Somewhere to Call Home (Love Inspired Historical)

BOOK: Somewhere to Call Home (Love Inspired Historical)
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An Impossible Choice

Some might call it a proposal. Violet Burton knows it’s blackmail, and she refuses to give in. She
won’t
marry the unscrupulous banker who holds the mortgage on her Virginia home. Instead, she’ll find employment in New York City, earning enough to pay her debts before returning home. Virginia’s where she belongs....even if reconnecting with childhood friend Michael Heaton makes her long to stay permanently at his mother’s boardinghouse.

The freckle-faced little girl Michael knew is now a lovely woman. Helping Violet find her way is a simple act of friendship—at least at first. But soon he’ll do anything to keep her safe, and hope she’ll see that the home she seeks is one they can share together.

“Do you miss Ashland, Michael?”

“Sometimes I miss the times I lived there. But nothing there is the same now, and I’ve come to love living here in the city. It took a while, but now I feel this is home. What about you? Do you plan on going back to Ashland?”

“Oh, it’s still home for me. And of course, once I pay off the mortgage, I’ll be returning.”

Violet’s words didn’t really surprise him, though they did seem to put a pall on his mood. He knew the whole reason she was here was to earn enough money to get her home paid off. But he was going to have to warn his mother against becoming too attached to Violet so that she didn’t take it too hard when she did leave. And he couldn’t let himself enjoy her company too much for the very same reason.....

JANET LEE BARTON

was born in New Mexico and has lived all over the South, in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. She loves researching and writing heartwarming stories about faith, family, friends and love. Janet loves being able to share her faith and love of the Lord through her writing. She’s very happy that the kind of romances the Lord has called her to write can be read and shared with women of all ages.

Janet and her husband now live in Oklahoma, and are part of what they laughingly call their “Generational Living Experiment” with their daughter and her husband, two wonderful granddaughters and a Shih Tzu called Bella. The experiment has turned into quite an adventure and so far, they think it’s working out just fine. When Janet isn’t writing or reading, she loves to travel, cook, work in the garden and sew.

You can visit Janet at www.janetleebarton.com.

Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home

And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee;
he will be with thee, he will not fail thee,
neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

—Deuteronomy
31:8

To Tamela Hancock Murray and Tina James
for making a dream come true;

To all my LI and LIH author friends,
who have encouraged me to keep trying;

To the Bards of Faith and the OCFW chapter
for their encouragement and support;

To my husband Dan and my family
for their unending love and support;

And, most of all, to my Lord and Savior
for showing me the way.

Prologue

Ashland, Virginia
May 1895

V
iolet Burton sighed with disappointment as she left the mercantile. How could things have changed so much in such a short time? Only moments ago, on her way to the post office, there’d been a help-wanted sign in the store’s window and another one in the milliner’s shop. Evidently, she wasn’t the only one seeking employment in her small hometown, for both positions were filled by the time she got through picking up her mail.

She walked along the main street, her gaze searching the windows of the businesses on each side of the street. When she spotted a sign in the café across the way, a flicker of hope nudged her to gather up her skirts to clear them from the dirt road and hurry across. However, just before she reached the door, the sign was yanked right out of the window. Violet’s hope sank once more, but she entered the establishment anyway.

She walked over to the proprietor, who was putting the sign under her cash box. “Good morning, Mrs. Wheeler. Has the position been filled already?”

The woman looked down at the floor and back up at Violet, her face a bright pink. “I’m sorry, dear. But I’ve decided I can’t afford to take anyone on today.”

It seemed an odd way to word the answer to her question, but Violet didn’t feel she should press. Since her widowed mother’s illness and death a few weeks earlier, she knew firsthand what it was not to be able to afford things. And if she didn’t find employment soon, she’d be able to afford even less. Worst of all, she could lose her family home if she couldn’t come up with the money to pay the mortgage her mother had taken out on the house as her illness progressed.

Violet nodded and sighed. “I understand. But if you should find that you do need someone after all, please keep me in mind.”

The woman opened her mouth as if to say something, but seemed to change her mind, closed her mouth and only nodded instead.

Disheartened, Violet turned to leave, but just as she reached the door a thought came to her. She turned back and walked over to the woman she’d known all her life. Violet didn’t want to put her on the spot, but she had to know. She kept her voice low and asked, “Mrs. Wheeler, by any chance, did Mr. Black tell you not to hire me?”

The older woman looked around to make sure none of her customers were within hearing distance before giving a curt nod. She motioned Violet closer and whispered, “He holds my mortgage, Violet. I can’t afford to make him mad.”

“I see.”
All too well
.

“I’m sorry.”

There were tears in Mrs. Wheeler’s eyes, and Violet knew she was sincere. She reached out and patted her on the shoulder. “It’s all right, Mrs. Wheeler. I don’t blame you. Thank you for being honest with me.”

Still, Violet felt the flush of anger flood her cheeks when she turned to leave, her stride strong and purposeful as she went outside and crossed the street to the bank. With each step she took, her outrage grew. If Harlan Black thought this was the way to win her heart, well, he had better think again!

“Miss Burton, how nice to see you,” the receptionist said as she entered the building. “What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to speak with Mr. Black as soon as possible, Miss Bancroft.” Violet tried to keep the irritation out of her voice, but she had a feeling she failed as the woman took one look at her and stood.

“I’ll tell him you are here.”

“Yes, please do that.”

The receptionist hurried back to the banker’s private office while Violet tapped her foot as she waited.

In a matter of seconds Miss Bancroft was back. “He’ll see you now, Miss Burton.”

“Thank you.” Violet held her head high and marched back to the office.

Harlan Black stood at the door, a smug smile on his face. Violet supposed many women would find him handsome with his thick blond hair and gray eyes. He was always impeccably dressed and one could not fault his manners, but there was something about his sinister smoothness that made her skin crawl.

He bowed slightly. “My dear Violet. How nice to see you today—”

“You might not think it is so nice once I tell you what I have to say. And, I am
not
your ‘dear.’” Violet swept past him and stood in the middle of the room, smoothing her skirts as she waited for him to join her. Then she pinned her gaze on the man.

“Please, take a seat, Violet, and tell me what has you so distressed.” He motioned for her to take the chair across from his desk.

Violet chose to keep standing. “You and your deceitful ways of keeping me from finding employment so that I can pay off the mortgage on my home are what have me so upset. How dare you?”

Harlan’s eyes narrowed, and the smile left his face. “Violet, dear, there is absolutely no reason for you to seek employment. I’ve told you I will forgive the mortgage, if only—”

“I will
not
marry you, Harlan Black. If my mind were not made up before, it certainly is now—after finding out that you’ve told the townspeople not to hire me.” The very thought of marrying the man nauseated Violet. “I will pay off the mortgage to my home, even if I have to leave here to do it!”

Harlan raised an eyebrow and chuckled. “And go where? Think about it, Violet. I offer you freedom from debt and a life of comfort. No woman in her right mind would turn that down.”

“Then I must have lost my mind, for I have no intention of marrying you. Not now, not ever!” Violet turned to leave, but Harlan beat her to the door.

He grabbed hold of her arm and pulled her near. His breath was hot on her face, and his nearness sent a cold shiver down her spine. “Don’t be too hasty, my dear. I can make you happy. You know I can. You have two weeks until the next payment is due. I’ll need your final word by then.”

Bile rose in Violet’s throat at his words and she willed herself not to heave as she jerked her arm away and yanked the door open. Never would she marry this contemptuous man. She’d lose the home she loved first—but not without a fight to keep it.

Chapter One

New York City
May 24, 1895

A
s the train came to a grinding stop in Grand Central Depot, Violet Burton’s heart beat in excitement at the same time her stomach fluttered with apprehension. She stood, shaking out the skirts of her brown-and-beige traveling outfit before joining the other passengers in the aisle and following them out of the train. Pausing on the top step of the car, she fought the urge to turn around and seek refuge back inside. Perhaps she could ask the porter to buy her a ticket right back home. And then what?

Go back and marry Harlan Black? Violet shuddered. No. Never. Instead, she should be thankful her mother’s old friend had come up with a solution to her problem. Violet took a deep calming breath and let it out. Once...twice...and again.

“Hurry it up, miss,” a man behind her said. “Are you getting off or what?”

A woman beside him reached out and pushed Violet’s shoulder. “Yeah, missy. You’re holding up the line and we don’t have all day.”

Heat stole up Violet’s face and her heart hammered in her ears as she gave her hand to the waiting porter and hurried down the steps and out of the way. She didn’t know in which direction to look for Mrs. Heaton. There were more people here than she’d ever seen in one place, yet she’d never felt so totally alone in her life.

Mrs. Heaton had told her each railroad line had its own waiting room, baggage facilities and ticketing operation in the building, so Violet assumed it wouldn’t be hard to spot her. But she’d been mistaken. She didn’t know how she’d ever see her mother’s friend among all the people coming and going from every direction.

“Your trunk and bags will be over at the New York Central baggage claim area, miss.” The porter pointed across the way. “Over there, where all those people are gathered.”

“Thank you.”

He tipped his hat. “There’s a waiting room there, too. I’m sure someone will be here to meet you soon, miss.”

“Yes. I hope so.” He’d been very helpful on the trip and she hated to see him turn away.

Violet tried not to panic. What was it Mrs. Heaton had said in her letter? She’d be there to meet her. But where was she? And what would she do if Mrs. Heaton didn’t show up? Violet began to think she might have made the biggest mistake in her life by coming here. Her mother had always warned her about big cities, and Violet knew she would not be happy she’d come to New York City. Yet, she was certain Mama would not have wanted her to marry Harlan Black under any circumstances. Besides, she really had no choice.

She took another deep breath and looked around. The only way Violet could see how the name
Grand
could apply to this depot was its size. It certainly couldn’t be considered a grand place to be—not with all the steam, smoke and ashes spewing from the locomotives, hovering overhead and condensing with the odors of people from so many walks of life. From the sweet scent of toilet water to the strongest perfumes, they all intermingled with the smell of unwashed bodies and sweat, pervading the huge room, making Violet more nauseated by the minute.

Grand Central Depot wasn’t only the largest building she’d ever been in—it was also the busiest. No sooner had the train she’d just arrived on chugged away than another one arrived in its place. Passengers poured out of it, heading off in every direction. Some of the travelers looked as lost as she felt.

She glanced around again but there seemed to be more people than ever, many speaking languages she couldn’t understand. There was all manner of dress, from elegant to almost threadbare. Men pulled out their watches to see if the time matched the huge clock in the depot while mothers tried to keep their children close to their sides. The noise level seemed to rise with each passing minute as Violet made her way across the room.

A man spit near one of the spittoons positioned all over the depot, but he didn’t seem to have good aim as his spittle ran down the outside of the cuspidor and ended up on the floor beside the vessel. The sight, mixed with the smells, made Violet’s stomach roll, and she picked up her pace.

Trying to tamp down her anxiety, Violet pulled a picture of Mrs. Heaton out of her reticule and looked at it once more, although she was certain she would recognize her old neighbor. Surely she couldn’t have changed much in three years. She turned in a small circle, looking closely at each woman she saw. Finally, when she’d about given up hope, she saw a woman she thought was Martha Heaton hurrying across the building. The older woman waved, and Violet breathed a sigh of relief as her mother’s good friend reached her.

“Violet? It is you, isn’t it?”

Her eyes held such warmth Violet couldn’t help but smile. “Yes, ma’am, it is.”

Mrs. Heaton grasped Violet’s hands in hers. “How lovely you are, all grown up. You look just like your mother when she was your age. You have her dark hair and blue eyes and even her coloring.” Mrs. Heaton pulled her into a quick hug. “Oh, you bring back so many memories of my younger days.”

The older woman’s blue eyes sparkled, and her fading auburn hair was done up under a large hat that matched her afternoon dress of blue-and-green stripes.

“Thank you, Mrs. Heaton. It is good to see you again.” An understatement to be sure. It warmed her heart to see the older woman’s familiar face.

“I am sorry I’m a bit late.” Mrs. Heaton shook her head and the green feathers on top of her blue hat bobbled to and fro. “Traffic is just awful today, and I’m so glad Michael came with me. Hopefully, it won’t be so bad on the way home.”

At the mention of her son, Violet looked over Mrs. Heaton’s shoulder to see a man that looked very familiar, but so much...more, striding toward them. Dressed in a navy blue suit, a wing-collar white shirt and a blue silk cravat, his dark brown hair covered with a gray bowler, the young man she’d known back home seemed to have become a mature businessman. His warm brown eyes had an expression in them that made her wonder if he were as surprised at the changes in her as she was at his.

“Violet, how good it is to see you,” Michael said, taking her gloved hand in his. “If Mother hadn’t been talking to you, I’m not sure I would have recognized you. You’ve grown up since I last saw you.”

If anything, Michael Heaton was even more handsome than Violet remembered. “I could say the same for you, Michael. It’s so good to see you both.”

“Mother has been looking forward to your arrival very much. She’s been fussing over your room for days.”

She slipped her hand from his and turned toward his mother. “Oh, you shouldn’t have gone to any trouble, Mrs. Heaton.”

“I’ve enjoyed every minute, Violet. I hope you’ll like it and feel right at home.”

Michael quickly took charge, and before Violet knew what had happened, he’d procured a man to fetch her bags and help carry them through the huge building. She barely registered walking across the marble floor and outside, as she dodged first one and then another person hurrying to or from the trains.

Michael helped them get seated in the hack waiting right outside for them, and once they were settled and he took his seat, Violet said, “Thank you for meeting me at the station. I’m not sure I would have known what to do otherwise.” She shook her head and chuckled. “I’ve never seen so many people in one place. Or such hustle and bustle.”

“The city can be intimidating at first. And for a woman alone, I’m sure it’s quite frightening,” Michael said.

As the driver flipped the reins and steered his hack out onto the street and into the traffic, Violet could well believe the city would overwhelm her for years to come.

Once they were on their way, Mrs. Heaton turned to her. “I am so very sorry about your loss, my dear. Your mother was like a sister to me, and while I know your loss is greater than mine, I will miss her tremendously.” The older woman patted her hand as tears gathered in her eyes.

Violet’s heart warmed at her sincerity. “Thank you. She missed you sorely after you left. She looked forward to each of your letters, and I read them over and over to her when she couldn’t read them herself anymore.”

Mrs. Heaton dabbed at her eyes with the delicate handkerchief she pulled from her sleeve. “I’m so glad your mother and I stayed close through our correspondence. I know these last few months must have been grueling for you, dear, but I want you to know you have a place with me for as long as you need it.”

Violet swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat. The very day she’d walked out of Harlan Black’s office, she’d written a letter accepting Mrs. Heaton’s offer to help in any way she could and telling her why. In the two weeks since, she’d been so consumed with getting ready for the move and getting out of town without letting Harlan suspect what she was doing, she hadn’t had time to even grieve. The woman’s kind words were like balm to her battered heart. “Thank you. I can’t tell you how much your kindness means to me.”

Mrs. Heaton gave a brisk nod, as if to dismiss the sad thoughts. “I’m just glad to have you here with us.”

Violet began to relax. She was here among friends—even though she barely recognized Michael. Just seeing him stride across the depot toward her had taken her breath away. Sitting across from him now, she tried to keep from stealing glances at him as he and his mother pointed out different sights to her.

She wasn’t even sure she saw half of all the sights since she closed her eyes each time another horse-drawn vehicle seemed bent on running them down, just before it stopped or turned on another street. She’d never seen so many different modes of travel in her life. Mrs. Heaton pointed out omnibuses, landaus and the trolley.

“Traveling in the city is a bit harrowing the first few times,” Michael said. “But you’ll get used to it.”

“Thankfully, Grand Central isn’t far from Gramercy Park, where our home is located. We’ll have plenty of time to show you the sights and teach you the best way to get around, once you’re settled,” Mrs. Heaton said.

Violet wasn’t sure she’d ever learn how to get around and was more than a little relieved when the hack pulled up outside a nice four-story brownstone on the corner of a quiet residential street. A small sign outside read Heaton House.

“We’re home, dear,” Mrs. Heaton said, patting her hand. “This is my boardinghouse.”

Michael and the driver took Violet’s baggage to the door, which was quickly opened wide by a young woman near her own age. She was slightly plump and wearing an apron and cap, her blond hair curling out from under it.

“I was getting worried, ma’am,” she said as Michael and the driver brought Violet’s trunk and bags into the foyer.

The foyer was wide and long, the floors polished until they gleamed. A long table with a vase of fresh flowers in the center of it and a holder for calling cards stood against one wall. There were several hat racks and coatracks on the opposite wall, and Violet assumed they got a lot of use when all the boarders were there.

“The traffic was quite heavy today, Gretchen.” Mrs. Heaton took off her hat and put it on the rack. “This is Violet Burton, a dear friend from home and our new boarder. Violet, this is Gretchen Finster. She and her sister, Maida, help me out in the house and the kitchen Monday through Friday, and then on Saturdays and Sundays one goes home and the other stays to help with meals and the boarders’ laundry. I don’t know what I’d do without the two of them.”

“How do you do, Miss Burton?” Gretchen’s smile was welcoming.

“I’m fine, thank you.” Now that they were out of the traffic and congestion, she felt much better. “It’s nice to meet you, Gretchen.”

“Come, let me give you a quick tour of downstairs while Michael and Gretchen take your bags to your room,” Mrs. Heaton said.

“I’ll see you later at dinner, Violet. I must get back to work for a while,” Michael said.

“I’m sorry I interrupted your day, I—”

“I was glad to take some time to come greet you, and we’re glad to have you here.” He kissed his mother on the cheek and smiled at Violet before heading up the stairs with Gretchen following.

“See you later, dear.”

“I’ll try to get home early,” Michael said just as he disappeared on the landing.

Violet forced her thoughts off Michael and back to Mrs. Heaton as the woman turned and pointed to the right of the foyer. “This is the front parlor, Violet. Some, if not all, of the boarders gather here most evenings before and after dinner.”

The room was quite lovely and large, with a piano in one corner and at least two very comfortable-looking parlor suites covered in a plush burgundy color, along with several rocking chairs upholstered in a gold-and-burgundy stripe, stationed around the room. The draperies were of the same material as the rocking chairs. She would have liked to look closer at the paintings and portraits on the wall, the framed pictures on the tables, but there wasn’t time before Mrs. Heaton led her across the hall to the dining room.

This room was attractively furnished, as well. There were the same drapes on these windows and a beautifully carved sideboard along the opposite wall. The lace-covered table was huge—it must seat at least twelve people, and Violet wondered if there were that many boarders. Next came the kitchen, and her stomach rumbled at the wonderful aroma coming from the large range. The room was large and sunny with plenty of cupboards and a large worktable in the center.

“We’re having roast chicken this evening.” Mrs. Heaton took up a pot holder and checked the contents of a large pan in the middle of the oven. There appeared to be at least two big hens in the pan. Mrs. Heaton seemed to determine all was well as she closed the oven door and motioned to Violet to follow her.

Across the hall from the kitchen was the back parlor. A bit smaller than the front parlor, it seemed cozy and inviting. It was decorated in greens and blues and was quite restful. “This parlor is more for reading or quiet conversation. Several of our boarders bring their callers here to visit with them. Gretchen or Maida are always glad to bring tea or coffee for our guests.”

The next room, between both parlors, was Mrs. Heaton’s private study. It was paneled with shelves reaching from floor to ceiling, packed full of books. “You’re welcome to come see me here anytime, Violet. And the books are available for all the boarders.”

BOOK: Somewhere to Call Home (Love Inspired Historical)
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