Joy for Mourning Dorothy Clark ???? HarperCollins EUR In a move that shocks nineteenth-century Philadelphia society, wealthy widow Laina Brighton turns her grand house into an orphanage for homeless children. Staid and stuffy teas quickly give way to peals of happy laughter echoing through the stately halls.With the support of handsome doctor Thaddeous Allen, Laina is determined to give these waifs a better life, despite the malicious gossip that surrounds them. As these two crusaders, bound by honor and courage, create a future for the forgotten, they change the course of their own futures in ways they never imagined. Along the way, they make a felicitous discovery: that sometimes people become a family in their hearts. PRAISE FOR DOROTHY CLARK AND HER NOVELS ?A dynamic story of two lonely people in a desperate search for love?riveting and fast-paced?a fabulous story. Top Pick. 4? stars.? ?Romantic Times on Beauty for Ashes ?In Hosea?s Bride, Dorothy Clark skillfully lends a modern twist to the Biblical story of Hosea. A powerful faith message is deftly interwoven with a wrenching tale of a woman who doesn?t believe she is worthy of love. Top Pick. 4? stars.? ?Romantic Times ?Dorothy Clark has woven a beautiful, compelling story of God?s mercy and healing.? ?ChristianBookPreviews.com on Hosea?s Bride ?This debut novel?is one that will keep you turning page after page until you all-too-soon reach the end. The forgiveness and love [the heroine] finds when she becomes a Christian is truly inspiring.? ?RomanceJunkies.com on Hosea?s Bride Joy for Mourning Dorothy Clark www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) This book is dedicated with deep appreciation to my talented writing friends and critique partners, Debby Dill and Nancy Toback, who have been with me from the beginning on this book. Thanks for your unfailing graciousness and encouragement. You two are the best! Contents Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Discussion Questions Chapter One New York, 1822 She couldn?t stand it! Not for another minute! She had to go someplace where there were people, laughter, life. Laina Brighton swept her gaze around her beautiful, richly furnished drawing room, and the despair she now lived with on a daily basis gripped her anew. It was so elegant, so perfect, so empty. She missed Stanford. Oh, how she missed him! If only they could have had children, perhaps? Laina wrenched her mind from her heartrending thoughts, blinked away the tears that sprang so readily to her eyes these days and walked swiftly to the doorway. Her reflection flashed in the gilt-framed mirror as she hurried past. Her steps faltered. She turned and went back to stare into the mirror. The sorrow was still there, but so was a look of determination she hadn?t seen on her face since Stanford had died so unexpectedly nine months ago. She whirled and yanked open the door. ?Beaumont?? The impeccably garbed butler materialized as if from thin air. Laina frowned. And that was another thing?the servants hovered. They were so solicitous it was smothering her! ?Yes, madam?? ?I?m going to Philadelphia, Beaumont.? She ignored the quickly stifled look of shocked disapproval in his eyes?Beaumont was a stickler for convention. ?Tell Carlson to prepare the carriage immediately. I wish to leave within the hour.? ?Within the hour? But madam, that?s imposs?? He stopped short as Laina stiffened her spine. He gave her a small bow. ?Yes, madam?within the hour. Will there be anything else?? ?Yes. Send Tilly to my room to help Annette with the packing.? With a swish of her long black skirts, Laina spun about and headed for the ornately carved stairway that spiraled upward to the third floor. She glanced back over her shoulder at her butler as she began to climb. ?And tell Hannah to prepare a food basket?enough for two days. And?? She cleared the sudden thickness from her throat. ?And send Billy ahead to arrange for a change of horses. I?m not stopping until I reach Randolph Court!? Philadelphia ?Laina! What a wonderful surprise. I?m so pleased you?? Elizabeth gasped and stopped her headlong rush into the drawing room. ?Do I look that disreputable?? Laina forced a smile and rose to her feet. The room spun. She put her hand on the arm of the chair to steady herself. ?Laina, dear, what?s wrong?? Her sister-in-law rushed forward and clasped her arms around her. ?You?re so pale?and trembling enough to shake apart. Are you ill?? ?No. I?m simply incredibly weary.? Laina bit down on her lip to stop the laughter that was pushing upward in her throat. She must be hysterical. There was certainly nothing amusing? Bother! She blinked the sudden film of moisture from her eyes and stepped back from Elizabeth?s arms. It was too easy to give in to self-pity when others were sympathetic. ?I came from home without stopping.? ?Without stopping? Are you mad?? Laina jerked at the roar of words from the doorway. ?No, dearheart?only desperate.? Her lower lip quivered as she watched her younger brother hurry across the room toward her. The tears she?d been fighting welled into her eyes as his strong arms pulled her into a bone-crushing hug. Oh, how wonderful it felt to be held again! She rested her head against his hard chest. ?Don?t scold, Justin. I simply could not stay in that dreary, lonely house any longer. I had to come.? ?I?m not scolding you for coming, Laina. Only for doing so in such a foolhardy manner.? Justin slid his hands to the top of her arms and held her a short distance away, frowning down at her. ?Why didn?t you send word? I would have come for you. There was no need for you to make the journey alone, without care or rest. Look at you! You?re all but done in from fatigue.? ?I know.? Laina lifted her watery gaze to her brother?s handsome, scowling face. ?I know it was foolish of me, Justin, but it would have meant days of waiting if? Oh!? She began to sway as the full force of her exhaustion swept over her. ?I think I?d better sit down.? ?You don?t need to sit down, Laina. You need to sleep. Bring her along, Justin.? Elizabeth spun about and started across the room. Laina was too weary to protest as her brother scooped her into his arms and followed. ?I don?t believe we need send for Dr. Allen, Justin. Laina isn?t fevered.? Elizabeth glanced up at her worried husband. ?I think sleep is the only medicine she needs.? Laina sagged with relief as Elizabeth lifted her hand from her forehead, then gathered the last of her strength and pushed herself into a sitting position against the headboard. The bed felt too good after her long journey. She fought the desire to close her eyes, and smiled at Justin. ?Elizabeth is right, dearheart. Please don?t make a fuss. All I need is sleep.? ?And food.? Justin scowled down at her. ?Haven?t you been eating? Look at yourself, Laina?you?re thin as a stick!? Her heart warmed at sight of the worried frown lines creasing her brother?s forehead. ?You?re such a loving, caring man, Justin.? She wrinkled her nose at him. ?Even if not a very complimentary one.? She shifted her gaze to Elizabeth and forced a tired smile. ?How could you ever have thought him cold and aloof?? Elizabeth laughed. ?Because he acted that way. How was I to know it was all a sham?? She stepped to her husband?s side and rested her hand on his arm. ?Laina will be fine, Justin, but we need to get the travel dust off her so she can go to bed. And that means you need to go downstairs. I?ll join you as soon as Trudy and I have made her comfortable for the night.? Justin shifted his gaze to his wife, and Laina?s chest tightened. Stanford had admired her, but he?d never looked at her the way Justin was looking at Elizabeth?especially after she?d failed to produce an heir for him. And now? Laina broke off the depressing thought and watched as her brother cupped his wife?s face in his hands, kissed her soundly, then lifted his head and grinned. ?There! Now I?ve finally satisfied a desire I?ve had since the first night we spent together in this room?at least in part.? ?Justin!? Elizabeth?s cheeks flamed. ?Your sister?? ?Knows I love you. Look, I?ve made her smile.? Justin chuckled and kissed the tip of Elizabeth?s finely formed nose. ?I like it when you blush.? Laina sighed. She couldn?t help it. Justin and Elizabeth were so much in love, so happy together. Justin glanced at her over his wife?s soft golden curls. ?I wish there was something we could do to ease your sorrow, Lainy.? ?There is. We can let her know how much we love her.? Elizabeth lifted her head and smiled. ?We can share our happiness with her and we can pray for her, because the rest?the easing of her grief and the healing of her sorrow?is in God?s hands.? The words were meant as comfort, but they only made her feel worse. Laina clamped her jaw together to hold back the bitter retort that sprang to her lips. She had never been on close terms with God the way Elizabeth was, and since Stanford?s death she ignored Him completely. Why not? What had God ever done for her? She was barren in spite of years of prayers, and now she was widowed and without hope of ever having a child. She looked away lest they read her anger on her face. ?You speak truth. You?re a very wise woman, Elizabeth.? Laina stiffened and snapped her gaze back to her brother. Surely he didn?t believe in God again? What had happened to the disbelief and bitterness he?d felt after his disastrous marriage to Margaret? ?Thank you, sir. But I am also a busy one. Now go!? Elizabeth pushed against Justin?s chest. He grinned and tightened his grip. The door opened. ?Oh! Excuse me, mum! I didn?t?I mean?you rang and? I?ll come back.? Laina glanced at the awkward, blushing maid tripping all over herself as she hurriedly backed out the door, and her anger dissolved. She burst into laughter at the comical sight. It felt wonderful to laugh again. Justin winked at her, then motioned to the maid. ?Come in, Trudy. I was only saying goodbye. I have been ordered from the room.? He gave a mock scowl and leaned down to Elizabeth?s ear. ?Sometimes servants are most inconvenient!? His whisper was loud enough for all to hear. Trudy giggled. Laina whisked back in time to when she and Justin were small. They were in the kitchen watching the cook baking and Justin leaned over and whispered, ?The smell?s making my tummy hurt. I wish we could have a biscuit.? His wish was granted. Cook overheard his whisper and slid them each a biscuit. They looked at the cookies, looked at each other and a conspiracy was born. From that time on they?d used the whisper ploy to manipulate servants into giving them their way. Laina chuckled at the memory. Justin grinned at her and she knew he was remembering, too. Suddenly she didn?t feel so lost and alone. The tightness in her chest eased. She reached for her brother?s hand. ?Bless you, Justin.? He gave her hand a squeeze, then bent and kissed her cheek just in front of her ear. ?It?s going to be all right, Lainy?heart?s promise.? This time the whisper was for her alone. It was the solemn oath they?d made to each other when one of them had been sad or unhappy after their mother?s death. Laina?s breath caught on a sob. Justin gave her a fierce hug, then turned abruptly and strode from the room. ?Do you feel better?? ?Much better, Elizabeth. Thank you for loaning me Trudy. The hot bath took away much of the soreness from being tossed around in the carriage.? Laina adjusted the black tie at the neck of her white nightgown and sank onto the edge of the bed. She was too shaky and weak from fatigue to stand. ?Are you hungry?? Elizabeth swept her gaze over her. ?I had cook make you a tray. There?s chicken stew, an apple dumpling, some cheese and warm milk.? Laina made an effort. She ate a few bites of the stew, popped a bit of cheese in her mouth, then sighed and pulled her damp braid forward over her shoulder. ?The food is wonderful, Elizabeth, but I?m simply too weary to eat. I?ll have the dumpling in the morning.? She slid under the covers and sank back against the feather pillow. ?Of course. Sleep is what you need now.? Elizabeth put a few bite-size pieces of cheese on the plate with the dumpling, covered it with the napkin and placed it on the nightstand beside a glass of water. She motioned Trudy to take the tray away. ?Is there anything more I can do to make you comfortable?? She pulled the red-and-cream-patterned coverlet over Laina?s exposed shoulders. ?Perhaps another blanket?? ?No. Nothing.? Laina glanced up at the red tester above her and smiled. ?Thank you for putting me in this room, Elizabeth. It will be so lovely to wake up to color. Everything in my house is shrouded in black.? Her eyelids drifted closed. She forced them open again. ?I love?color?especially?red.? She frowned. Her voice sounded thick and far away. Her eyelids drifted closed again. ?Yes, I know.? Elizabeth leaned down and hugged her. ?Good night, Laina. It?s so lovely having you here. Sleep well.? ?Umm.? She couldn?t form a word. Couldn?t open her eyes. The light against her eyelids dimmed, flickered. She heard the rustle of Elizabeth?s skirts, the soft pat of her shoes against the carpet. The door opened and closed. Silence descended. Laina gave a long sigh. At home the silence grated against her nerves. This silence was different?there was life behind it. And tomorrow she would see the children. A smile curved her lips. She cuddled the thought to her and yielded to her exhaustion. Justin stopped pacing and pivoted to face his wife as she entered the salon. ?I think you?re wrong, Elizabeth. I think we should send for Dr. Allen. Laina looks ill.? He frowned. ?She?s thin as a fence rail and weak as a kitten. And those dark circles under her eyes?? He shook his head. ?One would think she?d been punched.? He scowled. ?We need Dr. Allen.? ?Justin, I know it?s hard for you to see your sister looking so frail, but I promise you, a good night?s sleep will do away with those dark circles and cook?s good food will take care of Laina?s thinness and help her regain her strength.? Elizabeth crossed to the settee and seated herself. ?As for the rest, as I said earlier, that is in God?s hands. All we can do is love her and pray for her.? She smiled and patted the cushion beside her. ?Why don?t you come sit down and relax in front of the fire?? ?Sit?? Justin shook his head. ?I can?t simply sit here?I?m too agitated.? He bent and threw another log on the already blazing fire, then grabbed the poker and jabbed it into place. ?I wish there was something I could do for Laina.? He gave the log another jab and shot her a look. ?Besides pray.? ?I know, dear. But at the moment all she needs is rest.? Elizabeth rose and walked over to put her arms around Justin?s waist. He pulled her close. She went on tiptoe and kissed his chin. ?Why don?t you walk to the Merchant?s Coffee House, dear? You can stride off some of that frustration on the way, and talking business and politics with your friends will get your mind off Laina.? He gave her a mock scowl. ?Are you trying to get rid of me, madam?? Elizabeth laughed. ?Only until you calm down a bit.? Justin?s mouth twisted into a rueful smile. ?I?m sorry if I?m being a bear about this, Elizabeth. I think I?ll take your advice. A brisk walk is exactly what I need.? He dropped a kiss on the tip of her nose, then planted one on her mouth and left the room. When she could no longer hear his footsteps, she sighed and bowed her head. ?Father God, please guide Justin and me with Your wisdom to know what is best to do for Laina. Please give us understanding of her hurt and grief, and compassion and wisdom to help her through it. And dear Lord, I pray You will lead Laina in the path of Your choosing for her that she might know peace and fulfillment. Please touch her heart with Your healing hand and make her truly happy. I ask it in Your holy name. Amen.? Elizabeth released another long sigh and blinked away the tears pooled in her eyes. She had a sudden urgent need to see her children?to look on their dear, sleeping faces. She hurried from the room, down the hall to the staircase and began to climb. How blessed she was to have a loving husband and three healthy, happy children! Her heart overflowed with thanksgiving. ?Dear Lord, may You bless Laina as richly as You have blessed me!? Laina whimpered and turned onto her side, her fingers flexing against the feather pillow, drawing it closer. It bunched beneath her hand. Her fingers flexed again. There were children floating at her out of the darkness. Children of all ages and sizes, from babies to adolescents. Angry, crying, frightened children. She caught each child as they neared, pulling them out of the darkness and tucking them into her heart where they would be loved and protected. Her heart grew larger and larger. She was afraid it would burst, but still she gathered the children in. Her arms grew weary as she worked until at last they fell useless to her sides. No. No! She couldn?t stop. She had to help the children! A man came and stood beside her. She could feel his strength. He began pulling the children out of the darkness, and her distress eased. She tried to see who the man was, but whenever she looked, he was turned away reaching for another child. Her heart became engorged with them. How could it hold more? What would she do with them all? Justin appeared, smiling and placing his hand on her swollen, enlarged heart. ?It?s going to be all right, Lainy?heart?s promise.? His hand turned into a purse that burst open, raining money down over the children in her heart. They began to laugh. The sound filled her with joy. She began to laugh with them. The man took hold of her hand and suddenly they were alone. His touch made her forget how to breathe. She looked up. She couldn?t see his face! Who was he? Justin laughed. He knew! She spun toward her brother, but he was floating away. ?Don?t go, Justin! Tell me! Who is he?? ?Heart?s promise, Lainy, heart?s promise?? ?Justin, wait!? Laina bolted upright, startled awake by her own cry. Her heart was pounding. She clasped her hand to her chest and darted her gaze about the room searching for her brother. The dim, flickering light of the fire highlighted the objects in the room. There was no one there. She was alone. It was only a dream. Laina shook her head and sank back onto the pillow. She could understand dreaming about Justin and children, because she?d been thinking of them when she drifted off to sleep. But who was the stranger? And what about the money? It made no sense. No sense at all. She yawned and closed her eyes. It was probably because she was so tired?. Chapter Two It was hunger that woke her. Laina opened her eyes, and the first thing she saw was the red tester overhead. She stared at it in confusion for a moment, then smiled as her sleep-befuddled mind cleared. She?d made it! She was at Randolph Court. Oh, glory, glory, glory! Laina sat up and swept her gaze around the large bedroom, drinking in the sights. Someone had been in and built up the fire. It was blazing merrily, its flickering light warming the red-and-cream-patterned silk on the walls, the red, blue and green paisley fabric on the chair that sat at the side of the hearth. Oh, how wonderful to see bright colors again! Her stomach rumbled. Laina slid from the bed, lifted the napkin-covered plate from the nightstand and carried it to the chair. The fire warmed her bare feet and the swirling colors in the paisley fabric cheered her soul as she curled into the chair?s padded comfort. For the first time since Stanford?s passing she felt truly hungry. She lifted the napkin, placed it on her lap and picked up the fork. The first bite of baked apple tasted delicious. She took another, then another with a bite of cheese. Wonderful! If she hadn?t had good manners drilled into her as a child, she would have smacked her lips. Laina smiled, finished the apple, then popped the last bite of cheese into her mouth. ?You?re awake.? Laina gasped and almost dropped the plate as she jerked around toward the door. ?I?m sorry, I didn?t mean to startle you. I was being quiet in case you were still asleep.? Elizabeth smiled and closed the door. ?How are you feeling?? ?Much better.? Laina held up the empty plate. ?My compliments to your cook.? Elizabeth?s laughter washed over her like healing balm. ?I hope you haven?t spoiled your appetite. It?s almost time for dinner.? ?Dinner?? Laina stared up at Elizabeth. ?No wonder I feel better. I haven?t slept the night through since?? She swallowed and looked down at her hands. It was still hard to speak the words aloud. Elizabeth bent and gave her a quick hug. ?You were truly exhausted, Laina. I?m so pleased you rested well and are feeling stronger.? She smiled and took the empty plate. ?Do you feel up to coming down to the dining room, or would you prefer a tray here in your room?? ?No, no tray.? Laina shook her head and rose to her feet. ?I?ve had enough of being alone.? She squared her shoulders, trying not to look as pitiful as she felt. ?Is there time enough to see the children before dinner? I?ve so been looking forward to making my new nephew?s acquaintance.? Elizabeth laughed and nodded. ?How could I refuse such a request? We shall make time. Cook can set dinner back an hour. Now, I?ll ring for Trudy while you have a wash, then she will help you dress and do your hair.? Elizabeth smiled at her over her shoulder as she headed for the bellpull. ?She?s already set out your things in the dressing room.? ?Thank you, Trudy, my hair has never looked lovelier.? Laina stepped out of the dressing room and immediately spotted her newly pressed gown on the bed. It looked like a crow among a flock of cardinals. Gloom settled over her like a cloak. She walked to the bed, took the dress into her hands and sighed. ?Oh, how I hate to put this dress on. I?m so tired of wearing black!? ?Then why wear it?? ?Why?? Laina shot Elizabeth a puzzled look. ?Because I?m a widow, and a widow is expected to wear black.? ?I know the convention, Laina.? Elizabeth moved to stand beside her. ?I?m only questioning your reasons for continuing to follow it when it makes you so unhappy. Stanford has been gone nine months?and this is Philadelphia, not New York. No one here will know if you take off your widow?s garb a little early.? ?Justin??? Laina stopped as Elizabeth gave a firm shake of her head. ?Justin hates the custom. He says it?s barbaric. He has written in his will that I am not to wear black if he departs this earth before me.? She smiled. ?He likes me in soft colors.? ?Truly?? Laina heard the surprise in her own voice. She smiled. ?Well, I can only say my brother is a very considerate and wise man.? She looked down at the hated black garment in her hands. Her smile faded and she released another sigh. ?Nothing would give me more pleasure at this moment than to rip this dress to shreds! But it would do no good. I have nothing but black gowns with me.? ?I know?but I have others.? Elizabeth laughed and hurried to the door. ?Bring them in, Annie.? ?Ohhh!? Laina all but swooned at sight of the different-colored gowns draped over the young maid?s arms. ?Bless you, Elizabeth!? She gave her sister-in-law a fierce hug, then clasped her hands in ecstasy at the array of beautiful gowns being spread out on the bed. ?Oh, my! They look like a rainbow.? ?God?s promise of better days ahead.? Elizabeth patted Laina?s clasped hands, then gave a rueful glance at the gowns. ?I?m afraid there?s nothing red.? Laina ignored the remark about God?s promise. ?I know?Justin hates red.? She reached out and fingered the soft satin of a periwinkle-blue gown with an overdress of cream-colored, lace-edged net. ?Perhaps this one?? She shot a questioning look at Elizabeth. ?Or do you think it?s too?? ?I think it?s perfect. It will look lovely with your dark hair and blue eyes.? Elizabeth cleared her throat and turned to her maids. ?Annie, go to my room and bring back my cream-colored satin slippers and my paisley stole. They look well with the dress. And Trudy, remove that black crape from around the bottom of Mrs. Brighton?s petticoat, then help her into the blue gown.? She swept her gaze to Laina as the maids rushed to do her bidding. ?It?s fortunate we?re much of a size. These gowns will do for now, if Trudy takes a tuck here and there. But you need dresses of deeper, more vibrant colors to truly enhance your beauty. And I know the very modiste who can create them for you.? Her lips twitched and she looked away. ?What is it?? Her query drew Elizabeth?s gaze back to meet hers. ?I can?t pretend any longer, Laina. I?m so glad you agreed to cast aside your mourning attire, because your brother has already arranged for Madame Duval to wait on you tomorrow.? ?He has?? Excitement coursed through her as Elizabeth nodded affirmation. ?Well, bless his heart!? Laina rapped softly, then rushed through the door into her brother?s study before he had a chance to answer. ?Justin, I?m sorry to interrupt whatever it is you?re doing, but I simply had to come thank you!? Justin dropped the bill of lading he?d been comparing against the profit statement on his desk and braced himself as Laina hurled herself into his arms. ?Thank me for what?? ?For setting me free!? Laina stepped back, held her arms out to the sides and did a quick pirouette. ?Do I not look lovely?? ?Beautiful.? Justin?s grin changed into a frown. ?But much too thin.? Concern darkened his eyes. ?Are you certain you?re not ill?? ?I?m fine, dearheart.? He looked doubtful. Laina sighed. ?Truly I am, Justin. It?s only that I?ve had no appetite. Sitting alone at a dining table staring at empty chairs does not encourage one to eat well.? His face tightened. ?Yes?I remember.? ?Oh, Justin, I?m sorry.? Laina put her arms around his waist and squeezed. ?I didn?t mean to bring back bad memories.? ?It?s all right, Laina. Thanks to the Lord?s blessings, the past no longer has the power to hurt me.? He kissed the top of her head, then held her a short distance away. His gaze fastened on hers. ?I was remembering in regard to your circumstances. I intend to do something about them.? He sounded so certain! Hope locked the air in Laina?s lungs. ?What do you intend to do?? Justin shook his head. ?I don?t know. I only know the first step is to pray for guidance.? The air rushed from Laina?s lungs in a disgusted, disappointed snort. She stepped back. ?Then I?ll not hold my brea?? His finger on her lips stopped the angry words. ?Don?t speak words of unbelief, Laina. They only block your own blessing.? He lowered his hand to his side. ?I know how you feel, and I understand. I felt the same way not very long ago. But I was wrong.? She drew breath to speak. He shook his head. ?Trust me, Laina. I?m not asking you to believe?only to be still and wait.? It was too much. She couldn?t hold the anger any longer. ?Wait? I?ve waited for ten years! Do you really think things will change now? Look at me! I?m barren, Justin. I?m a widow whose husband lost interest when I couldn?t produce an heir. Do you think another man will marry me? Things would only end the same way.? The words spurted from Laina?s mouth as fast as the tears flowed down her cheeks. She swiped the tears away and drew a deep breath. ?You believe in a God who answers prayers and pours out blessings? Well, I do not! I prayed for children for ten years and I?ll not waste time praying again. You believe?very well, you pray! And if your Lord gives me children I will serve Him all of my remaining days! Now, if you will excuse me, I have an appointment to meet your son.? With a whirl of her long skirts Laina stormed from the room. It took her several deep breaths and five minutes of pacing the hallway before she calmed down enough to join Elizabeth for their trip to the nursery. ?I?m afraid the girls are already napping, madam.? Anna Hammerfield glanced toward the open door a short distance from the rocker where she had been sitting doing needlework when Elizabeth and Laina entered the nursery. Soft, sleepy baby sounds emanated occasionally from the dimly lit interior of the adjoining bedroom. The nanny smiled. ?But Master James is still awake.? Elizabeth nodded. ?Thank you, Anna.? She turned back to face Laina. ?We?ll come back to see Sarah and Mary later, after dinner.? A soft, beautiful smile spread across her face. ?For now, we?ll visit your new nephew.? She stepped through the open door and led the way across the small room to the crib against the far wall. Laina caught her breath. ?Oh, Elizabeth, he?s beautiful!? She smiled at the baby staring up at her and reached down to touch one small, perfect hand. ?How do you do, James Justin Randolph? I?m your aunt Laina. And I?m very happy to meet you at last.? The baby gurgled, gave her a toothless smile and waved his hands in the air. Laina?s heart hurt. So many emotions assailed her she couldn?t begin to sort them out?except two. Hunger and anger. Those two she recognized. She knew them well. They appeared every time she saw a mother and child. She took a deep breath and forced them back into the dark, empty place inside her. ?Would you like to hold him?? ?May I?? She couldn?t keep the longing out of her voice. ?Of course you may.? Elizabeth lifted her son, kissed his soft cheek, then tucked a blanket about him and placed him in Laina?s arms. ?He likes to be rocked. The chair?s over there.? She nodded toward the corner. ?I?ll be back in a few minutes. I have to speak with Anna.? She turned and walked out of the room. Laina stared after her. What a thoughtful, caring, unselfish person Elizabeth was. How could she ever have thought her interested only in Justin?s money? She shook her head at the sudden flood of memories, then looked down at the baby in her arms. ?You have a wonderful, wonderful mama and papa, James Justin. And a very foolish aunt.? The baby gurgled an answer. Laina laughed, hugged him close and walked to the chair. The silky feel of his cheek against hers was more precious than anything she?d ever known. The sweet baby smell of him was priceless. She brushed her fingers through his soft, downy, dark curls and began to rock. I was remembering in regard to your circumstances. I intend to do something about them?. The first step is to pray for guidance. Laina tried, unsuccessfully, to close out Justin?s words, but the baby?s warm breath on her neck brought hope fluttering to life in her heart at thought of them. It drowned a moment later in an onrush of bitterness. Why shouldn?t Justin believe in prayer? He had his miracle. Thaddeous Allen glanced at the youngster on the buggy seat beside him. The too-small, tattered clothes the boy wore provided little protection against the cold March air and not even the carriage robe was sufficient to warm him. He was shivering so hard it was a wonder his bones were still connected one to the other. ?You might be warmer if you crouch down on the floor in front of the seat, Sam. You?ll be out of the wind down there.? The boy shot him a look full of fear and distrust. ?I?m not cold.? The blatant lie wrenched at Thad?s heart. ?You have my word, Sam?I won?t hand you over to the law.? The boy gave him a curt nod and continued to stare straight ahead, jaw set. Thad let it go. Sam was going to stay where he could watch every move and change of direction the buggy made. His fear of the law was greater than his physical discomfort. And who could blame him? Since the orphans? asylum had burned in January, the authorities had become harsh in their treatment of vagrant children, to deter them from stealing, now that they had no means of removing them from the streets. A pang of concern shot through Thad. He?d given the boy his word he?d find a good home for him?it was the only way he could keep him from jumping out of Dan Pierson?s haymow and likely breaking every undernourished bone in his body when he?d been caught stealing eggs. But who would take him in? Thad watched as the boy shifted his thin body and buried his scratched, filthy hands deeper beneath the lap rug. The Bauers? No, Martha had developed that cough. Thad frowned. He didn?t like the sound of that cough. And Martha had started losing weight. It was probably consumption. No, he couldn?t take the boy there. Where, then? Thad frowned and sifted through his patients in his mind as he tugged on the reins to turn the horse onto Arch Street. Arthur and Betsy Monroe? The names brought a shot of hope surging through him. Arthur had told him only last month that Betsy was unhappy with no one to do for since their last boy had left home. Yes! They would be perfect. Thad slanted another look at the youngster and shook his head. The boy was so filthy you couldn?t even tell the color of his hair, and Betsy was a stickler for cleanliness. Lord, let Betsy see this boy as You see him. Let her look on him with her heart, Lord, and not with her natural eyes. Let both Arthur and Betsy see right through the dirt and grime and downright surliness to the frightened child beneath and take him into their home and hearts. Amen. ?Look at you?skinny as a willow whip and covered with dirt and the good Lord alone knows what else! And those clothes?there?s no savin? those clothes. Too small, anyway.? She was going to keep him! Thad bit back a smile as Betsy Monroe put her hands on her hips and studied the small boy standing like a lump of stone in the center of her kitchen. ?Still, I reckon there ain?t nothin? wrong with you some good food, some of Ben?s old clothes and a hot bath won?t put to rights.? The boy jerked as if a whip had been laid to his flesh. ?I heard about them bath things, an? I ain?t gettin? in no water!? The words spit from Sam?s mouth. He shot a panicked look at the outside door, and Thad casually stepped in front of it. The boy glared at him and swept his gaze the other way?toward the home?s interior. Arthur stood squarely in that doorway. Sam?s hands clenched into small fists. His chin jutted forward. ?I ain?t gettin? in no water?an? you cain?t make me!? Betsy nodded. ?I ain?t figurin? to. That?s your choice, Sam. Course, nobody sets to my table or sleeps in this house that ain?t respectable clean.? She stepped over to the woodstove and lifted the lid from a large iron pot. The rich, tantalizing aroma of a pot roast filled the kitchen. She picked up a long fork and poked around inside the pot. The smell increased. ?Ah, nice and tender!? She smiled at her husband. ?Lots of rich gravy for you to sop your bread in.? Sam?s stomach growled. His Adam?s apple slid up and down his skinny throat as he swallowed hard. Thad didn?t blame him. His own stomach was reminding him he hadn?t had time to eat today. He bit back a grin and watched in open admiration as the plump woman continued her exquisite form of blackmail. Betsy turned her back on the boy and opened the pierced tin door of a pine cupboard. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted out. She pulled out a loaf, sliced it into thick slabs, then carried it and a small brown crock to the table. ?We?d be pleased if you?d stay and take supper with us, Dr. Allen. It?s been a space since you?ve visited. The boy can wait there by the door till you?ve eaten.? Betsy?s eyes twinkled as she looked up at him. ?Do you like apple butter or plain cream butter?? ?I might could wash my hands.? The grumbled, reluctant words were fairly dripping with saliva. Thad choked back a chuckle. Poor Sam?Betsy didn?t by so much as word or deed betray that she even heard him. She went right on as if he hadn?t spoken. ?No matter, Doctor, we?ll have both.? She put a second crock on the table, then moved back to the stove, folded the hem of her blue apron and used it to lift an oblong crockery dish from the oven. Thad?s stomach tightened at sight of the dark juices bubbling their way through a delicately browned crust. Blackberry cobbler! He took a long sniff of the heady aroma riding on the rising steam. The cobbler proved too much for Sam. He jerked forward, staring at the dessert. ?I ?low as how a bath?oncet?might be a good thing.? Betsy Monroe nodded and smoothed her apron back in place. ?The tub is in there.? She pointed to a small room that jutted out onto the back porch. ?Go strip down to your altogether and climb in. Arthur will fetch you hot water and soap. I?ll set by dinner till you?ve finished. And mind you clean your hair and scrub behind your ears.? She stared after Sam as he trudged to the little room. ?Poor young?un, seems like he ain?t never had a mite of love or lookin? after, but we?ll soon take care of that.? She looked up and gave him a radiant smile. ?May the Lord bless you for the work you?ve done this day, Dr. Allen. Now, take your ease?I need to go fetch some of Ben?s old clothes.? She swiped at her eyes with her apron and hurried from the room. Thad pulled out one of the plank-bottom chairs surrounding the table, lowered his tall, lean body onto it and directed his attention toward the sound of wildly splashing water accompanied by grunts and groans of protest coming from the little room. A grin tugged at his lips. Sounds as if Arthur has his hands full. ?I ain?t gettin? my hair wet! You can?t make?? Thad burst into laughter at the glubbing, choking sounds that followed Sam?s pronouncement. That boy was learning about cleanliness the hard way. He rose to his feet as Betsy came rushing back into the kitchen, her arms full of clothes. There was a flurry of splashing. ?Mercy! Sounds as if there?s quite a struggle goin? on in there. I?m not sure my berry cobbler can overcome this.? Betsy?s cheeks dimpled as she smiled up at him. Thad chuckled. ?I think that cobbler can win out over anything. And I?m pretty sure Arthur will prove victorious in this particular battle.? He nodded toward the clothes. ?Why don?t you give me those. I?ll take them in to Sam and?? He jerked his head around as a howl of sheer fury came from the other room. ?I ain?t usin? no soap, you jolt-headed, da?!? There was more splashing, choking, coughing, followed by Arthur?s calm voice. ?We don?t use them words in this house. Here?s the soap.? Betsy grinned and handed him the clothes. ?Sounds like Sam?s having a hard time?poor tyke.? Her grin turned into laughter. ?I?d better give him a double serving.? She turned to the stove. Thad?s mouth watered as she picked up the long fork and poked around in the iron pot again. He pivoted on his heel and headed for the little room. He?d been so busy, he hadn?t eaten for twenty-four hours and he?d be horsewhipped if he wouldn?t scrub Sam himself for a plate of Betsy?s pot roast! Chapter Three ?Why, Trudy, it?s lovely.? Elizabeth?s maid smiled. ?I?m pleased you like it, mum. Will there be anything else?? ?No. That?s all for now.? ?Very good, mum.? Trudy put the hairbrush down on the dressing table, bobbed an awkward curtsy and left the bedroom. Laina turned her head from side to side, studying her new hairdo in the mirror. It looked wonderful. Whoever would have thought that clumsy young woman possessed such a talent? Annette could take instruction from Trudy. Laina laughed at the thought of her French maid?s reaction to that scenario and lifted her hand to touch the dark brown curls that tumbled from the knot of hair at the crown of her head to her shoulders. The style would take some getting used to, but it was definitely flattering. Laina pursed her lips and leaned closer to the mirror. Without the fringe of bangs Annette had insisted were all the rage, her face looked more?more what? Dramatic? Yes, that was it. Her eyes seemed larger, more luminous, their dark blue color striking, their long, thick lashes arresting. And her high cheekbones appeared more pronounced. Her full lips more noticeable. Oh, dear, that wasn?t good! Laina frowned and rose to her feet. Her mouth was too wide, and with the natural wine color of her lips it looked enormous! She sighed, snuffed the candles and headed for the door. At least she had good teeth. She was thankful for that. And for the borrowed dress. She smiled and brushed her hand over the pale green velvet fabric that whispered softly as she walked. Today she would choose the fabrics and patterns for her new gowns. After she visited with the children. ?And who is this?? Laina stared down at the huge black dog looking up at her. The monster?s white-tipped tail wagged back and forth like a metronome. ?My dog?Mr. Buffy.? Sarah wrapped her arms about the animal?s neck. The wagging tail increased speed. Laina laughed. ?How do you do, Mr. Buffy? I?m pleased to make your acquaintance.? The dog gave one short bark and sat down. Sarah plopped down beside him, giggling as he licked her cheek. ?Mr. Buffy loves me.? ?I can see that.? ?Doggy.? Mary toddled over and patted Mr. Buffy?s neck, then giggled and stuck her finger in his ear. The dog gave a shake of his great head, toppling her to the floor. She let out a startled cry and lifted her arms. Laina scooped her up. ?You?re all right, Mary.? ?Doggy.? Mary?s lower lip pouted out and she pointed an accusing, pudgy little finger at the big black brute looking up at them. Laina laughed and squeezed her tight. ?Mr. Buffy didn?t mean to knock you down, precious. You tickled his ear?like this.? She feathered her finger along the toddler?s tiny ear. Mary giggled and ducked her head, sliding her little arms around Laina?s neck as far as they could reach and holding on tight. Laina?s heart swelled with longing. ?Tory.? ?Tory?? Laina shot Elizabeth a wordless plea for help. ?She wants you to read her a story.? Elizabeth laughed and shook her head. ?The little extortionist asks for one whenever she thinks someone feels sorry for her.? ?Oh.? Laina grinned down at the toddler in her arms. ?Aren?t you the clever one?? ?They all are.? Elizabeth rose from the rocking chair, handed her sleeping son to Anna Hammerfield and took Mary into her arms. ?No story now, Mary. We have an appointment at the dressmaker?s. We?ll read a story later.? She nuzzled the ticklish spot at the base of the toddler?s neck. Mary giggled and squirmed. ?Mama.? She hugged Elizabeth?s neck, then twisted around and pointed down. ?Doggy.? ?All right.? Elizabeth put the toddler down. ?Watch her, Mr. Buffy.? The dog barked once and turned his massive head toward Mary. Laina felt a tug on her hand and looked down. ?What is it, Sarah?? ?Do you like licorice?? ?Licorice? Why, yes, I do.? The little girl beamed. Laina laughed and looked at Elizabeth. ?Let me guess?a polite extortionist?? ?Exactly.? Elizabeth grinned and reached down to rest her hand on Sarah?s hair. Laina went down on her knees and took hold of the little girl?s hands. ?I think I shall bring some licorice home. We could share it. Would you like that?? Sarah nodded, gave her a shy smile, then turned and buried her face in Elizabeth?s long skirt. The afternoon sun was trying its best, but there was still a decided chill in the March air. Laina shivered. The blue velvet coat and matching ?jockey?s hat? bonnet she?d borrowed from Elizabeth didn?t fully protect her from the cold. ?I hope you aren?t overdoing it, Laina.? Elizabeth?s brow creased with concern. ?Perhaps we should have listened to Justin and had Madame Duval come to the house. Shall I tell Daniel to return home? We?? ?No, no, Elizabeth!? Laina turned toward her sister-in-law. ?It was only a momentary chill. I?m fine. And it?s so wonderful to be going out among people again it?s well worth a few shivers.? Elizabeth laughed at Laina?s vehemence. ?As you wish.? ?Oh, look.? Laina leaned closer to the carriage window as they rode by Twiggs Manor. ?Abigail?s house looks so lonely and?and sad.? Elizabeth glanced at the stately, three-story brick mansion. ?It is sad. Justin hasn?t decided what to do with it. He can?t bring himself to sell it to strangers, so it sits empty.? ?What a shame. It?s a beautiful house. And the furnishings are wonderful. Abigail had impeccable taste.? ?Yes, she did.? Elizabeth leaned back and blinked tears from her eyes. ?I still find it hard to believe she?s gone from us. She was such a strong personality, the memory of it lingers.? ?Strong?? Laina shot a sidelong look at Elizabeth and smiled. ?Don?t you mean acerbic?? Elizabeth laughed at Laina?s dry tone. ?Abigail would be pleased by that description. But she was also kind, generous and very wise.? Laina recognized the sorrow in Elizabeth?s voice too well. ?You miss her.? ?Yes?very much. I only knew her a short time, but Abigail was the best friend I?ve ever had. She believed in me when your brother thought me an adulteress and murderer.? Laina shook her head. ?To see you and Justin together today, one would never think your relationship had such a stormy beginning.? ?It was stormy, all right. Justin went around looking like a thundercloud most of the time, and I shivered and shook, waiting for lightning to strike.? Elizabeth?s smile died. ?And then it did strike?in the form of Reginald Burton-Smythe.? She shuddered, then looked at Laina. Her smile returned. ?But God turned what Reginald meant for evil to good?exactly as His word promises.? Laina held back a frown at the mention of God and changed the subject. ?And now you have James Justin.? ?Yes. Now we have James Justin. Another blessing from the Lord.? The smile Elizabeth gave her radiated happiness. Laina forced aside the envy that flooded through her. ?And Sarah talks.? She shook her head. ?I can?t believe she?s improved so rapidly she no longer speaks with a lisp. And Mary blackmails everyone. Justin?s stepdaughters, well, rather, your new daughters are a delightful handful.? Elizabeth laughed. ?I?m afraid so. Mary is a bit like Abigail in her personality. She?s very strong-minded and does not like to be thwarted.? She glanced out the window as the carriage rolled to a halt. ?Here we are.? She smiled at Laina. ?Prepare yourself. Madame Duval, also, is strong-minded.? Laina looked down at the velvet gown she had borrowed from Elizabeth. ?No matter. Her designs are lovely. I shall look forward to the challenge.? ?Elizabeth, look at these fabrics!? Laina followed Madame Duval into a large room and stopped dead, gazing at the bolts of cloth filling the shelves along the side walls. She glanced at her sister-in-law and laughed. ?I feel like a starving man released at a feast. I don?t know what to choose first.? She moved forward, touching the materials, feeling the cool smoothness of satins, the softness of velveteens. But it was the colors, the wonderful splash of varied colors that enchanted her. ?Oh, I must have this one!? She paused in front of a soft sateen in a deep shade of bronze that seemed to glow with light. ?And this!? She stepped to the next shelf. ?Look, Elizabeth, it?s the very color of spring.? She pointed at the apple-green pongee in front of her and moved on to choose a midnight-blue linen as the shopgirl following in her wake placed the indicated fabrics on a large table sitting in the middle of the room. ?An? theees, Madame Brighton?? Laina gave a soft gasp of pleasure and hurried forward at sight of the cherry-red watered-silk fabric Madame Duval pulled from a cupboard standing against the back wall. ?I have been saving theees for the right woman.? The modiste looked down and ran her hand over the shimmering fabric. ?Theees must be worn by a woman of style?of verve?of ?lan!? She tipped her head to one side and smiled up at Laina. ?You, Madame Brighton, are such a woman. You wish a gown of theees fabric, oui?? Laina smiled. Judging by the gleam in the modiste?s eye, the gown would cost her a small fortune, but she didn?t care. The fabric was food for her beauty-starved soul. ?Oui, Madame Duval.? ?Bon! And now we talk the designs for your new gowns. If you will be pleased to come with me?? The little woman had turned all business, her fake accent evaporating, as well. Laina exchanged a wry glance with Elizabeth, then gave an eloquent shrug as they turned and followed the designer into another room. ?Would you ladies care to join me in the library for an after-dinner game of checkers?? Laina followed Elizabeth through the dining-room doorway and glanced back at her brother. ?There?s no one to make a fourth.? Justin grinned and joined them in the hall. ?We don?t need a fourth player. I shall gain the victory over one, then take on the other.? ?You believe so?? His grin widened. ?I do.? Laina grinned right back. Justin knew very well she wouldn?t refuse such a challenge?they had been adamant checkers adversaries since childhood. She glanced over at Elizabeth, who had taken Justin?s arm. ?What is your wish, Elizabeth?? Her sister-in-law smiled and gave her husband a saucy glance. ?I wish to give this overly confident gentleman a sound drubbing.? Justin threw his head back and laughed. Laina drank in the wonderful sound, storing it in her heart to cheer her when she returned to the loneliness of her home in New York. ?And how did you find Philadelphia, Laina?? ?Different, yet much the same.? Justin smiled as he held chairs for her and Elizabeth at the game table. ?Now, there?s a remark I?m unable to follow. Would you care to explain?? He pulled the checkerboard from the drawer, took his own seat and grinned at them. ?Which of you ladies wishes to be my first victim?? ?That would be Laina.? Elizabeth laughed. ?I fall prey to your skill far too often.? Justin rubbed the palms of his hands together and waggled his eyebrows, giving Laina what was supposed to be a diabolical look. ?So be it! Prepare to meet your fate at my hands, fair damsel!? Laina laughed and picked up one of the small cloth bags holding the checkers. ?Do not expect me to swoon in terror at your threats, good sir. My fate rests in my own hands?prepare thyself!? She returned his challenge with a cheeky smile and placed her checkers on the board. Justin chuckled and did the same. ?But to answer your query, dearheart, there are many new shops in Philadelphia. It?s quite exciting to see how much the city has grown in the ten years I?ve been gone. But it?s much the same in its cleanliness and friendly atmosphere.? She wrinkled her nose. ?New York does not clean its streets daily as you do here. It can become most unpleasant, especially in the heat of summer.? Justin nodded agreement. ?Your move.? Laina slid a checker forward. He countered her move. ?And what is your opinion of Madame Duval?? His gaze shifted to Elizabeth and he chuckled. ?My wife found her a little avaricious on their first encounter.? Laina laughed and moved another checker. ?I can well understand that. There is a definite gleam in Madame?s eyes. And that French accent she puts on! I?m so thankful Elizabeth warned me, or I know I would have laughed.? Laina looked down to hide the gleam she was afraid shone in her own eyes as Justin moved his piece exactly where she wanted him to. ?But there?s nothing fake about the designs Madame Duval creates. And the fabrics she imports are simply beautiful.? She moved her sacrifice checker into place, then glanced at her brother. ?It was so sad driving by Twiggs Manor today. It looks woebegone. Elizabeth said you?ve not decided what to do with it.? Justin nodded and made the forced jump. ?I will sell it eventually?it?s too fine a house to sit empty?but not yet. I?m not ready to face strangers living in Abigail?s home.? ?I quite understand.? Laina looked away from the sorrow that clouded her brother?s eyes?she saw enough of it in her own eyes every time she looked in a mirror. She shook off the gloom threatening to overtake her, jumped two of his checkers and smiled across the table at Elizabeth as Justin growled low in his throat and countered her move. ?He?s running from me, Elizabeth, but it will do him no good.? She moved her next checker into place and grinned when Justin groaned. ?Methinks someone has walked into a trap.? Elizabeth giggled. ?And straight into a drubbing!? Thad halted the horse and stared into the darkness. Had a child run behind that building or not? He drew in a breath, then frowned and drove on. There was no sense in calling?the poor hapless children of the night were too frightened of people to answer. They either crouched silent and still in a hiding place, or crept away in the dark. He shook his head and guided the horse onto Spruce Street. ?Well, Lord, I?m sure You have a solution for this problem, but I can?t for the life of me figure what it might be. The merchants are so angry over the constant theft of their wares they?ve little sympathy left for the children, who are only stealing what they need to stay alive. And the town council says all the available funds are going into the development of the new waterworks, so?? ?Doc! Doc!? Thad stopped the horse and sighed as a young boy raced toward his buggy. He?d almost made it home. He caught a look at the boy?s frightened face and guilt smote him. Forgive me my selfishness, Lord. ?What is it, Tommy?? ?Ma?s birthin?, Doc. Jenny sent me to fetch you. She said Ma?s in a bad way an? they need you. She said come fast.? Thad nodded and patted the seat, processing the scant information as Tommy Dodge hopped up and sat beside him. They. So there was a midwife in attendance. He hoped she was a good, capable woman. Of course, that would mean the problem was serious. Thad scowled and urged his tired horse into a trot, his own weariness forgotten. Laina turned on her side, pulled the covers closer about her neck and stared at the moonlight streaming in the window. So many lovely things had happened in the past two days with Justin and Elizabeth. Laina sighed, threw back the covers and slid out of bed. They were the best days she?d had in months and still she couldn?t sleep. All those lovely things reminded her of the emptiness of her own life. Laina lifted the long skirt of her nightgown, stepped into her slippers and walked to the window. Moonlight outlined the bare branches of the trees and highlighted the patches of snow in the gardens below. She wrapped her arms around herself for warmth and stared down at the scene. Everything looked desolate and barren. She heaved another sigh and turned away from the depressing sight. She would be so glad when spring arrived. When everything came to life again. She wanted so much to feel alive again. Not on the surface, as she?d felt tonight while playing checkers with Justin and Elizabeth, but deep down inside. She was so tired of feeling like?like Abigail?s empty house. There! The thought was out. All day she?d been suppressing it. Laina frowned and walked over to curl up in the chair on the hearth. Why couldn?t she get Abigail?s vacant house out of her mind? She didn?t want to think about sad things. She?d had enough of sadness. She?d come to Philadelphia to escape it! There had to be something she could think about that wouldn?t remind her of her own circumstances. Mr. Buffy. Laina gave a nod of satisfaction. Yes, that was it. She would think about Mr. Buffy. There was nothing about him to make her feel her own lack. She?d never had a pet. She leaned against the soft, padded back of the chair, stared into the dancing flames of the fire and fixed her thoughts on the big black dog. Chapter Four ?I wish you would come to church with us, Laina.? Laina looked up at her brother and shook her head. ?Not today, Justin. I?m not going to make my first public appearance among Philadelphia society in widow?s garb or borrowed clothes. There will be time enough for church when I have my new dresses from Madame Duval.? ?But?? Justin stopped as Elizabeth laid her hand on his arm and gave a small shake of her head. A frown creased his forehead. ?All right, Laina. Perhaps it?s best if you wait.? ?Thank you for agreeing, Justin.? Laina went on tiptoe and kissed her brother?s cheek, then turned and gave Elizabeth a quick hug as horses? hooves clattered against the brick paving outside. ?Thank you for the help.? Elizabeth smiled at the whispered words and stepped back to slide her hand through her husband?s offered arm. ?We?ll be back soon.? The butler pulled open the door. Laina shivered in the sudden draft of cold air and moved to the window to watch Justin and Elizabeth descend the front steps and climb into the waiting carriage. Thank goodness for Elizabeth?s intervention. Justin could be adamant when he felt the occasion called for it, and judging from his frown, he thought church was such an occasion. Laina sighed and turned away from the window as the carriage departed. She hated to disappoint her brother, but she wasn?t ready to go to church and listen to empty promises about God?s blessings and answered prayer. If God answered prayers, where were the children she yearned for? If He blessed, where was the baby she longed to feel growing in her womb? Laina?s face drew taut. She uncurled her hands, which had clenched into fists at her sides, and lifted her long skirts to ascend the stairs to get her cloak. She needed to walk off her anger before Justin and Elizabeth returned. Her sister-in-law could look at her in a way that stripped away every bit of artifice. Laina shook off the thought, strode down the hall to the red bedroom and wrenched open the door. For once the color of the room didn?t cheer her. How could it? Red or black?what did it matter? Either way she was still a lonely, loveless, childless widow. And nothing would change that. No healthy man of her age would marry a barren woman. Laina stalked to the wardrobe, yanked open the carved doors and grabbed her cloak. With a quick lift of her arm and a violent twist of her wrist, she swirled it around her shoulders, then fastened the braided loops over the self buttons, grabbed her matching coal-scuttle bonnet and rushed from the room. Laina walked rapidly, heedless of her direction, wanting only to outpace the hurt in her heart. She was twenty-nine years old, strong and healthy. She didn?t want to spend the rest of her life alone, without love. A shadow fell across her path. She turned her head, staring at the brick pillar beside her. It stood square and tall, a solid anchor for the black wrought-iron fence that marched off into the distance. Abigail?s fence. Laina scowled. Why had she come this way? Of all the places she didn?t want to be right now, Twiggs Manor was foremost. She moved beyond the pillar, focusing her attention on the walkway, but she couldn?t resist a strong urge to look at the brick mansion. She lifted her head and glanced at the house. Blank, dark windows stared back at her. She shivered and turned to walk on, but for some reason her feet remained planted to the spot. Compelled by a feeling she could not identify or ignore, Laina made her way along the gravel drive. Her reluctant steps carried her over the stone sweep, up the stairs and across the porch to the front door. It was locked. She strode to one of the multipaned front windows and cupped her hands on either side of her face to peer inside. White fabric draped the furniture and chandelier of Abigail?s beautiful drawing room. The carpet was rolled, the wood floor bare. There were no candles in the wall sconces, no fire burning in the marble fireplace. How sad. Laina sighed. She could remember the wonderful lively parties Abigail had held in this house and in these gardens. Her mind?s eye retained visions of people playing quoits on the lawn, chess or checkers on tables set out in the shade of the trees, dining on fabulous foods served picnic-style. She could close her eyes and see the winter parties?people skating on the pond out back, the flickering of torches against the cold night sky, the dancing flames of bonfires where shivering servants roasted chestnuts and made hot, mulled cider for the guests. If she listened with her imagination, she could even hear the jingling bells on the horses that pulled the sleighs on rides that began at the carriage house and ended with a late-night dinner in Abigail?s vast dining room. She?d met Stanford at one of those parties. Laina stepped off the porch and looked up at the house, her heart swelling with protest. There should be warm candlelight shining a welcome from the windows, smoke pouring from the chimneys! There should be the sound of happy chatter and laughter. It was wrong to let this beautiful house sit empty and silent. She stared at the house a moment longer, then turned and retraced her steps to the road. She would talk to Justin about selling Twiggs Manor to someone who would enjoy it. Someone who? Laina stopped dead in her tracks, stunned by a sudden idea. Why not her? Why shouldn?t she buy Twiggs Manor? The house needed people to bring it back to life, and she needed something to give her life meaning. There was nothing left for her in New York. She? She was out of her wits! Laina snorted, shook her head and started walking back to Randolph Court. She must be going stark, raving mad from boredom. What a ridiculous notion?her buying Twiggs Manor. Or was it? Laina paused at the corner, pursed her lips in speculation and stepped to the wrought-iron fence to look back at the house. At least if she moved to Philadelphia she would have a goal, a purpose. She could save the three-story brick mansion from its present forlorn state and fill her life by carrying on Abigail?s role as leader of Philadelphia society. It wasn?t much compared to a husband and children, but at least it was something. Laina drew her cloak close against a sudden gust of wind, crossed Walnut Street and walked south on Fifth Street. There was no problem with finances?she had inherited Stanford?s sizable fortune. But her heart quailed at the thought of all the unknown legal processes involved. Judge! A tingle of excitement quickened Laina?s steps. With Judge to handle things in New York and Justin to handle things here in Philadelphia, she? No! Laina clenched her hands and reined in her runaway thoughts. The idea was absurd. A pathetic attempt to change a life that could not be changed. She must put it from her mind, stop railing against her circumstances and accept her future with dignity, though she?d never been good at bearing adversity patiently. Laina sighed and turned into the brick path leading to Randolph Court. The walk had done nothing but create more questions, more distress. Would anything ever be right again? ?I?m sorry, Mrs. Brighton, Master James is asleep. So is Miss Mary. But Miss Sarah is awake. She?s in the playroom having a tea party with her dolls and Mr. Buffy. Would you care to join her?? ?Would it be all right?? Laina shot an anxious glance at the connecting door to the playroom. ?I don?t want to intrude if she would prefer to be alone.? The plump nanny smiled. ?I?m sure Miss Sarah would welcome your company?if you?re willing to drink pretend tea.? Laina laughed. ?I shall consume gallons of it!? She walked to the door, then lifted her hands as if holding a plate in front of her and stepped into the playroom. ?Good day, Sarah. I?ve brought some cinnamon biscuits for your party. May I join you until your mama and papa come home and I have to go down to dinner?? ?Oh, goody!? Sarah gave her a happy smile. ?I like cinnamon biscuits.? ?Wonderful. They?re my favorite.? Laina grinned as the big black dog sitting beside the table gave a soft ?woof? and thumped his tail against the floor. ?So you like them, too, Mr. Buffy. You shall have two.? She walked to the small table and mimed placing a plate of cookies in the center. Bafflement took the place of amusement as she swept her gaze over the ragged-edged plates and lopsided cups that graced Sarah?s table. ?Mama and me made the dishes.? ?You did?? Laina cringed inwardly. Sarah had noticed her reaction to the dishes. She smiled, seated herself on one of the small chairs and hastened to repair her faux pas. ?You did a very nice job.? Sarah beamed. ?Mama showed me how. Then she tickled me. And then the mean lady came and scared me. But she wasn?t really mean?she was Aunty Twiggs.? Laina choked back a laugh at Sarah?s description of Abigail Twiggs and accepted the cup of pretend tea her stepniece handed her. ?And did you and Aunty Twiggs become friends?? Sarah nodded, offered Laina a pretend biscuit, then placed one on the floor for Mr. Buffy before taking one onto her plate. The dog sniffed, snorted, then crossed one paw over the other and lowered his head to rest on them. Sarah looked up at her. ?Aunty Twiggs came to my tea parties in the garden. Now she?s with Jesus in heaven. She got deaded.? ?I see.? Laina didn?t want to talk about that subject, even with a four-year-old. ?May I have some more tea, please? It?s very good.? Sarah giggled, leaned forward and tipped a tiny yellow teapot decorated with red flowers over Laina?s lopsided clay cup. ?Oh-oh.? She tipped her small head toward the open door, then jumped up and grabbed her plate and cup. ?I have to put these away now. Mary waked up, and she breaks things.? Sarah went on tiptoe, slid the dishes on the top shelf in an alcove formed by a brick fireplace, then glanced back at Laina. ?She doesn?t mean to break them. She?s little.? ?I understand.? Laina gathered the remaining dishes and placed them on the shelf as Anna Hammerfield entered the room, carrying a sleepy-eyed Mary in her plump arms. ?I hope you?re not ruining your dinner by eating too many biscuits, Miss Sarah.? The little girl giggled. ?They?re pretend biscuits, Nanny.? ?All the same.? Anna Hammerfield lifted her hand higher to support Mary as the toddler twisted toward Laina and held out her arms. ?Tory.? Laina glanced at the nanny. ?May I?? At the woman?s answering nod, she took Mary into her arms. The toddler put her thumb in her mouth and snuggled close against her. Laina swallowed hard and laid her cheek against the baby?s soft brown hair. How could you feel joy and pain at the same time? ?Miss Mary likes to look at pictures.? The nanny glanced at Sarah and held out her hand. ?Time for you to get washed up for dinner, missy.? ?All right, Nanny.? Sarah pulled a book off the shelf beside her and carried it to Laina. ?Mary likes this one. It?s about aminals.? ?Thank you, Sarah.? Laina smiled down at the child. ?I?ll come back for Miss Mary when I?ve got Miss Sarah cleaned and settled, Mrs. Brighton. This one never tires of stories, but it?s her dinnertime, too.? The nanny tweaked Mary under the chin, then took hold of Sarah?s hand and headed for the door. Mr. Buffy rose and lumbered after them. Mary pulled her thumb from her mouth and pointed a pudgy finger. ?Doggy.? ?Doggy, yes.? Laina smiled at the toddler and headed for the rocking chair on the hearth. ?His name is Mr. Buffy. Can you say Mr. Buffy?? Mary shook her head. ?Doggy. Tory.? Laina grinned. It seemed Mary had a limited vocabulary and a one-track mind. ?All right, precious. You shall have your story.? She sat in the rocker, settled Mary on her lap and opened the book. Mary pointed. ?Kitty.? ?Yes. A pretty, fluffy kitty. And he?s chasing a butterfly.? Laina glanced at Mary. ?Can you say butterfly?? The toddler?s lower lip came out in a stubborn pout. She poked the picture. ?Kitty.? Laina choked back a laugh. Obviously Mary was not going to tolerate instruction. ?All right, Mary, we?ll read the book your way.? She began to rock. The toddler stuck her thumb back in her mouth and rested against her. Laina caught her breath against the sudden sharp pain in her heart and turned the page. He?d lost her. Thad stared down at the pale, still face of the young woman on the bed. She shouldn?t have died. She wouldn?t have died if it weren?t for the bloodletting. He was sure of it. Barbara Grant had been improving before her mother sent for that other doctor! Thad shoved aside the bowl of beef broth Barbara Grant had been too weak to swallow and walked over to close the window he?d opened on entering the stifling room. No amount of fresh air would help Barbara now. Thad?s mouth tightened. In truth, he wasn?t sure it would have helped her, anyway. It was only one of his theories. He didn?t know. The door creaked open. Thad turned and looked at Barbara?s mother. ?Hubert says your buggy is ready.? The woman?s face was stiff with anger. Why wouldn?t it be? She blamed him for her daughter?s death. She thought Barbara should have been bled when she first became ill, and he couldn?t prove her wrong. But Barbara had been gaining a little strength daily, until that doctor bled her yesterday morning and again last night. If Hubert had come home earlier, maybe? Thad broke off the useless speculation and picked up his bag. ?Goodbye, Mrs. Stone. I?m sorry about Barbara. She?? ?She?d be alive had you bled her and kept the windows closed so the bad humors couldn?t get in!? The woman spat the words at him, then turned her back. Thad absorbed the criticism. What else could he do without proof to the contrary? He started for the door, then stopped. Hubert Grant stood in the doorway, his lips so compressed it looked as if the taut skin around them would split. ?I?m sorry I couldn?t save her, Hubert.? The man opened his mouth, then promptly closed it again and stepped aside. Thad walked out into the parlor and crossed to the front door. The cold air made him shiver after the excessive warmth of the sickroom. He hunched his shoulders and walked to his buggy. ?Doc.? So Hubert had followed him outside. Thad turned to face the angry, grief-stricken husband. The big man cleared his throat. ?I wanted to say I know you did all you could, Doc. An? Barbara was gettin? better doin? like you said. She told me she felt stronger?that she thought she?d be gettin? up in a few days. That?s why I went on my sellin? trip. But I shoulda known her mother?? Hubert?s face tightened. He made a visible effort to calm himself. ?That butcher never would?ve got in the door if I?d been home.? His wide shoulders sagged. ?I don?t know how I?m ever gonna tolerate seein? that woman around here, but I have to, for our kids? sake. I reckon that?s my cross to bear for leavin? Barbara to her mother?s mercies. But that?s nothin? to you.? Hubert took a deep breath and stuck out his hand. ?Thanks for tryin? to pull Barbara through, Doc. I reckon you could?ve saved her if she hadn?t been so weak from the bleedin?.? He pumped Thad?s hand, then spun on his heel and walked rapidly toward his barn. Thad?s heart ached for the grieving man. Anger spread through him at the needless waste of life caused by the common medical procedures of the day. Why wouldn?t his colleagues listen to him? Why couldn?t they see that their patients only got weaker when they drained off their blood? Thad clenched his jaw, shoved his bag onto the seat and climbed into his buggy, picking up the reins as his horse moved forward. It did no good to think about it. Thinking never changed anyone?s mind. He needed proof. And now, thanks to Barbara Grant?s mother, his proof was gone. Who would trust him to treat them according to his theories now? Thad shook off his anger and looked around. His horse had automatically turned onto Second Street, heading for home. People were gathered in small groups on the walkway in front of Christ Church, chatting. Families were calling goodbye to friends and climbing into their carriages. Church was over. He?d missed the service again. Disappointment settled in his chest. He?d been looking forward to a good sermon. A man nodded in his direction. Thad returned the polite greeting and urged his horse to pick up the pace. This was the part of Sunday he didn?t like. It was hard watching the families go home when all that awaited him was a cold meal and an empty house. Maybe he?d go check on Martha Bauer?her cough was getting worse. ?You missed a good sermon today.? Laina glanced at her brother, laid aside her fork and reached for her cider. ?I?m certain there will be others.? It was the most polite way she could think of to say she was not interested. ?Yes. But this one was stimulating.? Justin cut a bite off the thick slice of roast pork on his plate and dipped it in his apple-raisin sauce. ?The core message was that the purpose and result of freedom in Christ is service.? He paused with the meat halfway to his mouth and glanced at her, his eyes holding a silent dare for her to question or challenge him. She remained quiet. ?Does that not sound like a paradox?? He put the pork into his mouth. Laina refused to be drawn by his question. The best way to end this conversation was to agree with him. ?Yes. I suppose it does.? There! She ignored the flash of disappointment in Justin?s eyes and took a bit of mashed potatoes onto her fork. ?Ah, but it?s not.? Her brother?s quiet comment brought a sigh up clear from her toes. Laina resigned herself to her fate. Justin wasn?t going to give up. She would hear about the sermon whether she wanted to or not. Irritation rippled through her. She stabbed a piece of meat. When had he become so enamored of God again? ?As Pastor Brown pointed out, God does not call us to the fullness of life in Him simply for ourselves, though we obviously reap the benefits of such a life.? Justin leaned toward her. ?Rather, freedom in Christ enables us to become and do all that He made us capable of being and doing when He created us. It sets us free from our own selfishness.? He leaned back and shook his head. ?It?s amazing.? Laina breathed a sigh of relief. Thank heaven that was over. Now perhaps? ?And Jesus Himself is our example. He said, ?For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.?? Laina tensed as Justin leaned forward again, his gaze fastened on hers. What was he doing? He knew how she felt about God! Though that didn?t seem to matter. He was still droning on. ?Jesus did nothing for Himself. It was all for us. Including suffering death on the cross so we might be free to choose to live in heaven forever with Him.? A shiver ran up Laina?s spine, spread throughout her body. Justin?s words brought back that moment fifteen years ago when she had given herself to the Lord. She looked down at her plate to break eye contact with him. She still believed in her salvation through Jesus. It was only the other things preached from the pulpit?answered prayer, God?s blessings in this life here on earth?she didn?t believe. She knew from her own experience those things weren?t true, and in her estimation it was cruel for those in the pulpit to give people false hope. Anger chased the shiver away. From the corner of her eye Laina saw Justin relax back against his chair. Evidently he was through preaching at her. Good! She couldn?t?wouldn?t?listen to any more. Not even for Justin. And she really didn?t want to walk away from his table. Laina drew a deep, relaxing breath and seized the opportunity to change the subject. She forced a light note into her voice. ?I had a lovely time with the children while you were gone. Sarah and I had a tea party.? She looked at her sister-in-law and smiled. ?Elizabeth, you must tell me the story behind those dishes?.? Thad pumped water into the trough, forked fresh hay into the rack and spread more on the floor. ?All ready for you, Faithful.? He opened the door and stepped aside as his horse gave a soft whicker, walked into the stall and stuck his muzzle in the trough to get a drink. ?It?s been a hard day, boy.? Thad thumped Faithful on the shoulder, then picked up the brush and began to groom him. For long minutes he brushed the horse, emptying his mind of the stressful events of the day, concentrating on the munching sound of the animal eating hay, the soft swish of the brush against the warm, muscular body. By the time he finished, the tightness in his chest had lessened, the tension between his shoulder blades had eased. He smoothed out Faithful?s mane and forelock, worked a tangle out of the gelding?s long silver tail, then put down the brush, grabbed the old towel hanging over the stall wall and began to rub him down. The horse turned his head and gave him a gentle nudge. Thad laughed and rubbed the velvety muzzle. ?Feels good, does it?? Faithful whickered and nudged him again. ?All right. All right?I?m done.? Thad walked into the grain box, scooped up a measure of oats, mixed in a little bran and went back to pour it into the wood manger. ?There you are, fellow. If you?re lucky, we won?t get called out tonight and you?ll have time to eat it.? He gave the horse a last affectionate pat and walked to the carriage to get his bag. His stomach rumbled. Thad grinned and gave his flat abdomen a swat with his free hand. Its turn would come. He shut the barn door and headed for his cold, dark house. If he remembered right, there was bread left from the supper Mrs. Harding had fixed yesterday. And maybe some cheese or apple butter? Chapter Five The children! She had to help them! Laina flopped onto her back as the children floated at her out of the darkness. Her arms flailed out into space, her hands grasping at the air. There were too many?she couldn?t catch them all. ?Somebody help me!? Laina jerked upright, her heart pounding. The dream was so real she swept her gaze around the surrounding shadows of the bedroom, half expecting to find children hiding in the dark corners where the moonlight from the windows didn?t reach. Of course, there was no one there. She gave her head a quick shake to rid herself of the residue of anxiety the dream had left behind. How odd that it kept coming back. Laina sighed and climbed out of bed, pulling on her new peacock-blue dressing gown as she walked to the window. Was her desire for children becoming an obsession? She?d heard of women?s minds going queer over such things. A shiver raced down her spine. Laina wrapped her arms about herself and stared out into the night. Being around Sarah, Mary and baby James these past few weeks hadn?t eased her longing for children as she had expected?it had increased it. And watching Justin and Elizabeth together made her ache with a desire to experience a love such as theirs. Laina clenched her hands into fists and glared up at the night sky. ?If You?re an all-powerful God, You could have answered my prayers, Lord. You could have given me children and a love like Justin and Elizabeth?s. Instead You took Stanford from me.? Hot tears stung her eyes. ?At least with Stanford I had companionship. Now I?m alone. I have nothing!? The tears overflowed and poured down her cheeks. Laina spun away from the window, her chest so tight with hurt she couldn?t breathe. She swiped the tears from her cheeks and forced air into her lungs. Very well. If that was the way God wanted it, so be it! She would live her life alone. ?What a gorgeous April day!? Elizabeth spread her arms and twirled around in the sunshine. ?We have come to the end of the cold, gray days of winter, Laina.? ?One can hope.? ?Now, that?s a gloomy remark.? Elizabeth shot her one of those assessing looks. Laina cringed inwardly. She hadn?t meant to let her dismal outlook slip through her cheery facade. ?Pay me no mind, Elizabeth. I?m tired.? The question in Elizabeth?s eyes turned to concern. ?Are you still not sleeping well?? Should she tell her about the dream? No. It would serve no purpose. Laina shook her head and walked toward the pavilion being cleaned by the servants in preparation for summer. ?Better?but not well.? ?I wish there was something we could do.? ?So do I, Elizabeth?fervently so!? Laina forced a smile to mask the need in her words. She hated herself for feeling so helpless. ?But there is nothing beyond the love and comfort you and Justin have extended by sharing your home, your children and your lives with me. You?ve been wonderful.? She sucked in a deep breath and forced out the words she didn?t want to speak. ?Unfortunately, my life is what it is?and I must learn to live it. I?m going back to New York.? ?New York?? Elizabeth grasped her arm. ?But Laina, dear, why? It?s only been a few weeks and we love having you with us. The children?? ?I shall miss them dreadfully! And you and Justin, as well.? Tears smarted in Laina?s eyes. She blinked them away. ?Then don?t go. Stay with us. Please.? Laina shook her head. ?I have to go back.? ?Why? What awaits you in New York?? Justin?s deep voice made them both jump and spin to face him. Laina?s throat constricted. ?Nothing, dearheart.? ?Then why??? ?Because of that!? Justin?s gaze traveled in the direction of Laina?s pointing finger. ?I don?t understand.? ?I believe it?s the new growth, Justin.? Elizabeth indicated the tiny tips of folded green leaves that were breaking through the cold brown soil of the garden beds. Justin frowned. ?Is that it, Laina? The flowers? I don?t understand.? He took her by the arm and led her to the bench beside the path. ?Now tell me, what have flowers to do with you going back to New York?? Laina squared her shoulders and cleared her throat of the lump that was threatening to choke her. ?The flowers are starting to live again. Look around you, Justin. Everything is coming to life again?new life after a cold, dark winter. I have to do the same.? She took a deep breath and turned her head to look at him. ?Don?t you see, dearheart, I can?t borrow your life any longer. No matter how painful it is, I have to live mine.? Justin sucked in a deep breath, squeezed her hands so tightly she thought her bones would break, then jumped to his feet and began to pace along the brick walk. Laina?s heart hurt for him. It was another reason to go back to New York?she had brought him pain. She took refuge from all the hurt in anger. Do what You please to me, Lord, but spare my brother any anguish over my situation. He trusts You. ?All right.? She looked up as Justin spoke. ?All right, Laina, I?ll accept that.? He moved close to her. ?But why must you live your life in New York? Why not here in Philadelphia, where you will be close to us?? ?Yes. Why not, Laina, dear?? Elizabeth took Justin?s place on the bench beside her. ?Surely you can?? ?I?ve got it!? Justin slammed his fist into his other palm with such force the resulting crack of sound made Laina jump. He grinned down at her. ?I have the solution.? ?Oh, dearheart, there isn?t a solu?? ?Twiggs Manor!? Justin?s grin widened. ?I?ll give you Abigail?s house. That way, you can live your own life and be close to us at the same time.? Laina stared at him. ?Justin, it?s perfect!? Elizabeth squeezed Laina?s hand. ?You will do it, Laina, won?t you? You will come live in Twiggs Manor?? ?Well, I don?t know?it?s? I had thought of?? Laina shook her head. She was not making sense. She looked up at her brother. He stared down at her. ?Say yes, Lainy. It?s the right thing to do.? There was absolute certainty in his face and voice. ?All right?yes!? Justin laughed and leaned down to kiss her cheek. ?Good! Everything?s going to be all right?heart?s promise.? With his arms around her, she almost believed him. A small thrill of excitement zipped through Thad as he glanced down at the letter in his hand. He hadn?t expected Dr. Bettencourt?s answer to his letter for at least another week. It must have come from Paris by packet. Probably on the ship that had sailed into port today. Fortunately for him, Justin Randolph?s captains were a courageous bunch who outsailed the captains of other lines and vied amongst themselves for the best crossing time. Thad tucked the missive into his waistcoat pocket, climbed into his buggy and picked up the reins. He grinned as the gelding pricked his ears, listening for instructions. ?Let?s go home, boy.? The horse moved forward at once. Thad relaxed back against the seat to rest while he was able. He?d had a busy morning and, if past performance was any indication, he?d have a busy evening. Most of the sailors he?d come in contact with headed straight for the waterfront grog shops when released from their duties aboard ship. In a short time, the liquor they consumed turned them into drunk, boisterous men ready to fight at the slightest provocation. That?s where he came in. The sailors sober enough to walk would drag their hurt mates to his house and he would spend hours splinting broken bones, stitching and bandaging knife wounds and generally caring for the bruised and battered conditions of those still alive. Thad sat up a little straighter and patted the letter in his pocket. At least he could try some of the new theories on the sailors. Justin Randolph was a progressive thinker who believed in Thad?s theories on cleanliness and fresh air in the sickroom. It was a shame Justin couldn?t convince his friends. Thad sighed. What good did it do to correspond with the French doctors who were leading the way in practicing diagnostic medicine, when he couldn?t get his patients to allow him to try the new practices on them? Why couldn?t he make people believe that bleeding, cupping and blistering only made them weaker? Movement caught his eye as the buggy approached Walnut Street. Thad frowned and glanced to his left. What was going on at Twiggs Manor? Servants were scrubbing the porch and front steps. Men were perched on ladders washing windows and cleaning the shutters. Had someone bought the place? There was a flash of color. Thad craned his neck and looked toward the side entrance, but the large maple trees on the corner blocked his view. He caught a brief glimpse of a slender, dark-haired woman in a bright green dress descending the stairs and then he was across the intersection and the house was no longer visible. Thad faced front again. He?d hear soon enough if he had a new neighbor. Right now, all he wanted was to get home and read his letter before someone came knocking on his door with some sort of emergency. ?Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Brighton wants you in the parlor.? ?All right, Tilly.? Grace Barnes scanned the group of servants Tilly had joined in the drawing room. ?Fitz, you and John carry these rugs outside and beat them clean. Tilly, dust and wax the furniture, then clean and polish the fireplace tools and fender. Sally, you clean the chandeliers.? Grace Barnes placed her fisted hands on her hips and watched as the maid began climbing the ladder with flannel cleaning rags draped over her shoulder and a bucket dangling from her hand. ?Did you add a good splash of vinegar to that water?? ?Yes, ma?am.? ?All right, then. When you?re through with the chandeliers, do the glass doors on the corner cabinets, then wash the windows.? Grace Barnes headed for the door, then turned back again. ?When you?ve finished your tasks in here, move on to the library and do the same.? ?Yes, ma?am.? The chorus of assent followed the housekeeper as she hurried out the door, across the large entrance hall and into the parlor. ?You wished to see me, madam?? ?Yes.? Laina looked up from the paper in her hand. ?The servants from Randolph Court are here. I sent them upstairs. Please go assign them their tasks.? ?Yes, madam.? ?And have one of them gather all the bed curtains, linens, testers and window drapery and take them to the Chinese laundry downtown. With all we have to do, even with the loan of my brother?s servants, we shall be overwhelmed if we do not make use of the laundry?s services.? ?Yes, madam. I?ll attend to it immediately.? The housekeeper turned to go and almost bumped into Elizabeth. ?Good day, Mrs. Randolph.? She stepped aside to let Elizabeth pass, then hurried from the room. ?Elizabeth! I wasn?t expecting you to come over.? Laina smiled. ?This must mean Sarah is feeling better.? ?Yes, she?s fine. I suspect her stomach upset was caused by too much candy.? Elizabeth shook her head and smiled. ?And I?m certain I know the culprit. I shall have a talk with Justin tonight.? She laughed and looked around. ?How wonderful to see this room restored.? Elizabeth brushed her hand over the blue silk brocade fabric covering a couch placed at a right angle to the paneled wall graced by a marble fireplace at its center. The couch faced a pair of chairs with padded seats covered in blue, magenta and cream stripes. There was a piecrust tea table between the chairs. ?I like the way you?ve placed the furniture. It?s very inviting.? ?Thank you. Would you care to sit down?? Laina laughed and looked about. ?I?m afraid this is the only room at the moment where that is possible. And my abilities as a hostess are severely limited.? She gave Elizabeth a wry look. ?I can offer you a cup of tea.? Elizabeth shook her head. ?Don?t fuss, Laina. I didn?t come to be entertained. I came to see if there is anything more we can do to help. And to see the progress you?re making. I love this house. It?s exciting to watch it coming to life again.? ?Then would you care to join me on a short tour? I was about to take one myself.? Laina smiled. ?If I?m to take Abigail?s place as the head of Philadelphia society everything must be perfect.? She led the way out into the entrance hall, turned right and walked a short way to the dining room. ?Oh, they?ve finished!? She stepped through the doorway, then stopped at Elizabeth?s gasp. ?You?ve had it painted!? ?Yes. I love?? ?Color!? Elizabeth finished the sentence for her, and both women burst into laughter. ?Do you like it?? ?It?s beautiful!? Elizabeth glanced from the tureen with Grecian figures and vine border sitting on the sideboard to the alcoves flanking the marble fireplace centered in a paneled wall. ?The cranberry-colored alcoves are truly striking against the green of the paneling, Laina. And they match the color on your dishes perfectly.? ?Yes. It?s exactly what I wanted.? No. It would never be what she really wanted. Laina shoved the thought away and ran her hand along the edge of the large dining table. ?I shall have lovely dinner parties here, just as Abigail did.? She looked at Elizabeth and smiled. ?Shall we go on to the morning room?? She turned and led the way out the door. ?Sunshine walls and window shutters the color of spring leaves. It looks like summer!? Elizabeth stepped into the smaller room and turned in a slow circle. ?What a lovely room to breakfast in on a cold, gray winter?s day. It would be impossible to be gloomy in this room.? ?I pray you?re right, for that was my intent.? ?Is there something you wish, Mrs. Brighton?? Laina turned to face Beaumont, who was standing in the doorway of the butler?s pantry across the hall. ?No, nothing.? Her voice sounded flat and emotionless. She forced a smile and turned back to Elizabeth. ?Would you like to see the music room and ballroom? They?ve finished painting them also.? He was right! Cleanliness and fresh air in the sickroom were of great benefit. The tests run by Dr. Bettencourt and his associates continued to prove it. Excitement coursed through Thad. He read on. The theory of alcohol applied to wounds keeping infection at bay was proving out, as well. Hmm? Thad folded the letter from Paris, placed it on the table beside the chair, then leaned back and plowed the fingers of both his hands through his thick, straight hair. The carefully groomed-down cowlick at his hairline sprang to life. He could feel the hair rise straight up at the roots, then flop over onto his forehead?the ends tickled the skin above his right eye. He brushed them back, to no avail. Thad frowned and straightened in the chair. Alcohol. His eyes narrowed in speculation and his right knee began to jiggle up and down. If one could stop the infection in wounds? He had to find a way to convince his fellow physicians at the Pennsylvania Hospital to try the new procedures. He simply had to. And what more could he do to convince his patients to let him try the unconventional methods of treatment? He?d explained, urged, cajoled and plain out begged, and still they clung to the old beliefs. Thad jumped to his feet as someone thudded a fist against his front door. ?Doc? Open the door, Doc!? The slurred words were accompanied by more thudding. Thad pulled his watch from his pocket. They were starting early tonight. He flipped the rug in his small entrance back out of harm?s way and opened the door. ?Ya gotta help me mate, Doc. He got stuck.? A tall, thin sailor stood on the stoop squinting at Thad through the blood streaming from a jagged cut over his right eye. He was supporting a burly man nearly twice his size by holding the man?s beefy arm across his shoulders. The bloodstain on the wounded man?s shirt was spreading. ?Bring him in.? Thad motioned for the sailor to follow, walked into his office and stepped over to the table he?d cleaned earlier. ?Put him here.? The sailor propped his semiconscious mate between himself and the table, then bent and hefted him up by placing his arms around the man?s knees. ?Ugh!? The wounded sailor?s eyes opened. He grabbed Thad?s arm and gave him a bleary-eyed glare. ?Need a drink.? Alcohol! Thad?s pulse picked up speed. ?You need a good dose of common sense. Release my arm or you?ll get no help from me.? He waited till the drunken sailor complied, then lifted the blood-soaked shirt and stared at the deep slit just below the man?s rib cage. He frowned, picked up the two lengths of rope draped over a nearby chair and tossed them to the seaman standing on the other side of the table. ?Tie his hands together under the table and bind his feet to the legs.? Heart racing, Thad pulled the whiskey he used to help deaden pain from his doctor?s bag, splashed some into a small bowl, then pulled a coil of suturing thread from his bag and dropped it into the bowl. A needle followed. He glanced at the sailor trussing his mate like a slain deer. ?Tie him snug, mind you. If he moves he could do himself serious harm.? ?Ain?t gonna move. Been sewed up before.? The sailor muttered the words without opening his eyes. ?It?s not the sewing. I?m going to apply whiskey to your wound. Are you ready?? Thad positioned the bottle over the wound. ?No.? The sailor opened one eye. ?S a waste o? whiskey, Doc. Lemme drink it ?stead. Arrrgh!? The seaman?s body went rigid as the whiskey hit the raw flesh. His head slumped to one side. Thad stared down at the unconscious man. Seamen were a tough lot. Whiskey poured into a wound must hurt more than he thought it would. It was something to remember. He filed the knowledge away and picked up the needle. There was a thumping at the door. He glanced over at the sailor slumped on the settle against the wall. ?Open the door, please, before they break it down.? Thad glanced up from his sewing as the sailor returned with two other seamen in tow. One of them had a broken arm dangling uselessly at his side, and the other had a deep gash on his face and was missing part of an ear. He frowned and went back to his stitching. It was going to be a long and profitable night. ?Well, tomorrow you move into your new home, Laina.? Justin glanced over, met his sister?s gaze and smiled. ?And tomorrow night you can walk in your own gardens.? ?Yes.? Alone. Laina blocked the thought from her mind and returned his smile. ?And soon after, I shall have a wonderful party in those gardens. Elizabeth is helping me with the invitation list, and Madame Duval is making me a beautiful gown for the occasion.? She stepped close, threaded her hand through his arm and looked up at him. ?You will be very proud of me. It will be my first effort to take Abigail?s place as hostess extraordinaire of Philadelphia society.? ?Well, don?t take on her astringent personality. You are enough of a challenge to me as you are.? Laina laughed and squeezed his arm. ?Surely you?re not calling me difficult?? Justin grinned down at her. ?There is no safe answer to that question. I shall ignore it.? She wrinkled her nose at him. He laughed and patted her hand. ?I have good news.? ?Oh? What is it?? ?I had a letter from Judge today. Your house in New York has sold. You received an excellent price for it.? He guided her to the left. ?Since you?ve no immediate need of it, if you wish, I will invest the money for you.? Laina nodded. ?I think that is wise. Do you have an investment in mind?? ?No. There are several to consider before making a final decision.? ?I see.? She tipped her head back and looked up at him. ?Would the new waterworks be one of them? I am so favorably impressed with the running water in the kitchen and dressing rooms at Twiggs Manor. Surely others would be as taken with the idea.? She frowned as Justin chuckled. ?You find my thoughts amusing?? He quieted and looked down at her. ?No, indeed. I find them impressive. Very impressive. I didn?t know my older sister had such an astute business instinct.? Laina stopped walking and studied his face. ?Truly?? ?Yes, truly.? Justin started walking again. ?One of my basic requirements for a good investment is that the product or service be one that people either need or want. The waterworks is both.? ?I see.? She gave him a saucy smile. ?Let?s keep my business instincts a secret, shall we? I don?t want anything to tarnish my society-leader image. But I do want the money invested in the waterworks. And equal portions of it in the new railroad company and the new freight line I?ve heard you speak of.? ?Again, very wise investments. Expansion to the west is increasing in leaps and bounds.? Justin laughed and shook his head as they climbed the steps to the back porch. ?You amaze me, Laina. It shall be as you wish. I am yours to command.? ?Thank you, dearheart. You take good care of me.? He shot her a sidelong look. ?I thought so, but now I?m not so certain.? Laina gave him a pat on his cheek and walked through the door he held open for her. Chapter Six ?Thank you, Carlson.? Laina took her driver?s hand and climbed from the chaise. ?Come back for us in an hour.? She glanced over her shoulder at her maid as the driver climbed back to his seat and drove away. ?This way, Annette.? ?Stop, you rapscallion!? A portly man charged around the corner and lunged for a small boy, who whirled and darted across the walk in front of her. Laina jolted to a stop. A carriage whipped around the corner and raced down the street toward them. ?No, little boy! Stop!? He paid no heed to her frantic cry. Looking over his shoulder at the man chasing him, the boy dashed into the road. The driver of the carriage hauled back on the reins, but it was too late. A scream ripped from Laina?s throat as the horse knocked the boy down and the carriage wheels, locked by the applied brake, skidded over him. She stood, frozen with horror, staring at the small inert body as the carriage came to a halt. ?Good enough for the little thief!? The man who was chasing the boy turned and walked away. The callous words shocked Laina out of her paralysis. She ran into the street, her long skirts billowing out around her as she knelt beside the small figure. The boy wasn?t moving. Oh, God, don?t let him be dead. Please don?t let him be dead! Her hand trembled as she placed it on the filthy, tattered shirt covering the child?s narrow chest. His heart was beating! She released her held breath in a gust of relief. ?What?s going on here, Jefferson! Did you strike down this woman?? Laina looked up as a scowling, richly garbed man climbed from the carriage and came to stand beside his driver. ?I am not injured, sir. It is the boy your carriage struck down.? She looked back down at the child. She could see no signs of injury. Why didn?t he wake up? The man snorted. ?Another thieving brat of the streets, no doubt. Get back to the carriage, Jefferson. We?re wasting time. I?ve a meeting to attend.? The man started around the horse pulling the carriage that had stopped behind his. He was going to leave? Anger surged through Laina. She shot to her feet. ?Sir?? The man turned to look at her. She swallowed back the anger and forced a reasonable tone into her voice. ?The boy doesn?t wake. He must be seriously hurt. Surely you do not intend to leave him lying here in the street?? ??? ???????? ?????. ??? ?????? ?? ?????. ????? ?? ??? ????, ??? ??? ????? ??? (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926762&lfrom=390579938) ? ???. ????? ???? ??? ??? ????? ??? Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ? ??? ????? ????, ? ????? ?????, ? ??? ?? ?? ????, ??? PayPal, WebMoney, ???.???, QIWI ????, ????? ???? ?? ??? ???? ?? ????.