two women this judgmental in one day?
Slowly, he rose to his feet and brushed the dust from his trousers. He wiped his sleeve across his dirt-caked lips, cleared his throat, and faced her. Although his thoughts filled quickly with malicious words to say, he held them back from rolling off his tongue. After all, he was a well-respected school teacher. He couldn’t let her ignite his temper now. “Please forgive me, Miss. I didn’t see you coming.”
“Clearly, Sir, since you were walking with your head in the clouds. I cannot believe you stepped in front of my horse. Pray, what were you thinking, or were you thinking at all?” She shook her head. “Why don’t you people realize there are others on the road who might be in a hurry?”
Rage filled him, greater now than it had when he’d left Rosanna’s house. Something inside of him snapped. He didn’t care about his reputation as the school teacher at this particular moment. How dare she treat him like the mud she’d scraped from her fancy boots?
In two strides, he stood in front of her, bent slightly to her level, and scowled. Her eyes widened and she gasped, but he didn’t withdraw. He had something to say and he wouldn’t leave until it was said.
“And why don’t you people stop thinking you own the world?” He took a deep breath, fury hissing between his stiff lips. “Isn’t it enough that you turn up your aristocratic noses at those of us beneath your class?” He motioned his hand toward her vehicle. “Good grief, woman, you could have killed me. And have you forgotten that I did apologize? Are my words so difficult for Your Highness to accept?”
Long, brown lashes fluttered as she blinked, and her mouth remained open so wide she’d catch wasps if she weren’t careful. He was certain the stings from the insects wouldn’t be as fierce as her tongue.
A gasp escaped her. “How dare you—”
He threw back his head as a laugh exploded from his throat, although humor was the furthest thing from his mind. “Oh, believe me, Your Highness, I dare quite a bit, especially today.” He straightened his hat on his head and lifted his chin.
She stomped her foot. “You dare accuse me of being arrogant, and yet there you are pretending to act like Prince Regent himself.”
He gritted his teeth, trying to keep from spouting his temper any further. Unfortunately, he’d picked the wrong day to practice his patience. “If I had been the prince, I’m sure you wouldn’t have tried to run me over.”
One of her eyebrows arched. “The prince wouldn’t have been foolish enough to wander into the road without looking.”
As he stared into her azure eyes, ablaze with fury right now, he couldn’t pass the opportunity to rebuke the undeniable challenge she silently communicated through her glare.
“How many times do I have to apologize? Can’t you see that you are over-reacting?”
“Ha!” She placed her gloved fingers over her mouth. Shock registered in her wide-eyes. “Oh, please, Sir. If anyone is over-reacting, it is you.”
“Why? Because people like me cannot possible be right?”
She rolled her eyes. “You are intolerable.”
He bunched his hands by his sides. The longer he studied this haughty woman, the more he hated himself for thinking that she was actually lovely. For a brief moment, he tried to picture what she’d look like without the deep lines of anger around her mouth and on her forehead. He was certain her eyes would be much prettier without the blaze shooting from them.
Mentally, he shook out those ridiculous thoughts. For certain, something was not right in his head today. Perhaps all of this was his fault. First starting with proposing marriage to a woman who would never think he was good enough, and ending with this hoity-toity woman who irritated him in the worst way.
Taking a deep breath, he slowly exhaled, trying to calm his ire. “Once again, forgive me for disturbing you and your horse as you raced down the street without a care in the world. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be on way before I dare say something else and put you people in your place again. Good day, Your Highness.”
He swung away from her and continued marching toward the Country Market where he’d tied his horse earlier to buy some fresh flowers before asking for a certain woman’s hand in marriage. Now he wished he’d never gotten out of bed this morning. Nothing he did had worked out so far today…and it wasn’t even noon yet.
The quicker he could leave this area, the better. The faster he could forget about women in general, the more he could concentrate on the true purpose for which he traveled to this godforsaken state. For some reason destiny had led him here to be a school teacher. Hopefully, he’d discover why exactly destiny had chosen that path for him, because the idea to high-tail it back to Texas looked brighter and brighter as the day moved on.
* * *
If Christopher didn’t cease his daydreaming soon, catastrophe would strike in his classroom. It always did whenever he let his mind wander.
The rain tinkling against the window and drizzling down the glass lulled him into relaxation, and the gentle rhythm was too soothing for him to pull away. It’d been a while since he felt this at ease. It’d taken nearly three months for his battered heart to return to normal after Rosanna Townley’s rejection. Although his heart would never be normal again, especially when it came to the upper class woman.
Leaning his shoulder against the wall, he stared outside. The solemn mood created comfort. He wished he could close his eyes and enjoy without having a worry in the world. His class, remarkably quiet for this time of day, gave him a moment to himself. This didn’t happen very often with his students. It must be the dreary clouds darkening the room, the gentle pitter-patter of the rain as the wind blew against the windows, and the soft crackle of breaking wood of the low fire in the potbelly stove in the middle of the room.
He’d given his class a reading assignment. Since he didn’t want to fall asleep in his own chair, he moved to the window to stand. A draft of cooler air touched his arms, and brushed his face. He needed the chilly temperature right now to appease his raw nerves.
To take his mind off his troubles, he turned his attention to the class and stopped his gaze on one student in particular. Immediately, he clenched his teeth. Chris didn’t normally overreact when dealing with an unruly child, but ten-year-old Billy Spencer would never be considered a normal child. His thin frame slumped over his desk with the book brought upright in front of his face. The lad’s curly light-brown hair waved around his ears and his locks brushed against the collar of his shirt. Although Chris couldn’t see the boy’s face, his haughty smirk would always be branded in Chris’ mind, and Billy’s high-pitched mocking laugh would continue to ring through his ears.
Chris had been teaching in New York for a few years, but only three months in this particular school. The children were from a wealthier class of people, and he’d learned quickly these students didn’t believe they should behave. Usually, he handled them with firmness. Each day Chris counted the minutes until time to return home, and dreaded the hours until school started the following day. He also prayed he would find a solution to solving this problem with Billy.
From up the street, a horse and buggy pulled to the closest building near the school. Mr. Peebly was making his daily delivery, taking eggs to the bakery. Chris’s heart lightened and he smiled. In the two years he’d been in town, there were certain people he’d learned to count on. Mr. Peebly was one of them. The reed thin man and his portly wife were the first ones to greet Chris and his mother after they had moved in. Benjamin was a hardworking man who had a genuine love and concern for everyone.
As Mr. Peebly climbed out of his buggy and stacked cartons of eggs in his arms, Chris switched his attention to the store the man would soon be entering. Immediately, his attention fell to the clump of grass and twigs on the base of the wooden steps. Chris’ breath caught in his throat and his chest clenched.
The familiar grassy nest of hidden briars had been Billy’s favorite trap. Chris bunched his hands into fists, his teeth grinding. Since he’d been unfortunate enough to be the recipient of Billy’s tainted humor, Chris knew the lad’s contraption quite well.
He yanked away from the window and stormed across the wooden floor, his footsteps echoing with each step toward the cloakroom. As he grabbed his jacket off the coat hook on the wall, he stumbled over the balls, ropes, and outdoors toys the children were supposed to have put away.
Growling under his breath, he cautiously sprinted over them and opened the door. The wind caught him full force and he blinked against the swirling wet leaves and debris. His arms went up to shield against the weather’s elements, as he rushed down the stairs.
If Mr. Peebly didn’t see the trap, the man would lose more than his dignity as he fell to the ground. His daily earnings would also be ruined. Chris quickened his step toward the front of the schoolhouse. His foot landed in a patch of mud, making him slip. Flaying his arms, he searched for the brick building to hold him upright. After getting his bearings, he straightened and proceeded to warn Benjamin Peebly.
“Mr. Peebly,” he called out as he rounded the corner. “Stop—”
His call came too late. Cartons of eggs blocked the older man’s view of the ground as his foot flattened on Billy’s trap and the barbs hidden within. With a jerk, Mr. Peebly withdrew. The stack of eggs in his arms teetered, as did the thin man.
Chris ran, reaching out to help, but he was too far away. The older man yelped and hopped on one foot, the cartons of eggs obviously forgotten as they flew through the air. Mr. Peebly swayed and slipped on the wet grass behind him, landing on his backside. Within seconds, the eggs landed on him, breaking and coating his head and body with their gooey yolks.
Squeezing his eyes closed, Chris released a ragged sigh and threaded his fingers through his hair. That was it! Billy Spencer needed to be stopped one way or another.
Groans from the man on the ground pulled Chris from his seething thoughts. Mr. Peebly’s wide eyes met Chris. The older man shook his head as liquid swam in his gaze, his lower lip quivering.
Chris hurried to him and held out his hand. “Mr. Peebly, I’m extremely sorry. I wish I had reached you sooner.”
“Wh—what happened? What did I step on?” The other man’s eyes darted around the walkway.
“You stepped on Billy Spencer’s briar trap, I’m afraid.” He sighed. “I have been the recipient of that prank numerous times.” He knelt on one knee and gathered a few eggshells. “Here, let me help you.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Morgan.” Benjamin wiped the dripping yolk from his face and smiled. “You have a classroom of children to attend to. I’ll be fine.”
Laughter from the schoolhouse chimed through the air, frustrating Chris that much more. He glanced over his shoulder toward the building. The children had gathered at the windows, their faces aglow, and fingers pointed toward the scene.
Benjamin stood and continued to swipe the yolk and shells from his clothes. Chris withdrew his billfold from his pocket. “Tell me how much this incident has set you back.”
The older man’s gaze met his with tears glistening in his eyes. “Not to worry, Mr. Morgan. All will be fine.”
“But this wasn’t your fault.”
Benjamin shrugged. “Neither was it yours.” He shooed him with his hands. “Go back to your classroom and try to teach sense to those heathens.”
Chris chuckled. “Try is the operative word, I believe. It’ll take a miracle for me to teach them anything.”
As he stomped back toward the school, anger grew within him. He tightened his lips and hoped he’d be able to control his words and actions when talking to that boy. If not, Billy Spencer was in big trouble. This time, he wouldn’t hold back on contacting his parents.
Before heading back inside, he kicked his boots against the steps, trying to loosen the mud coating his soles. When that didn’t work, he yanked them off and set them inside the door, then stormed into the classroom in stocking feet.
Immediately, the air clouded with smoke and tickled his nose. He waved his hand in front of his face and coughed. Something was on fire!
His heart dropped as he hurried across the room. Billy and Nathaniel stood by the potbelly stove, shoving papers inside. When their gazes caught his, they threw in the rest of what they held and scrambled to their desks. Giggling throughout the room quickly hushed and the children straightened in their seats.
“What is the meaning of this?” Chris’ voice boomed through the air as he rushed to the stove. A few pages that had just caught the flame showed him what the two boys tried to burn. Tomorrow’s tests. He gritted his teeth. How was he going to handle those two? A willow switch came to mind.
He closed his eyes and breathed slowly, calming his temper. Days like this tested the limits of his patience. Had he made a mistake in answering the call to teach?
Coughs increased in the room and brought him out of his thoughts. He hurried to the nearest window and pushed it open. “Sarah, Beth, and Peter, could you please help me open some windows?”
The three eldest students did as asked. Chris tried to maintain the fire in the stove, bringing it to a normal level of heat. The thick smoke in the room threatened to push them outside and into the rain. The children were unusually silent while they aired out the room, and once the windows were closed and everyone returned to their seats, all eyes switched to him.
All except Billy Spencer’s.
Chris paced the floor like a caged animal, his fingers twisting in his hair. How he would love nothing better than to shake some sense into that boy. Violence wasn’t the solution. Yet the temptation was great.
He stopped at the head of the room and folded his arms. Through narrowed eyes, he studied each child. The older girls sat rigid at their desks, looking like China dolls with their pretty bows and ruffles. Most were sweet and nonjudgmental—nothing like Rosanna Townsley. He’d give them a few more years before they changed.
The boys wore crisp white shirts and brown knickers with suspenders. Their hair slicked back on their head, looking as if they were ready for church. He couldn’t punish them all for Billy’s mistake. It wouldn’t be right.
Taking a deep breath, he lifted his chin. “It’s very unfortunate Billy and Nathaniel thought they had to warm the room with tomorrow’s test, because I must admit, it was the easiest test I’d planned so far this year.”
Moans of dejection filled the room. Chris tried not to grin as he continued. “I suppose I’ll have to write another test tonight, which I fear will be more complicated due to my irritation over Billy and Nathaniel’s carelessness.” He shrugged. “Either that or I could fail you all.”
Once again, a round of grumbles arose in the schoolroom.
“That’s not fair, Mr. Morgan,” Beth, the oldest girl in class spoke up, a frown marring her face. “After all, it was Billy and Nate who burned the test. You should give them the harder test.”
He walked to his desk and leaned back on the edge, crossing one ankle over the other. “Beth, you do have a point.” He scratched his chin. “But I don’t have time to write two tests before tomorrow.”
The blonde girl’s eyes widened, as did her smile. “I could help.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Pardon me?”
She pointed to the girl sitting next to her. “And Sarah can help. We’ll make up Billy and Nate’s test and you can make ours.”
Chris nibbled on the corner of his mouth, trying to appear as if he were contemplating instead of holding back a grin.
“No.” Billy jumped up from his seat, his red face making his freckles dim in comparison. “That’s not fair, either. I know you, Beth, and you’ll give me harder questions.”
She smirked. “Of course I will. Maybe next time you’ll think twice about burning our tests.”
Billy stomped his foot. “Mr. Morgan, that’s not fair,” he whined.
Chris held up his hands in mock surrender. “I don’t know, Billy. It’s either that or everyone will be given a zero. I think you’ll keep more friends with Beth’s suggestion.”
Nods of approval circled the students, only Nathaniel and Billy shook their heads. Chris clapped his hands and stood. “The vote is unanimous. Tomorrow Billy and Nathaniel will take the test made up by Sarah and Beth, and the rest of you will take the test I prepare.” Chris scratched his chin. “Now, that solves one problem.” He focused on Billy. “What are you doing to do about the other?”
“What do you mean?” Billy asked.
“I mean Mr. Peebly’s eggs. They are all ruined, Billy. He lost money today because of your prank, and this kind of thing cannot go unpunished.”
Billy’s bottom lip stuck out in a dramatic pout as the boy crossed his arms over his chest.
“I think,” Chris continued, “Billy needs to learn how much time and effort goes into getting the eggs ready in the morning.” A few snickers echoed in the room, but he kept his glare on Billy. “So tomorrow morning, bright and early, Billy should go to Mr. Peebly’s farm and help with the chores.”
The boy’s eyes widened and his jaw drop. Red blotches darkened his cheeks. “I will not!”
Chris moved away from his desk and towered over Billy. “Yes you will, and I will pick you up in the morning and take you there personally.”
Fire shot out of Billy’s eyes. He jumped to his feet and met Chris’ glare. “You can’t make me. There’s no way I’m going to go to a farm and do their chores.”
Chris reached out to grab the boy’s arm, but Billy pushed past him and darted out of the room. Within minutes, the door to the schoolhouse slammed shut.
Slowly counting to ten, Chris cooled his anger. He’d deal with Billy later when he spoke to the boy’s parents.
The rest of the day passed quickly, and before he knew it, the end of the school day was upon them. Chris couldn’t wait to breathe peacefully again and to think with a clear head. The children emptied the schoolhouse quickly, and as he corrected assignments, his thoughts wondered back to Mr. Peebly and the loss of his eggs. Chris still wanted to pay the man for what he’d been cheated. Perhaps he’d think of another way to give the older man the money.
Chris shook his head. Unfortunately, money wouldn’t stop Billy Spencer. That boy needed a good scolding, but it should come from Mr. and Mrs. Spencer, not the school teacher. Working at the farm might be good for Billy. Unfortunately, Chris would have to hog-tie and drag that boy there in the morning, and his parents would probably be after him with a shotgun, too.
It didn’t matter. Billy couldn’t get away with this.
Grumbling, Chris pushed away from his desk and stood. It was time to pay Billy Spencer’s parents a visit.
As he shrugged on his duster, he remembered the rumors he’d heard about the boy’s family. Apparently, Billy’s great-grandfather had designed a man’s coat that was the rage in England several years past, and the jacket soon turned into a woman’s garment that was worn by nearly every women in fashion. The old man had been one of the richest men in England, so Billy and his family were now heirs.
Chris didn’t think money should be the reason a child was disobedient and disrespectful to the school teacher and to others less fortunate.
He wandered through the room to lock the windows and close the curtains before he left. Across the small field in back of the schoolhouse, Mrs. Krause’s piano sang to life as she taught singing lessons to the children of the community. The student practicing at this hour had a beautiful voice, almost angelic. It reminded him of back home when the women of the nearest church choir sang praises every Sunday.
He diffused the lamps then stepped into the straightened cloakroom. His boots remained by the door, less muddy than they’d been earlier this morning since he’d had time this afternoon to remove the dirt. Once he slipped into them, he walked toward the door. Just as he opened it, a luster of light from the descending sun nearly blinded him, and a whirlwind of silk and lace knocked into him, taking his breath away. A lilac scent accompanied the bundle and wafted from her hair.
The motion tilted him off balance, as it did the lady who’d run into him. He grasped her shoulders to keep her from teetering to the ground. After the initial whoosh of air from her throat, she pulled back enough to look into his eyes. The glowing sun silhouetted her head perfectly, giving her what looked to be a halo circling her fancy hat. Singing from the neighboring house drifted through the air once again.
Heavens had opened and angels sang...
He shook his head to clear out the ridiculous thought. It hadn’t happened with Rosanna Townley, so why would it happen with a total stranger?