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Authors: Beverly Jenkins

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Destiny's Embrace

BOOK: Destiny's Embrace
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Destiny’s Embrace

Beverly Jenkins

Dedication

To Queen Calafia and my orginal Cali crew: Shareeta, Angie, Linda, Christine, and Fedelies.

Prologue

N
ine-year-old Mariah Cooper was ecstatic. For the very first time, her mother was allowing her to deliver a dress to one of the customers of her dress shop. The lady, a Mrs. Ainsley, lived a few blocks away, and because her house wasn’t far, Mariah had been trusted to get it there and herself back, undamaged, and in one piece. She and her mother lived on the Colored side of Philadelphia, and as she passed the homes of her neighbors and classmates, she didn’t tarry because she wanted her mama to be proud of her.

Her steps slowed, however, when she saw Liam Anderson sitting with some boys on his front stoop. He’d gotten in trouble in school earlier that day and blamed her. Their teacher, Miss Worth, stepped out of the classroom for a moment and left Mariah in charge. Mariah was told to write down the name of anyone exhibiting unruly behavior, and that person or persons would be dealt with upon her return.

The moment Mrs. Worth exited and closed the door, Liam ran to the front of the room where Mariah was seated, hit her on the side of her head, and ran back to his seat. The kids laughed—not loud enough to be heard in the hallway, but the snickering only added to her shame. Liam was the biggest and oldest person in the class, and not a day passed by that he didn’t bully someone smaller and younger. Mariah detested him because he seemed to set his sights on her more than anyone else.

Before she could recover from the sting of the first blow, he returned for an encore, and this time hit her harder. Blinking and determined to keep her tears in check while the children giggled, she snapped, “I’m putting you on the list, Liam Anderson.”

“If you do, I’ll get you after school, Witch Hazel.” The derisive name was one she’d been given because of her gold-colored eyes. She thought the name as abominable as Liam.

To make certain Mariah took his threat seriously, he ran up and hit her again just as Miss Worth reentered the classroom.

When Miss Worth grabbed him by his ear and escorted him away to see the school principal, Mariah was admittedly pleased. Now, watching him leave the stoop and approach her wearing a nasty grin, she wasn’t pleased; she was afraid. But running away wasn’t an option, so she continued up the street where he stood blocking her path.

“Get out of my way, Liam. I have to deliver this dress for my mama.”

“My papa whipped me because of you.”

“It was your own fault.”

He pushed her down. The dress in its brown paper shroud landed beside her. She scrambled to retrieve it before it got wet from the puddles left by the afternoon rain. “Leave me alone!” She picked up the dress and prayed it wasn’t damaged.

“Witch Hazel!”

He pushed her down again, and she landed in the muddy street, which stained her white stockings and the front of her blue dress. “Stop it!”

By then, people were stepping outside to see what was going on, and a man’s voice rang out, “Leave her alone!”

Liam froze.

Trembling and trying not to cry, she picked up the dress. Her mother was going to whip her something fierce if it was ruined. Her rescuer was fast approaching. Beside him and hurrying to keep up with his determined stride was a new girl at school named Kathleen. Mariah assumed the man to be her father. She was so grateful to see them and wiped at the tears in her eyes. Liam, on the other hand, took off at a run and disappeared inside his house. His friends on the stoop scattered like rats.

“Are you all right, little lady?” The concern in the man’s voice was mirrored in his kind gaze.

“I think so, sir.”

“I’m Mr. Jennings. Kaye says you’re in her classroom at school.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll make sure his parents know about this.”

Mariah shook her head. “Please, don’t tell them. He’ll only pick on me more.”

“She’s right, Papa,” Kathleen added. “He hit her three times today at school.”

Mariah looked down at her precious cargo.

“What’s that you have there?” Mr. Jennings asked.

“A dress from my mama’s shop. I was on my way to deliver it to Mrs. Ainsley.” The paper was bent and slightly crushed, but appeared to be intact.

“How much farther do you have to go?”

“Another block.”

“Kaye will wait with you while I get my carriage. We’ll drive you there and see that you get home safely. Not sure what this city is coming to when a youngster can’t do an errand for her mother without being attacked by hooligans.”

“I’ll be okay now, Mr. Jennings.”

But he hastened away.

“Your papa’s nice,” Mariah said to Kathleen.

“Yes he is. I’ll bet your papa will be mad when you tell him about Liam.”

“I don’t have a papa. He died.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay. Thank you for helping me.”

“I didn’t laugh when Liam hit you at school. Do you think we can be friends?”

“I’d like that.”

Mr. Jennings returned and drove Mariah and her new friend to Mrs. Ainsley’s house. Once there, he explained what happened and why the paper was so dirty. She was appalled by the incident, and when she opened the paper the dress inside was undamaged. She was so pleased, she gave Mariah a few pennies for her trouble.

True to his word, Mr. Jennings drove her home and escorted her inside. Her mother looked from him and Kaye to Mariah and her muddy attire, and asked, coolly, “Who are you, and what happened?”

He opened his mouth, but she cut him off. “Mariah. Explain.”

Seeing the ice in her mother’s eyes, Mariah told the tale slowly, hoping she’d understand.

When she was done with the telling, her mother said in the same cool tone, “Thank you, Mr. Jennings. You can leave us now.”

He appeared concerned by her attitude. “None of what happened was your daughter’s fault. The dress wasn’t damaged—”

“Good day, Mr. Jennings.”

Anger filled his face, but he didn’t voice it. “Good day, ma’am. Come Kaye.”

Once they exited, her mother fumed, “How dare you come home covered in mud. Do you know how much time I spent making that dress you’re wearing?”

“Mama, it wasn’t my fault. I—”

“Did Mrs. Ainsley give you money?”

“Yes.”

Her mother stuck out her hand. Mariah, fighting back tears, placed the two pennies in her palm.

“Now go get the strap. I’ll teach you to come home full of mud.”

“But, Mama—“

“Fetch the strap!”

Mariah swallowed her tears and hurried to retrieve the strap.

Chapter 1

Rancho Destino

Yolo County, California

April 1885

A
lanza Yates stood in the cool morning air on the verandah of her rancho and gazed out at the vast green landscape. Off in the distance, near the tree line that bordered the rising mountains, horses and colts destined for sale galloped leisurely under the watchful eyes of mounted ranch hands. To the west, slow-moving cattle, also destined for sale, fattened themselves on the open grasslands and drank at the clear stream that meandered down from the hills. Her orchards, with trees bearing lemons and oranges, shared space with tidy rows of grapevines budding with fruit. The rancho, originally established by her grandfather, and passed to her father upon his death was her birthplace. As a youngster, when the area was known as Mexico’s Alta California, she’d ridden from one end of the estate to the other without a care in the world. Since then, many things had changed, and most importantly, so had she.

She was born Alanza Maria Vallejo, the pampered only child of the wealthy and well-connected Don Francisco Vallejo, who traced his lineage back to the glory days of Spain. By the time she was fifteen, Alanza had been educated by the friars and nuns, traveled widely in Mexico and Europe, and promised in marriage to Don Jose Ignacio, a man thirty-five years her senior. She hated him. He and his sweaty hands were always trying to touch her when he found her in the hallways of her home alone, without her parents or
duenna
. His leering piglike eyes, and the way he licked his lips as if she were something he planned to eat, made her hate him even more, so she refused to honor the marriage agreement. Her father raged, her mother cried, and the neighboring Spanish families shook their heads at her scandalous insolence while whispering behind their fans about her reputation. To make matters worse, she was secretly in love with a man not of Spanish descent. His name was Abraham Yates. Her parents wouldn’t have minded his African heritage; after all, there were many families in Mexico and Spanish California with the same blood, including more than half of the original settlers of the city of Los Angeles.

What they would’ve minded was that Abraham was an American. In their eyes, his ties to the Bear Flag Party, a group whose machinations opened the way for the American government to gain California from Mexico via subterfuge and then war, would’ve made them threaten to send their only daughter to a nunnery and never see or speak to her again. They demanded she marry Don Ignacio, but because she was stubborn and spoiled, she ran away to her secret love with the hope that he would take her in.

Being an honest man, Abraham immediately brought her back to her parents. But the damage was done; no Spanish man of good family would have her now, so a padre was immediately summoned, and after enduring the only beating ever meted out by her father’s hand, Alanza was quickly married off to the widower Abraham Yates to become his wife and the stepmother to his six-year-old son, Logan.

Alanza sighed at the memory. She’d been so arrogant and full of herself at that time. Had she known then what life had in store for her, she would’ve thrown herself at her father’s feet and begged for forgiveness and mercy. After the ceremony, she and Abraham returned to his small cabin. His admittance to not being in love with her shattered her world. He’d no idea she’d held such strong feelings for him, and told her had he known he would’ve gently pointed out the truth. Having had no experience with men, she’d assumed the soft smiles he sent her way when he came to the ranch to tend her father’s horses meant something. Each time he visited, she found some nonsensical reason to speak with her father whenever the two men conversed, just to bask in Abraham’s smile. But on the evening of her wedding day, she realized she was nothing more than a vain, spoiled child who’d brought shame down on herself and her family, and forced a stern but compassionate man to be yoked to her till death did them part. Her humiliation, guilt, and shame knew no bounds.

“Senora?”

Her reverie broken, Alanza turned to her Irish housekeeper. “Yes, Bonnie?”

“Mr. Logan and his men have returned. Do you wish lunch served before or after you welcome him home?”

“After, Bonnie.
Gracias.
And have my carriage brought around,
por favor.

Bonnie departed, leaving Alanza alone with her thoughts again. The knowledge that Logan had arrived home safely made her send up a silent prayer of thanks. Abraham lost his life in a rock slide eight years into their marriage. She knew better than to burden Logan with her fears that he’d suffer a similar fate, but whenever he was away, she slept restlessly and lit extra candles to the Virgin Mother on his behalf. Many second wives chose to distance themselves from children brought into a marriage by their husbands, but she’d loved Logan from the moment they’d met. The years following Abe’s death were filled with despair and an abject poverty she never could have imagined while growing up in her parents’ home, being waited upon by a small army of servants and sleeping beneath silken sheets. Logan became her touchstone and her light during that time. He talked with her, listened to her hopes and dreams, and worked tirelessly by her side. In many ways he still held that role. Although she hadn’t given him birth, he was her son, and she loved him as fiercely as if she had.

Abraham might not have loved her, but he’d been tender in bed, and as a result, she gave birth to two sons who she loved just as much as her stepson. Andrew Antonio, or Drew—he of the godlike face—chose the law as his profession and women as his hobby. He bore the most resemblance to Alanza and her Spanish ancestors. Two years after his birth came Noah, her youngest. He grew up and chose the sea, or rather the sea chose him. On a trip to San Francisco, when he was eighteen years old, he was shanghaied. His family had no clue as to what had happened, and Logan and Drew turned the city upside down in their efforts to find him, but to no avail. It was as if he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. For two long, miserable years, Alanza prayed to the saints on behalf of her missing child, then finally a letter arrived informing them of his fate. In spite of all that had happened, the sea became his life and he now sailed his own ship, the
Alanza.

No, Abraham never loved her, but love was what she wanted the most for them. Love with wives who adored them and children who loved them as much as Alanza did.

A
weary Logan Yates was on his way to a bath and bed when he heard the door pull. Having just gotten home from six grueling weeks in the saddle rounding up wild mustangs in Montana, he wasn’t in the mood for visitors. Going to the door, he had to step around saddles, spurs, braided lariats, chaps, boots, socks, discarded denims, union suits, and all the rest of the equipment and clothing belonging to him and his ranch hands. A quick glance through the dirty windows of his equally cluttered parlor showed Alanza’s fancy black coach parked out front. He assumed she’d come to welcome him home. He loved her very much and was glad to see her, but he knew he was going to have to listen to her lecture him about the unholy mess that was his house. It was his hope the lecturing would be short because he was dead on his feet.

Alanza entered with a sweep of blue silk and fragrant perfume. “Welcome home, my son,” she said warmly in her Spanish-inflected English. “I missed you.”

He placed a kiss on her offered cheek. “Missed you, too. It’s good to be back.” She was in her late forties, only nine years older than he, and wore her age well. The first time they met, he remembered looking at her raven black hair and matching eyes and thinking her the most beautiful woman in the world.

“Any problems along the way?” she asked.

“None. We brought back a stallion, four mares, and seven yearlings. All in good shape. Eli and the men are getting them settled into the corral.” He watched her discreetly glancing around at the mess that also covered what little furniture he had, and he sighed inwardly because he knew what would follow.

“When are you going to hire a housekeeper?”

When he didn’t respond, her lips thinned, which made him attempt to come to his own defense. “I don’t need one, and besides, it isn’t as if I’ll be entertaining guests.”

“But you should be,” she countered. “You are a leader here, just like your father was. It’s a good thing I love you as much as I do.”

“Why?”

“Because if I didn’t, I’d’ve taken a torch to this place months ago.”

Amusement filled his dark eyes. “A torch?”

“Fueled by kerosene. The smell in here alone is enough to make decent folks swoon. Please allow me to hire someone.”

“Soon as we get the new bunkhouse built, things will be back to normal.”

Logan and his men were forced to stow their gear in the house after the fire from a lightning strike destroyed the bunkhouse. That was a year ago. What with riding to Montana twice a year for horses and then breaking them for sale, there hadn’t been time yet to get a new one built. Polite society might call his place a sty but he and the hands didn’t mind the clutter or the smell.

Alanza was still staring around, her distaste muted but plain. “You’ll never get a wife this way.”

“Fine with me, because I’m not looking for one.”

She raised an elegantly shaped eyebrow and warned, “If I am sent to my grave without grandchildren I will haunt the lot of you for eternity.”

“Then you might want to speak with my brothers. I have my horses and the land.”

“And Valencia,” she stated coolly.

Valencia was his mistress. Logan met her statement without reacting.

She shook her head. “I’ll put notices for a housekeeper in a few papers back East. Your reputation precedes you here. Any woman who applies will undoubtedly want to share your bed instead of making it. Back East, we may be able to find a true candidate immune to your manly charms.”

“Up to you. Me, I’ve been in the saddle for weeks. Going to take a bath and sleep.”

“You have my luck finding a place to do either.”

“I love you, too,” he chuckled.

Smiling, she squeezed his hand affectionately, gave his cheek a parting peck, then swept out of his house with another rustle of silk and the trailing scent of her sweet perfume.

After her departure, Logan took a good honest look around and supposed it could use some help. Although he’d never admit it aloud, she was right about the stink, too; it was the first thing he noticed upon entering. But the last thing he wanted was a dried-up, back-East biddy underfoot ordering him around. He gave the orders. He didn’t take them.

“Dona Alanza still complaining about the house?”

Logan turned to see his partner and friend, Eli Braden, entering from the back of the house. The spectacle-wearing Texan was one of the finest horsemen Logan had ever met. “Were you hiding so she wouldn’t see you?”

“Yep. Didn’t want her lighting into me, too. Reminds me too much of my own mama.” Eli took a long look around. “This place could use some cleaning, though. If we could bottle the smell, we’d make a fortune selling it as rat poison.”

Logan rolled his eyes. Eli’s digs were reminiscent of ones often flung Logan’s way by his siblings, both of whom believed provoking him to be their main mission in life. “The horses settled in?”

“Yeah. Stallion still pitching a fit, but he’ll come around. You really going to hire a housekeeper?”

“Alanza is.”

“I wish her luck. If it were me, I’d take one look at this mess and hightail it out of here like my saddle was on fire.”

“Go home.”

“Going. See you tomorrow.” He left, cheerily whistling “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

After his much longed for bath, Logan walked out to check on the white stallion. It was still angrily charging around the confines of the corral. After spending life unbridled and free, it wasn’t happy being penned in, and reminded him in many ways of how angry his own stallion Diablo had been after capture. Logan understood the mustang’s distress, but he didn’t let empathy take precedence over the fine price the horse would bring when sold. He spent another few minutes marveling over its beautiful strong lines before leaving the horse under the watchful eyes of his hands and slowly making his way back to the house.

Logan was thirty-seven years old, and as he’d aged, recovering from the long rides to Montana and back seemed to take longer and longer. It wasn’t something he admitted out loud; as it stood, some of the younger hands had already affectionately taken to calling him or Eli “Old Man.” And at the moment he certainly felt like one. Five years ago, his left knee was nearly shattered by a kick from a stallion similar to the one now rearing and bellowing with rage in the corral, and although the knee healed, it never fully recovered. Long rides made it ache, as did the winter rains. Some of the other ranchers his age had long since turned their more arduous tasks over to the younger men in their employ but Logan refused to follow suit. Whether it stemmed from pride, arrogance, or just plain stubbornness he didn’t know, but he’d been the man on the Destiny ranch since his father returned from a trip to Montana dead and laid across the back of his horse. Logan had been fourteen. He and the then twenty-three-year-old Alanza had worked their fingers to the bone to keep their land, but they’d known much less about ranching back then and as a result wound up so destitute that at one point, there’d been no money and even less food. When life finally got better, he’d vowed that as long as he lived, she and his brothers would never have to endure such hardship again. So far, that vow had been kept.

He made his way through the cluttered hallway and into his bedroom. The sight of the clean bedding brought on a smile because he knew Alanza’s servants were responsible. Lying down, he thought about her wish for grandchildren. He supposed one of her sons would eventually have to tie the knot in order to make her dreams come true and to ensure Destiny’s land stayed in the family, but he didn’t see himself as a candidate. He enjoyed the company of his mistress, Valencia. She was a fine woman, even if she was a bit hesitant in bed, and she’d made it plain that she didn’t want to marry. He didn’t see Andrew Antonio as a likely candidate, either. Drew lived in San Francisco and had a
remuda
of mistresses that snaked from the Bay to Mexico City. No way was he going to give Alanza her desired grandbabies. So that left his baby brother, Noah. Turning over to make himself comfortable, Logan made a mental note to send the captain of the
Alanza
a letter informing him of his duty. Smiling at the thought of Noah’s probable reaction, the weary Logan closed his eyes and instantaneously fell asleep.

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