Authors: Allison K. Pittman
“Sisters. Secrets. Squabbles. Symphony and suitors. Allison Pittman’s newest historical romance, The Bridegrooms, has it all. What happens when you match up an every-man hero with a conflicted heroine? You find yourself enthralled by a story full of improbable pairings that showcase love’s surprising ways. Again, Pittman has me waiting impatiently for her next compelling tale.”
, author of
Two Brides Too Many
Too Rich for a Bride
“Get ready to put the rest of your life on hold. The Bridegrooms will sweep you off your feet and carry you over the threshold into the hearts of Vada Allenhouse and her unpredictable sisters. Mysterious romance is not the same thing as true devotion—or is it? And can one sister tell another how to choose between them? Allison Pittman’s literary sparkle shines better than ever in this story of hilarious, heartfelt love.”
, author of
Found on 16th Avenue
My Portion Forever
“The Allenhouse sisters bear a striking resemblance to Allison Pittman’s writing—feisty, witty, and intriguing, with a hint of underlying passion. This unique story of romance, secrets, and sisterly love will have you eagerly turning pages for more.”
, author of
A Valentine’s Wish
“Allison Pittman has elegantly and beautifully drawn a cast of characters that captivate from page one. Vada and her three distinctively different sisters seek love and happiness, each in their own way. You can’t help but identify with one in particular—the one most like you. Is Vada like her mother, who chooses passion over family? Will she succumb to temptation or learn that steady, honorable love brings a heady passion all its own? The answer isn’t revealed until the very end of The Bridegrooms, and it’ll make you ask yourself what choice would you have made.”
, author of
A Deadly Wilderness
OTHER BOOKS BY ALLISON PITTMAN
Saturdays With Stella
Ten Thousand Charms
Speak Through the Wind
With Endless Sight
For my sisters
Barbara, Roi Lynn, and Martha
And—of course—my parents
Thank you, Mom and Daddy, for the life you’ve lived for us
What Vada remembered most about that night was the snow, how it clung to the window one wet flake at a time.
“Look at that, Hazel. It’s like God’s sending down the stars.”
But her younger sister was already asleep, or close to it. She muttered something and turned to the wall, pushing Vada to the edge of the bed with her contortion.
, she thought, envying her three-year-old sister.
She gets to share her room with the baby. And the baby gets a crib
But it didn’t matter. Vada was too excited to sleep. Tonight had been her first official performance. She’d stood, alone on the stage, wearing the pale blue dress with ivory lace trim. Her hair in long, dark ringlets, her shoes shining and new, and her violin balanced perfectly on her shoulder, chin in place. The hush of the crowd, the piercing notes of “Au Clair de la Lune” wrought from her own small, nimble fingers. Not to mention her name printed in the program. Her very name!
Vada Diane Allenhouse, age eight.
Who could sleep after a night such as this?
She climbed out of bed, went to the window, and opened it an inch. Just enough so she could stoop down and breathe in deep the always-magical scent of snow.
“Close that window and get back in bed, Vada.”
The command might have startled her, coming as it did from the other side of the dark doorway, but Mama hadn’t spoken much above a whisper since before Vada’s littlest sister, Lisette, was born.
The stillness of her mother’s voice had become just another underlying sound in the house—along with the patter of three little girls in soft leather shoes and the rustle of so many petticoats.
Sometimes Mama’s whispers were hidden behind the back of her hand. They snaked around in the shadows of the evening or stayed trapped behind her pretty lips. Tonight, they seemed to drift in like the flakes, and it wasn’t until Vada turned to see her mother, lit on one side from the lamplight spilling from the room across the hall, that she could be sure she’d heard them at all.
“It’s open just a little bit, Mama. And the snow smells so—”
“I said close it. I don’t want you catching a chill.”
Pouting once her back was turned, Vada obeyed, bringing the frame to nestle in the painted sill. Just as she stood to return to bed, a movement in the street caught her eye. A carriage, its black cover dark against the intermittent whiteness of the sky, pulled to a stop in front of their house. Two dark, prancing horses snorted mist into the night.
“That can’t be.” The door swung open, filling the dark room with shadows. Mama rushed in, a bundle of squirming baby sister over her shoulder, and pulled the curtain aside. “He said not to expect him until the morning.”
“Then whose buggy is that?”
“It’s not even ten o’clock.”
This didn’t answer Vada’s question, but Mama was speaking into her sleeve, not to her daughter. Baby Lisette’s enormous eyes peered over Mama’s shoulder, as she silently gummed the puff of fabric.
“Come, Vada.” Mama gripped the top of her arm, tugging her to her feet. “Come away from the window and help me with the baby.”
Vada followed obediently, her bare feet padding across the hall to her parents’ bedroom. Mama followed behind, closing bureau drawers and scooting an open satchel to the other side of the bed.
“Are you getting a bag ready for Papa?”
“Here,” Mama said. “Sit in the rocking chair with her while I go get her bottle.”
“Do you want me to fix her bottle? I know how.”
As an answer, Mama tumbled little Lisette into Vada’s narrow lap, muttering about her return.
The windows in this room were hidden behind heavy velvet drapes, so no magic could be seen on the other side of the glass. No sound save Lisette’s bubbly coo. Vada gathered the soft body closer and buried her nose in the sweet dark golden curls.
Little Lissy was restless and squirming, and Vada gave what comfort she could, but her feet were too short to reach the floor so she could not propel the chair into rhythmic rocking. Instead the eldest Allenhouse girl and the newest sat, abandoned, waiting for Mama to come back.
By the time she did, Lissy was beyond inconsolable, bucking and wailing, her little feet tangled in her long lace gown.
“Can I try feeding her?” Vada tried once again to wrestle her littlest sister still.
“Yes,” Mama said, without a moment’s hesitation. She knelt beside the chair, aiding Vada in settling the baby in the crook of her thin arm.
This close, Vada could see snowflakes like tiny flecks of lace, melting into watery beads on top of Mama’s thick, dark hair. Damp spots speckled her shoulders. The scent of wet and cold clung to her, and a thin rivulet ran down her neck, disappearing within her collar.
“You went outside?”
“Make sure she sits up a little. Like this.” As Mama readjusted the baby, Vada felt the slight burdensome weight pulling on her shoulder. “And here’s the bottle.” Mama settled the comfortingly warm glass between Lissy’s chubby feet, and her soft bowlike mouth eagerly sought the nipple at the end of the long rubber tube.
“Papa doesn’t like using bottles.” Vada spoke above her sister’s rhythmic, contented grunts. “He says they make babies sick.”
“Your papa doesn’t know everything.”
“But he’s a doctor.”
Mama didn’t answer. She sat on the floor, her feet tucked up under her heavy, dark skirt and set the rocking chair in motion with her hand.
“You’re a big girl, Vada, taking care of your sister like that.”
“I love her. It’s easy to take care of someone when you love her.”
“I suppose it is.” Mama traced a finger along Lisette’s chubby arm.
“I love Hazel and Althea too, but they’re not babies.”
“No, they’re not.”
“Do you think Mrs. Schaeffer has had her baby yet? If she hurries, Papa can be home in time to kiss me good night.”
“I suspect he’ll kiss you no matter what hour he gets home.” Mama’s voice was flat, like that one note in “Au Clair de la Lune” Vada could never get just right.
“Does it hurt a lot to have a baby?”
“Yes, Vada. It hurts very much.”
“I don’t think I ever want to have one.” She waited for her mother to respond, but Mama didn’t even look up from the carpet. “I might not ever even get married. I think I want to be a premier violinist and travel all over the country. And France. And Germany.”
With each recited country, baby Lisette waved a chubby fist, lending emphasis to Vada’s spoken dreams.
Mama reached up and caught Lisette’s flailing hand and brought it to her lips for a soft kiss. “Be careful, Vada. Your heart can change.”
“Not mine. I’ll always love music.”
“There’s never any telling what you’ll love from one day to the next.”
Something in Mama’s voice struck a fearful chord, and Vada swallowed hard, fighting back tears before she could speak again.
“You—you think I’m good enough, don’t you, Mama? Good enough to be a premier violinist?”
Her mother looked up then, her large eyes rimmed with their own tears. But hers seemed harder and dried unshed before she spoke. “I’m not going to tell you what you can and cannot be, Vada.”
“But did you think I was good tonight?”
“I thought you were fine.”
“Just fine? What about—”
“Hush, now. If you keep talking, the baby will never go to sleep.”
From then on the only sound in the room was Lisette’s hungry swallows, but soon those slowed with the rocking. Heavy lids made fringed brown-sugar skirts along the top of her cheeks, and the nipple fell out of her slack mouth.
By then the arm holding her sister was numb, and Vada’s head filled with unanswered questions. Those, however, would have no relief as Mama silently stood and scooped the infant up and away, leaving an empty chill where the soft, warm body had been nestled.
Lisette emitted an enormous belch as Mama placed her over her shoulder, and Vada giggled at the sound.
“Sssshhhh.” Mama took gingerly steps out of the room to deposit the baby in her crib in the next room. In the meantime, Vada scooted to the edge of the rocker’s seat and used her weight to dip the chair down until her bare toes hit the floor. She hopped off, leaving the chair in a rocking frenzy behind her, and ran across the hall to look out the window.
The carriage still waited.
She met up with her mother in the hall. Collided, actually, and grabbed Mama’s hand. “Who do you think that is waiting outside?”
“Stay away from the window. It’s late.”
“But I’m not sleepy at all. Do you think I can stay up until Papa gets home? Then maybe I can play my song for him since he couldn’t come to the recital.”
Mama knelt then, right in front of her, and took Vada in her arms, holding her tighter than she had since long before little Lisette had been born.
“You must go to sleep, Vada darling. Remember, you can’t come into your dreams unless you sleep.”
“But I’m too excited! I want Papa to hear—”
Mama held her an arm’s length away and looked at her with a very stern face. “Your papa will be home when he’s home. Staying awake won’t make that happen any sooner. And I daresay your song won’t sound any different if you play it for him tomorrow. In fact, it might be better since you won’t be so tired and upset.”
“But I’m not upset. Are you upset, Mama?”
She glanced over Vada’s shoulder toward the window, then stood. “Why don’t you come and sleep in Papa’s bed for tonight?”
“Really?” Such a treat it was to climb up into that big, soft mattress—something she and her sisters quarreled over on nights when Papa was out doctoring.
“Yes. Run along and lie down. I’ll be in after I kiss your sisters and check the locks.”
This, Vada obeyed. Funny how the minute her face touched the feather pillow, all the excitement of the evening broke up within her, dissolving and fizzing like the headache powders her mother stirred into glasses of water throughout the day.
Vada closed her eyes against the lamplight and listened to whispers coming from across the hall and Mama saying what sounded like a prayer over Hazel. Then again in the next room where Althea slept. Vada waited for Mama to come in and speak over her, but her footsteps carried her down the stairs. The front door opened and closed, and opened and closed again. Minutes later, Mama was at her side, bringing with her the essence of snow. Vada felt a cool hand on her brow, followed by a soft kiss.
“Sleep now, Vada,” Mama whispered. “I’m right here.” Vada heard the creaking wood of the rocking chair as her mother settled into it, followed by a slow, lulling rhythm. She opened her eyes one final time and watched her mother’s profile moving in and out of the lamplight. Just as she reached the edges of sleep, she heard faint strands of “Au Clair de la Lune,” but there was no telling if they came from the memory of the stage or the woman in the chair. Either way, the notes carried her to dreaming and held her until the morning when she opened her eyes to Papa.