Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar has been writing stories and poems since she was a little girl and has published articles and devotionals as well as 31 novels and novellas. In addition to her writing, Andrea is a certified Christian life coach and speaks at writers’ conferences and for women’s groups. She has taught workshops at such conferences as: Write-To-Publish; American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW); Oregon Christian Writers Conference; Mount Hermon Writers Conference and many local writers conferences. Another of Andrea’s accomplishments is co-founder of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) organization. For many years she served on both its Advisory Board and as its CEO.
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AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
New Orleans, December 1861
Raindrops splattered against the garden’s cobblestone
walkway, forming puddles in low-lying areas.
Above, the heavens seemed to mourn in tearful shades of gray.
Staring out the floor-to-ceiling window, Valerie Fontaine realized
she’d forgotten the dreariness of the season. She’d been back
in New Orleans only a week, arriving Christmas Eve, but now
she questioned her decision to leave Miss C. J. Hollingsworth’s
Finishing School for Young Ladies, a year-round boarding school
in Virginia where she’d studied for the last sixteen months. She
let out a long, slow sigh. Life here at home was—well, worse than
Closing the shutters, she stepped away and hugged her knitted
shawl more tightly around her shoulders. She strolled from the
solarium to the parlor, steeling herself against her father’s continuing
tirade. But at least they were talking now. He hadn’t said more
than six words to her since she’d been home. “You should have
stayed at school.” She had thought Father would be glad to see
her, given that it was their first Christmas without Mama.
But such wasn’t the case. Instead of spending the holiday with
her, he’d been at his gentlemen’s club almost continuously. His
actions hurt Valerie deeply. Nevertheless, he was the only family
she had left now.
“You should have stayed at school,” Edward Fontaine muttered
as he poured himself another scotch. His third.
“Yes, so you’ve stated. But isn’t it obvious why I came home?
I’m grieving, and I need the love and support of my father.” She
gave him a once-over, from the tip of his polished shoes to his
shiny, straight black hair. “And it might not seem like it, but I
think you need me too.”
“Need you? I should say not!” He teetered slightly but caught
her reaction. “And don’t roll those pretty blue eyes at me either.”
Valerie turned toward the roaring hearth so he wouldn’t see
her exasperated expression.
Holding out her hands, she warmed them by the fire. Although
temperatures registered well above the freezing mark, the cold and
dampness had a way of seeping into her bones. She shivered.
“I told you, ma fille, your efforts, as you call them, aren’t
She flicked him a glance. “I think perhaps they are.” She
sensed her father mourned Mama’s death too. However, drowning
himself in scotch would hardly help, and he’d lose his good
standing in society if anyone found out about his . . . weakness.
Did neighbors and friends already know?
Valerie turned to watch as he seated himself in a floralpatterned,
Louis XV wingback chair.
“You were to stay in Virginia and complete your education.”
Father gave a derisive snort. “I doubt Miss Hollingsworth will
give me a refund on your tuition.”
Valerie placed her hands on her hips. “How can you value
money over my well-being?”
“This is not a question of one or the other. These are
ous times . . . there are plans that you know nothing of . . . ”
“What plans?” Curious, Valerie tipped her head.
He lifted his gaze to hers, and she saw a flicker of something
in his eyes—regret perhaps? Then his face hardened. “My plans
were for you to stay in school and marry a young man from an
Valerie groaned. Running her hands down the wide skirt of
her black dress, she gathered the muslin in clenched fists of frustration.
How could she make him understand? She simply had
to follow her heart and come home. Otherwise, she surely would
have stayed at Miss Hollingsworth’s, as many students did. On
most holidays, like this one, time constraints restricted travel.
School let out the Friday before Christmas and began next week,
on the sixth of January. However, Valerie didn’t plan on returning,
and her reasons to leave boarding school ran deep.
She lifted her fingertips to her temples as a headache formed.
“Father, school proved too much for me after Mama’s untimely
death. I tried to make it, stayed all last summer, but after the war
broke out I had to come home.”
“Silly girl. You risked your life traveling through that part of
the country. Did you think I wanted to bury a daughter too?”
“No, of course not. But I thought you would have wanted to
see me at Christmastime.”
He didn’t comment on her remark. “So, what am I going to do
with you? I can’t very well send you back. It’s too dangerous.”
“It’s not as if I need a nanny.” Indignation pulsed through
Valerie’s veins. “I’m almost nineteen, and I can take care of
myself—and manage the household for you too.”
“I manage my own household.”
Hardly! she quipped inwardly. Thankfully for him, Adalia,
their precious and loyal maid, had seen to almost everything
since Mama died.
But Valerie wouldn’t tell her father that. She’d learned neither
retorts nor reasoning did much good when he’d been imbibing—
which was frequently of late.
She watched as he swallowed the dark golden liquid, emptying
the crystal tumbler in his hand. He made a sorrowful sight, to
be sure. And yet Valerie knew her father was an honorable man,
a capable man who owned and operated a large business. Her
grandfather had started Fontaine Shipping when he had come
from France. Father grew up near the docks and learned everything
about ships and cargo, importing and exporting, and then
he took over the business after he had finished his education at
Harvard. Grandpapa had been so proud. And now Father secured
his importance among the international shipping community as
well as in New Orleans’s society.
Or at least that’s the way she had remembered him.
“I see I’ll have to marry you off myself.”
“Oh, Father, I’ll marry when I’m good and ready. Right now I
can’t think of a single man I’m even remotely interested in.”
“And what of James Ladden?” Father asked
“James is . . . a friend. That’s all.” Valerie moved to the
burgundy-colored settee. Gathering her black hoop skirts, she sat
down. Her fingers played across the rose-patterned, embroidered
armrest. Her father’s gaze seemed troubled. She shifted. “Perhaps
I should ask Chastean to bring you some coffee.”
He gave her a blank look, as though she’d spoken in a foreign
“Our cook . . . will bring you some coffee.”
He held up his empty scotch glass and said, “I’m fine with this.”
Valerie sighed when he rose to pour another drink. His fourth.
How she wished she could hide that scotch bottle!
“We’re having a houseguest tonight,” he said.
“What?” Her jaw slacked at the surprising news.
“You heard me.” He eyed the amber potion glistening in his
glass. “A houseguest.”
“Who is it?”
He lifted his slim shoulders and wagged his dark head. “Last
name’s McCabe. Don’t know his first. He’s the son of an acquaintance.”
He looked her way. “I extended the invitation before I
knew you would burst in from school unannounced.”
Valerie chose to ignore the slight. “Where did you meet him,
or rather, his father?”
Father’s gaze met hers. His brown bloodshot eyes watered
slightly, and his Adam’s apple bobbed several times as if he were
struggling to contain his emotions. “I met him,” he continued in
a pinched voice, “just after your mother passed away.”
Valerie swallowed an anguished lump of her own. He’d so
rarely spoken of Mama since her death.
Her mind drifted back to that terrible day she’d received the
news. She’d been at school, getting ready to paint with the other
girls when a telegram had been delivered. The weighty sorrow
that descended then returned now as she recalled the words:
Your mother took ill with a fever on 23 June 1861 and
has died. You have our sympathies and our prayers. The
telegram was signed Mrs. Vincent Dupont, the doctor’s wife.
Upon returning home, Valerie learned that a tropical storm
had detained the family physician when her mother had taken
ill. He hadn’t been able to reach Mama in time to help her.
Valerie had never gotten a chance to say good-bye or even
attend Mama’s funeral.
“I miss her too.” Valerie whispered the admission, hoping this
time it wouldn’t fall on deaf ears.
But Father drained his glass and poured another. Number five.
“Our guest will be arriving sometime tonight. I’ll be out. I’ve
left instructions with Adalia.”
“You won’t be here to greet him?” Valerie swiped away an
errant tear and squared her shoulders.
“Not tonight.” He suddenly hollered for his coat, hat, and
“Where are you going?” Stunned, Valerie strode toward him.
“The club. For supper.”
“Again? But I had so hoped you’d come to the Donahues’
tonight and celebrate the coming of the New Year with me.”
“You should know right now, ma fille, that hope is a useless word
in the English vocabulary. All of mine died with your mother.”
Valerie’s breath caught at the admission, tears obscuring her
vision as the portly British maid, who’d been part of the family
ever since Valerie could recall, entered the room carrying Father’s
belongings. He donned his winter coat.
“I hadn’t planned to stay home to entertain a houseguest.”
“I don’t expect you to.” He moved into the foyer and adjusted
his black top hat. “Adalia will show him to his room, and you
can go to your party.”
“But—” He swung open the front door and disappeared, closing it
behind him before Valerie could speak again. All she could do
was stand there, stunned.
At last she exhaled, her lower lip extended so the puff of air
soared upward and wafted over the strands on her forehead. “Oh,
this is a fine mess.” She folded her arms.
“You needn’t worry. I’ll be sure to tidy the gentleman’s room.”
“I know you will.” Valerie smiled at the good-natured woman.
“You’re welcome, dearie. But here now—” Adalia bustled
across the room and slipped one arm around Valerie’s shoulders.
“Don’t look so glum.”
“I can’t help it.” Valerie’s bottom lip quivered as she peered
into the maid’s bright green eyes. “My father has no room in his
life for me, Adalia. I’m a burden to him.” She paused. “Maybe I
always have been, but I never noticed because of Mama.”
Adalia patted her shoulder.
When the moment passed, Valerie straightened. “Well, Father
said I can go to the party. I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Go. I’ll take care of Mr. McCabe. Now you’d best be getting
Valerie gazed down at her dark skirts. “And another thing. I’m
tired of this dreary mourning garb. It’s been six months.”
“That it has, and you’ve fulfilled your societal obligations and
behaved as any good daughter would.” Holding her by the shoulders,
she turned Valerie so they stood face-to-face. “I don’t think
I’m out of place to say that y’ mother’d want each of us to go on
with our living. So go and have fun tonight. As for y’ father’s guest,
he can occupy himself in the library. Plenty o’ books in there.”
Valerie sighed, remembering some of Father’s former houseguests.
“He’s probably some eccentric old geezer who’ll just want
to read and go to sleep anyway.”
Adalia snorted. Her eyes twinkled with amusement. “We’ve
seen our share of those over the years, now haven’t we?”
“Yes.” A smile crept across Valerie’s face. “We certainly have
Beneath the bright glow from her bedroom’s wall sconces, Valerie
studied her reflection. She selected a sapphire-blue silk gown
with satin trim around its off-the-shoulder neckline. The flouncy
creation matched the color of her eyes and complemented her
pale complexion. Adalia had expertly swept up Valerie’s dark
brown hair into a becoming chignon, although several tendrils
rebelliously escaped and curled around her face.
“Pretty as a princess, y’ are. Just like y’ mother.” Adalia stood
back to admire her. “You look just like her.”
“Thank you.” Valerie took the compliment as high praise. “But
do you think I seem a bit pale?” She pinched her cheeks until
they turned a rosy pink.
“Not anymore.” Adalia placed her hands on her hips. Valerie
smiled, then chuckled. Adalia turned and folded an article of
clothing on Valerie’s four-poster bed. “Now, you be sure to catch
the latest gossip, dearie. Chastean and I are dependin’ on you.”
Valerie whirled from the full-length mirror in a swish of silk.
“Why, Adalia, I don’t listen to gossip.”
“’Tis such a pity. We’ll be needin’ something to talk about
while we stir our soap.”
“Mama’s soap.” Valerie’s grin faded as wistfulness set in. She’d
almost forgotten how she and Mama used to create the specially
scented soaps from garden herbs and the essential oils that Father
had shipped in from around the world. The practice had started
with a church bazaar for which Mama had to bring something
she’d made, something unique.
She called her little square bars “Psalm 55 Soap” after her
favorite passage of Scripture. Mama gave them to friends or
left them near the basin in the guest room with a handwritten
portion of that psalm. Feeling a sudden deep determination to
hang on to the memory, Valerie decided to somehow keep her
mother’s custom alive.
“We’ll make a new batch soon,” she said.
“Good, ’cause we’re down to the last few bars of the lavender
rose.”One of Valerie’s favorites. “They’re from the last batch Mama
Adalia replied with a remorseful bob of her gray-blonde head.
That weighty sorrow descended again. Valerie’s shoulders
Several long, reverent seconds ticked by, and finally Adalia
picked up where she’d left off. “I’m particularly interested in
hearing if Mrs. Field’s wayward daughter married that sailor she
ran away with.” She fidgeted with Valerie’s dress. “So listen up.”
“I’ll do no such thing. Besides, James told me yesterday that
Nora Mae married the man in a private ceremony.”
“Y’ don’t say!”
Valerie turned to her. “I shouldn’t have even repeated that,
except there’s nothing wrong with saying a wedding took place,
Valerie narrowed her gaze. Maybe she had succumbed to
gossiping after all.
“Now you’d best get downstairs.” Adalia wisely changed the
subject. “Mr. Ladden’ll be here soon, and you know how impatient
that one gets if he has to wait even a minute.”
“You go on down. I’ll be there in a bit.” Valerie wanted to
check her reflection one last time.
The maid left, and Valerie checked her reflection once more. It
felt good to shed those black mourning clothes. She thought of all
her friends she hadn’t seen in the almost year and a half since she’d
been away at Miss C. J. Hollingsworth’s. They’d always been such
fun-loving girls. Valerie smiled, thinking about how they used to
laugh together with chatter of balls and beaus and fashion.
Would it be the same when they saw each other again tonight?
Sadness spilled over her when she thought things might have
changed. She felt so removed from those subjects now. They
seemed trite, considering her present circumstances. She’d
never imagined her life without Mama. But here her future lay,
stretched out before her in grim uncertainty.
Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee . . .
Valerie smiled as part of Mama’s favorite psalm waltzed across
her mind. Drawing in a deep breath, she plucked her satin shawl
from where it lay on her canopy bed. She pulled it around her
bare shoulders, admiring its ivory softness, and fixed her mind
on the gala. She’d laugh and dance, and maybe some semblance
of joy would return to her life.
Leaving her bedroom, Valerie made her way down the stairs to
the parlor. As it happened, she turned out to be the one who did
the waiting. It seemed forever before she heard James’s carriage
pull up in front of the house.
At long last he entered the foyer, looking dapper in his overcoat
with its fur-trimmed collar. He shed it and handed the garment,
along with his hat, to Adalia. Valerie noted his foggy-gray dress
coat, waistcoat, and matching trousers. The flame-red curls on
his head, usually unruly, were combed neatly back.
“Why, James Ladden, don’t you look handsome!” She held out
her hand in greeting, and he took it at once.
“Thank you, honey. I’ll have you know this suit is cut from the
best cloth money can buy.”
“It’s quite . . . nice.” Valerie felt a bit wounded that he didn’t
remark on her gown or the style of her hair.
Instead James puffed out his chest and smiled. “We have some
time before we have to go.” He ambled across the parlor’s large
Persian carpet. “Perhaps a drink to warm the blood would be
“Yes, of course. I’ll call for Adalia.” She flicked a glance at him,
hoping he didn’t imbibe like Father. This was, after all, their first
public outing together. A moment later she decided to serve hot
cider in spite of the fact he hinted at something stronger.
She looked at him again. James had been a childhood friend,
an auburn-headed prankster who annoyed her by putting twigs in
her braided hair and calling her names. He threw slimy, creepycrawly
creatures at her and laughed when she screamed in terror.
But then James matured into a dashing young man, and when
he discovered that she’d come home from school, he offered to
escort her to every social event in New Orleans beginning this
New Year’s Eve. She’d accepted because . . . well, it was a kind offer,
and James seemed to have transformed into a gentleman.
“Is your father home?”
“No, he chose to ring in the New Year at the club.”
“He won’t be at the Donahues’, then?”
Valerie shook her head.
“I had hoped to speak with him tonight about an important
subject.” His frown turned to a smile. “You.”
“I have courtship on my mind.”
His news surprised her. “I thought we were just friends, James.”
“We are. But the way you look tonight makes me wish we were
So he’d noticed. That was something anyway. However, his
backhanded flattering didn’t change her feelings for him. But
unwilling to hurt him, she chose her words with care. “I am fond
of you. It’s just—”
“Y’ father’s houseguest just arrived.” Adalia poked her head into
the room. “What would you like me to do with him, dearie?”
Valerie grimaced. “Oh, yes . . . ” She’d almost forgotten about
the man. “Show him in.” Looking back at James, she said, “Excuse
me for a few minutes.”
“What’s this?” He stepped forward, frowning his displeasure.
“Forgive me. My father only told me at the last minute.” She
moved toward the door. “I must see to him. It won’t take too
Putting on her best hostess’s smile, Valerie strolled into the
foyer in time to see a tall but shadowy figure of a man coming
down the hallway. He must have entered through the back way.
Over his shoulder he carried a large satchel and, in the opposite
hand, a valise. As he neared, she saw that he was soaked to the
skin. Rain dripped from the wide brim hat.
“Good evening.” He set his burdens down with a thunk onto
the tiled floor. “Name’s Benjamin McCabe.”
“Valerie Fontaine.” She held out her hand to him. He took
it politely, and Valerie felt how cold he was. He also appeared
young, in his midtwenties. Hardly the old codger she and Adalia
“Miss Fontaine, I must say you look . . . lovely this evening.” He
spoke in a velvet baritone, and yet Valerie heard a hint of a twang
in his voice.
“Why, thank you.” It had been more of a compliment than
what she’d received from James.
He shifted his stance. “The liveryman is seeing to my wagon.”
He gave a backward nod. “I trust it will be safe in the stables.
Most of my equipment—”
“Your wagon will be just fine,” Valerie assured him. “Willie is
a very capable attendant.”
An awkward moment passed as Valerie tried to get a better
view of the man standing there in the dim, candlelit entryway.
“I apologize for dripping rain on your floor.” Mr. McCabe
glanced down at the puddle forming beneath him. “That last
downpour caught me.”
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Realms; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)
List Price: $10.99
Paperback: 291 pages
Publisher: Realms; 1 edition (May 4, 2010)