Authors: Julie Lessman
Tags: #Christian Fiction, #Contemporary, #Inspirational, #Historical Romance, #Historical Fiction, #Christianity, #Religious & Inspirational Fiction, #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #Religion & Spirituality, #Christian Books & Bibles, #Literature & Fiction
I am the light of the world:
he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness,
but shall have the light of life.
I will not throw up … I will not throw up ...
Eighteen-year-old Marceline Murphy set her overnight case on the O’Rourke’s wraparound porch and pressed a quivering finger to the brass doorbell, a battalion of butterflies barnstorming her stomach. The last time she’d been this nervous was at the age of eleven when she’d frozen on the top limb of a massive pine tree in the backyard of her best friend Julie O’Rourke. The memory of Julie’s older brother Sam climbing up to rescue her made her hands sweat even now, his body close behind as he helped her down, limb by limb. At the bottom he’d tugged on her pigtail with that dimpled grin that had always fluttered her pulse. “Best keep your feet on the ground and your nose in a book, Marceline,” he’d whispered in her ear. “You’ll want to stay far away from danger.”
Marcy swallowed hard.
Heights and Sam O’Rourke—two things that made her dizzy.
She heard the thump-thump of hurried footsteps on the other side of the door and nervously smoothed her hair. Carefully puffed and pulled back on the sides in the new Gibson Girl style with a tortoise-shell comb, the rest of her long blond curls trailed the back of her powder-blue shirtwaist. Adjusting her wide black belt, she slid a damp palm down her cream gabardine skirt that loosely hugged her hips before it spilled into a bell shape at her ankles. Children’s laughter floated on the summer breeze while a pink sky reflected in shiny parlour windows, casting a rosy glow on a white wicker swing. Marcy breathed in the fragrance of the scarlet pillar roses
that coiled and tangled on a trellis at the end of the porch, their scent recalling summers playing jacks with Julie or discussing favorite book heroes while lazing in the swing.
It had been five years since she’d seen her best friend, five long years since Papa had whisked them away to New York for his new job as a vice president for Reading Railroad. But he hadn’t counted on an agricultural crisis that would result in a worldwide economic depression in 1893, costing him and thousands of others their jobs. Some of Marcy’s excitement over returning to Boston ebbed as her thoughts strayed to the financial crisis in which a quarter of the nation’s railroads—including the company Papa worked for—went bankrupt. In New York alone, unemployment among industrial workers exceeded twenty percent, which meant Papa had been forced to return to Boston to look for work. Squaring her shoulders, Marcy shook off the malaise that always settled when she thought of Papa out of a job, but she had no doubt that her faith—and that of her parents—would see them through. Even so, tonight she was back home with her best friend, and she refused to let anything dampen her excitement of seeing Julie again.
Especially Julie’s brother.
With her dog-eared copy of
clutched tightly in one hand, she pinched her cheeks with the other and waited, hoping she appeared more grown up and confident than the pale-faced girl she’d glimpsed earlier in her bedroom mirror.
The door flashed open, and she grinned at the high-pitched squeal of the best friend she’d ever had. “You’re here—you’re really and truly here! I could just kiss your parents for letting you stay over the very first weekend you moved back!” Julie launched into her arms with a husky bubble of giggles that brought a sheen to Marcy’s eyes.
Oh, Jewels, I missed you so …
Breathless, Julie pulled away, fingers clamped tight to Marcy’s arms as if she wouldn’t risk her ever leaving again. Creamy white cheeks dolloped with a soft blush were framed by wisps of shiny black curls as laughing ebony eyes studied Marcy head to toe. “I knew it!” she announced with a smug smile. “You’ve grown into a beauty, Marce, just in time to turn heads our senior year.” She squeezed her again, her whisper, brimming with tease. “Especially Sam’s.”
Marcy gulped, her hour-glass corset suddenly feeling two sizes too small. Heat burnished her cheeks while her gaze darted into the O’Rourke’s cozy foyer and back. “Jewels, hush,” she whispered, “I came to see my dearest friend in the whole wide world,
her brother.” She paused to nibble her lip. “He’s not home, is he?”
Her friend’s laughter filled the air with beautiful music while the scent of lemon oil and apple pie filled the foyer with beautiful memories. “No, you goose, it’s Friday night, for pity’s sake—Sam wouldn’t be caught dead at home on a weekend.”
The pinch of Marcy’s corset eased considerably. “Oh, thank heavens,” she blurted with a sigh of relief.
Julie’s low chuckle echoed in the foyer as she pulled Marcy in and closed the door. “I doubt the ‘heavens’ have anything to do with it, Marce, or anything else Sam or Patrick are involved in.”
And don’t I know it.
Marcy’s cheeks burned at the tales Jewels had written in her letters about Sam and his best friend Patrick O’Connor. At eighteen, Marcy was older than Julie, held back by sickness in the first grade, and although she had experience with rogues in New York, Sam’s wayward ways never failed to shock and sadden her. Growing up, Sam had been her hero—the mischievous O’Rourke who had made her smile and laugh and feel as protected and secure as he had his little sisters. The only boy she’d ever trusted—bold but honest, teasing but true, and as rock solid as the knuckles he’d often raised in defense of Julie and her.
Marcy sighed. Unfortunately, his best friend changed all that. Like Marcy, Sam started school later due to a bout of flu that slowed the pace of his education, pairing him up with Patrick O’Connor, who was a year younger. But at twenty-one years of age, there was certainly nothing “slow” about Sam O’Rourke today. According to Julie, he had a reputation on the streets of the Southie neighborhood second only to Patrick, stealing hearts as easily as they’d stolen kisses in the coat room of church after mass.
Mere mention of Sam’s best friend always brought a pinch to Marcy’s mouth, reminding her of the man she blamed for Sam’s moral demise. Patrick had always been the boy every little girl swooned over for as long as Marcy could remember, instilling a cockiness she couldn’t abide. And, based on Julie’s letters, apparently he
wielded the same annoying charm, not only over Julie, but over every female he met.
Except me, thank God.
From what Marcy remembered, Patrick had been a nice boy who’d turned mean at the age of ten when rumors flew about his family, a scandal Marcy’s parents had spoken of in hushed tones. It seemed from that point on, Patrick had picked on little girls unmercifully, especially Julie and her, sometimes playing cruel tricks on them when Sam insisted they be allowed to play. Now as a man, he stirred up strife with big girls as well, without the slightest remorse, at least according to the rumors Julie had shared. The man apparently had no compunction whatsoever about flirting with some while dallying with others, even cozying up to one girl while seeing others behind her back. Marcy shivered. She’d met more than her fair share of scoundrels like that in New York, all out for one thing. No, where Sam had always been kind to her, Patrick had not, and Marcy had never forgotten that.
Lips tight, she huffed out a sigh, grateful Patrick O’Connor left her cold and wishing he did the same to Sam, who joined him on nightly jaunts to Brannigan’s Pub for decadence Marcy didn’t even want to think about. A lump dipped in her throat. Or so she’d heard from Julie, who had this cock-eyed notion of her brother falling for her best friend—“a good girl who could help him fly straight.”
Not likely with her own stomach whirling in circles at the very thought. As much as she’d dreamed of Sam O’Rourke over the last five years, Marcy knew he wasn’t the boy for her—too wild, too handsome, too cocky, and way too far from the faith she held dear. Definitely not the man she needed. But wanted? Her stomach melted like heated butter, sliding a warm shiver down her spine. Oh, heaven help her, yes. Which is exactly why she would resist Julie’s matchmaking hopes with every breath in her. Because the truth was she didn’t trust a dangerous boy like Sam O’Rourke. With a hitch of her pulse, his pirate smile invaded her mind, and her legs wobbled a bit. But even more disturbing was the awful suspicion that gnawed deep inside.
Can I even trust myself?
“My family’s gone to a wedding,” Julie said, looping her arm through Marcy’s to usher her to the back of the house, “but Mama made an apple pie when she heard you were coming.” She paused on the threshold of the unusually large kitchen to give Marcy a firm hug. “Oh, Marce, I’m
glad you’re home!”
“I know,” Marcy breathed, the smell of pie, boiled coffee, and bleach making her feel like she’d never left. Thirsty for memories, her eyes drank in the warm and welcoming room where the O’Rourkes virtually lived, with its brick hearth and sunny yellow walls. Rich oak cabinets with glass fronts displayed an endless array of blue Wedgewood china and cobalt blue glassware while fluttering blue and white gingham curtains ushered in the scent of honeysuckle from the garden outside. Her gaze caressed the scarred and scuffed country table, its oak surface and edges worn smooth from so many happy hours spent baking cookies, doing homework, or eating dinner with the O’Rourkes. Her home away from home, she thought with a homesick sigh, and the type of family she’d longed to be a part of from the very first day. Julie tugged her to one of the spindle-back chairs, and the familiar squeak in the worn plank floor was music to her ears.
But instead of sitting down, she gripped Julie’s arms and stepped back. “Wait—let me look at
,” she said, admiring the glossy black knot of curls at the back of Julie’s head and the
pink cambric blouse with a white cascade frill
. “Goodness, Jewels, talk about a beauty!” She tilted her head with a wry smile. “I’m sure Patrick O’Connor has taken notice, although I doubt that’s a good thing.”
Julie scrunched her nose and pulled out a chair, tapping it to indicate Marcy should sit. “Well, if he has, he sure hasn’t let me know it,” she said with a playful pout in her tone, retrieving saucers from the cabinet before pulling a knife from the drawer. “Although you are right—it probably wouldn’t be a good thing if he did. With his and Sam’s dangerous reputations, I can’t help but wonder if Sam has forbidden Patrick to even look my way. I swear the man avoids me as if I were Sister Francine’s shadow, which is hard to do when he practically lives here half the time.” Her smile tipped. “You know, code of ethics among rogues?”
“Now there’s an oxymoron if ever there was,” Marcy said with a giggle. She propped an elbow to the table and sighed, chin on her fist. “Wouldn’t it be nice if boys like Sam and Patrick treated all girls with the same gallantry and respect they show to their sisters?”
Mischief sparkled in Julie’s eyes as she cut two pieces of pie. “Sorry, Marce, but I’m not sure I’d want Patrick O’Connor treating me like a sister, because the truth is the man races my pulse every time he walks through that door.” Fishing two forks from the drawer, she delivered the pie to the table with a melancholy smile. “It’s just a crying shame he’s the Southie’s number one heartbreaker.”
“Yes, and your brother is number two,” Marcy said with a warning lift of her brow, “which is why I think we
need to steer clear.” She stabbed at her pie, venting her frustration over handsome men with little or no faith who thought they were God’s gift to women. She’d had more than her fill of that in New York and no inclination to start again here.
Especially if his name is Sam O’Rourke.
Marcy took a bite of her pie, rolling the tart apples across her tongue with an appreciative moan before giving her friend a smirk. “And ‘crying shame’ is certainly an appropriate term based on what you said in your letters. If you ask me, ‘crying’ and ‘shame’ are the only things a girl can expect from the likes of them.”
“I know …” Julie rose to pour them both a glass of milk, giving Marcy a sheepish smile over her shoulder. “It’s just so hard to keep that in mind, you know? Especially when I’m drowning in clear gray eyes as deep as the purest spring.”
Yes, I know …
An image flashed of hooded black eyes the same color as Julie’s. Marcy gulped her milk and set it back down, pushing it aside along with thoughts of Sam. “All I remember about Patrick O’Connor was he was too handsome for his own good five years ago, so I can’t imagine how cocky he must be by now. Trust me, Jewels, you’re better off without him.”
And me, too, without your brother …
“I suppose …” Julie picked at her pie with a mournful sigh before pushing it away. She suddenly sat up with a bright smile. “Well, pooh—I’m not going to let a scalawag like Patrick O’Connor ruin my joy over your homecoming. So, tell me,” she said, shimmying close to fold her arms on the table, “did you talk to Sister Francine about the
Christmas-play fundraiser for the parish soup kitchen?”