Authors: Irene Brand
Copyright © 2012 by Irene B. Brand. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Heartsong Presents, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
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Asheville, North Carolina, 1895
Dora Porter had hiked through some of the most beautiful scenery Europe had to offer, but never had she seen a more majestic sight than the one before her. The only child of Oliver Porter, one of the richest entrepreneurs in the world, she had traveled throughout Europe marveling at the ancient buildings in Greece and scaling some of the most picturesque mountains in Switzerland. She hadn’t thought any scenery could equal what she’d appreciated in those countries. But today, as she leaned against a towering pine, gazing toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, she conceded that this vista surpassed anything she’d seen in foreign lands.
Taking a small guidebook from her pocket, she read that the term
was usually applied exclusively to the front range of the Appalachians. She was surprised to note that the Blue Ridge extended as far north as the mountains of Massachusetts and Vermont. Although English travelers as early as the seventeenth century had visited the area, a German physician, John Lederer, was believed to have been the first European to visit the northern Blue Ridge at Harper’s Ferry as early as 1669. As she beheld the beauty of the scenery before her, Dora decided that she’d probably missed a lot by not seeing more of her own country. She’d seen about all she wanted to see in Europe, so perhaps she should make arrangements to go to California next summer.
She had been somewhat reluctant when her father had insisted that she join him on this trip to North Carolina. Usually her father had an ulterior motive when he invited her to accompany him somewhere, and she had to be constantly on guard that he didn’t involve her in something that she didn’t want to do. But she had visited the home of George Vanderbilt and his mother in New York, and Dora had accepted an invitation to visit them at Biltmore, their new home in the Appalachian Mountains. Although a world traveler, George had also traveled extensively in the United States. On his first visit to North Carolina, he had been impressed with the area around Asheville. With its dramatic topography, distant views, and mild physical climate, he decided that the area would be a suitable location for another home. When Dora had visited the Vanderbilt home in New York, she’d often heard her father and George discussing the estate he was establishing in North Carolina. She’d been surprised that George, a man who liked to be involved in the political affairs of New York, would be interested in spending so much time in what her father referred to as a “godforsaken region.”
She was still a bit suspicious of her father’s reason for coming. Her father never did anything that wouldn’t contribute to his wealth and prestige. He had seen his share of beautiful architecture, and she was sure something more than a visit to the Vanderbilt’s mountain home had prompted him to come to North Carolina. Did that motive involve her, too? Why else would he have insisted that she accompany him? Although the invitation had come from Mrs. Vanderbilt, Dora was
wary about its origin. Surely her father didn’t think
she was romantically interested in George. Actually, Dora wasn’t romantically interested in anyone.
She wasn’t surprised, then, when her father finally told her that he was drawn to the area due to the possibilities for industrial expansion in the Asheville area, the only town of any size in that part of the state. Always on the lookout for new ways to prosper, he had accepted an invitation to the opening and dedication of the Biltmore mansion.
Considering all the places she’d seen, as well as the wealth she’d inherited, Dora couldn’t understand why she was so dissatisfied with her life. For the past several months, she had been critical of her past. As one of New York City’s most popular women, she should have been proud of her achievements. However, when she considered her life since she’d entered her teen years, everything she’d done had been centered on her-
self. Except for an occasional check to charitable
organizations, and in retrospect she realized that they hadn’t been very generous, what had she done for other people?
Glancing at the watch pinned to her jacket, Dora turned toward Biltmore. Tomorrow would be a full day when George Vanderbilt would welcome his friends and neighbors to tour the palatial mansion that had been under construction for several years. Since she didn’t know anyone in the area except George and his mother, she anticipated a boring day. Turning for one more glimpse of the mountains, Dora stumbled and suddenly found herself on the ground with her left foot wedged between a rock and the trunk of a pine tree.
A sharp pain in her ankle indicated that she had an injury, and she wondered how she could extricate herself from such a predicament. Efforts to free her foot brought only discomfort and aggravation. When she’d toured the Alps and other European mountains, she’d always traveled with a companion, but she hadn’t thought it would be necessary in these gentle mountains. Should she call for help or wait until someone at Biltmore came looking for her? She heard footsteps approaching, and a young man wearing a red cap, overalls, and a light jacket suddenly appeared at her side. He was of medium height, and his wide shoulders and rugged appearance spoke of strength and vitality. He had thick dark hair, a ready smile, and a fine pair of brown eyes.
Surprise spread across his face, and for a few moments he stared at her. Dropping to one knee, he said, “Do you need help, ma’am?” Then he laughed. “I suppose that was a foolish question. Let me start over. What can I do to help you?”
“I wasn’t paying enough attention when I turned to take one last look at the mountains, and my foot is wedged below this tree root. If you’ll help me stand, I can determine whether I can walk or not. This is an awkward position. I’m so embarrassed to have been so clumsy.”
“If you’ve broken a bone, you probably shouldn’t put any weight on the injury, so lean on me until you’re sure you can walk.” Slowly and tenderly, he carefully freed her foot, stood behind her, put his arms around her waist, and lifted. She staggered, and his arms tightened. “Oh,” she cried when she put weight on her foot.
“Careful now,” he cautioned. “Hold on to me. I won’t let you fall.”
For a fleeting moment, Dora considered how great it would be to have someone to lean on occasionally. Since childhood, her father had insisted,
“It’s only the pushers who get ahead in this world. Don’t expect help from anyone else. Make your own future.”
At this point, Dora doubted the wisdom of those words. She welcomed this man’s help as she leaned heavily against his strong chest. Her arm circled his waist, which didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat. He was a brawny man, and since she had always had to be self-sufficient, it gave her a vast boost of spirit and courage to lean against a man who seemed as strong as the Rock of Gibraltar.
“If you’ll tell me where you live,” he said, “I’ll take you there or bring your family to look after you.”
“Let me lean on you for a moment, and I’ll see if I can walk. I’m embarrassed for anyone to know I was so careless. I’m Dora Porter, and my home is in New York City, but I’m visiting at Biltmore. My father and Mr. Vanderbilt are business associates, and he invited us for the opening of their home. And you?”
“My name is Allen Bolden. I’m a carpenter by trade, and I’ve worked off and on for Mr. Vanderbilt since he came here. I did some of the work on the mansion, but mostly on the outbuildings. I’ve lived in the area for a few years, and Mr. Vanderbilt hired me to look through this forest and determine whether the timber should be harvested now or wait for another year or two. What can I do to further help you?”
Dora continued to lean on his strength. “I don’t want to cause any extra work at Biltmore when all the servants are busy preparing for the big celebration tomorrow. If you’ll help me, I’ll try to walk back to the house.”
She took a tentative step and then another. “I don’t believe I’ve sprained my ankle, but sharp pains flash through my foot every time I move. Perhaps you can
go to Biltmore and ask someone to bring a cart to
haul me to the house, although I don’t want to cause a disturbance there. It must be more than a mile, and I doubt I’d have the strength to go that far. I have the reputation of being an outdoors person, and I’ve been hiking off and on for several years over rough terrain without an accident, so I’m embarrassed for anyone to see me like this. You’re probably familiar with the old adage, ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.’ I guess I’m too proud of my experience as a hiker to want anyone to know that I was clumsy enough to catch my foot in a tree root.”
“I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been climbing these mountains for several years, and I’d be embarrassed if I experienced an accident like yours. I’m heading in that direction to report to Mr. Vanderbilt, so I’ll be pleased to help you to the house. With my help, you won’t have to worry about falling. You might be able to sneak into the mansion without anyone knowing.”
She hesitated. “I’d prefer that, if you’re sure it isn’t too much trouble.”
“No trouble. I need to report my findings to Mr. Vanderbilt.”
Her rescuer’s assurance seemed to give her the courage to move forward. She’d learned to be self-reliant early in life, but the strength of this man seemed to flow into her body as he gave her his full attention. He walked slowly, and she struggled along beside him. When they came in sight of Biltmore, she was walking with only a slight limp in spite of the pain.
“If you need my support, I’ll help you on to the house,” Allen suggested. “But if you’d rather not have everyone know you had a fall, perhaps you’ll want to go on by yourself.”
“I am a little embarrassed to have been so careless,” she answered, “so let me try to walk without your help. I know George Vanderbilt and my father well enough to realize that they’d make a big to-do over this and would probably call in a doctor to treat me. I don’t need a doctor.”
He removed his arm, and she took a few tentative steps alone. Although it was painful, Dora decided that she could manage. “I’ll soak my foot in hot water and have my maid bandage it. Maude has been my maid since I was a child, and she shares most of my secrets.”
“I’ll watch until you reach the house. If you need help, motion to me and I’ll come.”
Allen watched Dora until she reached the mansion before he continued walking through the forest, marking trees he considered possibilities for harvesting. His mind, however, was wayward, and he kept thinking about Dora. Although their paths had never crossed, he’d heard of her beauty and charming ways, mostly in an article in the local newspaper announcing the visit of “Oliver Porter, New York billionaire, and his only daughter, Dora.” If anyone had ever been born with “a silver spoon in her mouth,” it would be Dora Porter.
Although he knew that Dora and her father were guests of George Vanderbilt and his mother, it hadn’t entered his mind that he’d meet her. Besides having met her, he hadn’t thought that a chance meeting with her would linger in his mind. He was disgusted with himself for succumbing to the charisma of Dora Porter.
Most of the local residents were overjoyed because the Vanderbilt family had changed Asheville from a sleepy mountain town to a mecca where rich people would come to congregate year-round to escape the cold weather in winter or the sultry city heat during the summer months. Allen, however, was not pleased. When he’d bought property near the small mill town of Fairfield, he hadn’t dreamed that the influence of the Vanderbilt family would draw visitors from throughout the Northeast. Allen liked solitude, which contributed to peace of mind. Having a tourist attraction like the Vanderbilt mansion would bring too many visitors to the area. Already the population of Asheville had increased perceptibly. He’d thought often of leaving the East and traveling farther west, perhaps even to the Pacific Coast, and he wondered if this was the time to leave North Carolina.
As Allen headed northward in his buggy the next day, considering the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about Dora, he wondered if he would ever have peace of mind again. In his more than thirty years, Allen hadn’t been interested in women in general and certainly none in particular. Why, of all people, had he become infatuated with a woman as far out of his reach as the North Pole?
The kind of life he envisioned for himself didn’t in-clude a wife. He had left South Carolina when he was a youth and cast his lot with the people who’d established the mountainous community of Canaan, North Carolina. After living in the area for several years, he’d decided that Asheville would offer more advantages for him to prosper. He hadn’t had a pleasant childhood, and considering the marital hardships of his parents, he didn’t intend to establish a home and family of his own. He’d never met any woman who caused him to wonder if the single life wasn’t all that he needed.
How could spending one evening in Dora’s company make him realize how wrong he’d been?
When he had received the invitation from the
Vanderbilts for the Biltmore dedication, he had tossed the invitation aside, having no intention of attending. He knew he’d be a fish out of water at the reception that would doubtless have several millionaires, as well as the elite of Asheville. He figured he would have noth-ing in common with the other guests, although he had heard that the Vanderbilts had extended a blanket invitation to anyone to come. However, when he’d met George Vanderbilt on the street shortly after and he had extended a verbal invitation, Allen knew he would have to attend. Mr. Vanderbilt had paid him handsomely for the work he had done at Biltmore during the mansion’s construction, and it was obvious that the man wanted him at the party. And his Canaan cousin, Marie Bolden, had requested he escort her and a friend from Asheville. Marie’s parents had been good to him when he was a youth. The least he could do was be her escort. So he wore the best suit he owned and went.