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Chloe thought dying would be easier than what her father wanted her to do now. She'd just been lifted onto the open bed of a farm truck, where she gazed out from under the low brim of her straw hat. It framed the terrifying jumble of faces gawking up at her.
"Chloe," her father's voice rumbled a warning. Barrel-chested, wearing a custom-tailored suit, he hovered beside the truck fender while she stood above him trembling.
She parted her lips, desperate for air as all the faces ran together like wet watercolors.
"Chloe," her father repeated, chilling her.
She tried to think of the words that would please her father and also sway the people before her. But under her cream-lace bodice, she couldn't inflate her lungs. It was as if her corset had been laced too high and much too tight.
She tried to focus on the scene before her. The smell of fecund earth buffeted upward in warm waves. The dazzling, nearly blinding, spring sunshine glinted off the chrome of Model-T cars and trucks amidst a few old wagons and horses tethered here and there. She managed to draw in a teaspoon of the warm afternoon air.
"Chloe," her father prompted, his raw irritation bristling just under the surface.
"Klo-ee, Klo-ee!" Out in the crowd, a tall, towheaded boy called out her name and followed it up with a loud wolf whistle. An older man beside him cuffed the boy as a few chuckles and titters floated up to her, taunting her.
I can't do this. I can't-
You can do anythin', a clear, loud voice sliced through her mind.
Startled, her lungs found space to expand. Chloe sucked in air and hefted the megaphone to her mouth. "I've never done this before." Her voice came out unnatural and hollow sounding. She swallowed, trying to wet her cotton-dry mouth.
You can do anythin' you put your mind to and don't let nobody tell you diffr'nt. The plucky words gave her sudden confidence. Chloe lowered the megaphone. "I don't think I need this," she said in a loud voice. She forced a smile. "Can y'all hear me?" And she started to breathe.
As from faraway, approving murmurs from the watching crowd rippled up in reply. Men wearing denim overalls and straw hats slouched against blossoming trees, scant protection from the warm sunlight. Under the trees, women in starched print house dresses lounged primly on worn quilts where babies slept. Beside the schoolhouse, vacant on Saturday afternoon, barefoot children raced from the wooden swings to the slide and back again. Their yells and laughter drifted up to Chloe.
Still Chloe felt their eyes boring holes into her. Her father fidgeted. She sucked in air again.
"My daddy ... asked me to talk to you today," she blurted out the truth. "I really don't know why ..."
But that was near as could be to a lie. I'm here to turn everyone up sweet for Daddy. I knew something was up the minute I clapped eyes on the new clothes he brought home from D.C. The cream-colored cotton jaconet dress with its stylish, narrow skirt and high waist-the matching silk stockings, butter-soft kid shoes, and gloves-had made her edgy, not pleased. "You'll be comin' with me," he'd said before he'd left this morning's breakfast table. And she'd felt herself shrivel inside.
Now she strangled the megaphone with both hands as if she could choke words out of it. "But maybe it's 'cause I know him better than anyone else." Another lie. Or was it?
The crowd looked interested. They waited.
Then she realized it had been her granny's long-dead voice in her mind, urging her on, showing her how to talk to these folk. Her beloved granny-the one person who had always made Chloe feel loved and valuable in her own right. This thought gave her courage. "My Granny Raney-" Her voice gained weight. "-always told me, 'You can do anythin' you make your mind up to. Just look at your daddy.'" Truth at last.
She heard her father's chortle of approval. She sensed the men in the crowd listening to her. Her jittery heart still lodged in her throat, but somehow she spoke around it, striving to appear confident. "My daddy wasn't born in a big house like we live in now." Phrases from speeches she'd heard her father give over the years filtered through her nervous mind and out through her lips. "He didn't get to go to college. He taught himself law. He passed the bar and became a district attorney, then he ran and won a seat in the state legislature."
What next? She recalled the morning's headline and grabbed at it. "In this dangerous time of the War to End All Wars, he wants to serve you as your first elected senator in Washington, D.C."
Then her mind went dead. Plumb dead. She stared out at the faces, her lips parted. No words came. An awful silence swelled. Help me, Lord. Help me, Granny. I can't do this!
"Does he want the women's vote?" a female called out, provoking, sassy.
The question stirred the gathering. Heads twisted, craning as a not-too-friendly muttering swelled. Chloe shaded her eyes and glimpsed-way back in the crowd-a hand in a navy glove waving to her. "Kitty McCaslin!" Chloe called out. At the sight of her best friend, tears of relief wet her eyes. "Honey, don't you know that amendment hasn't passed yet?"
The watchers chuckled and the tension eased. Chloe sensed their returning interest and voiced the next thing that came to mind. "Kitty, whatever are you doing here?"
"Causing trouble." Kitty's tone was teasing.
Chloe eyed Kitty. Her lifelong friend was her exact opposite-as dark as Chloe was fair-haired, petite as Chloe was tall, with brown eyes to Chloe's china blues. In a chic navy-and-white outfit probably straight from New York City, Kitty pouted her rouged lips. Kitty knew how to wrap folks around her little finger, all right.
I just have to follow Kitty's lead. Warm relief shot through Chloe. "The usual, you mean?" she countered, her hand on one hip. She gauged the crowd. They were enjoying the repartee. "What's your daddy going to say to you, interrupting my first campaign speech?"
"What my daddy don't know can't hurt him," Kitty quipped. "And your daddy won't care as long as he gets elected!"
The crowd laughed, indulgent with the daughter of the local banker-even if Kitty was wild to a fault and had gone off to college in New York City. The general consensus was that Kitty's father was out of his mind letting his daughter go off to college in the big city. Didn't he know what could happen to innocent girls up there?
Chloe's heart beat in ragtime. But she knew she was winning; the crowd was with her. "I'm surprised you aren't running for senator yourself," she teased Kitty as if they were alone.
"Give me thirty years and I will!" Kitty crowed.
Good-natured catcalls swirled over Chloe. She wagged a finger at Kitty and laughed aloud before looking at her father in mute appeal. When would he let her step down?
Judging her work done, her father levered himself up beside Chloe and captured the dangling megaphone from her. With one hand he put it to his lips and with the other he gathered her close to his side. This part of the routine she was used to. With practiced charm, she kissed his cheek, smiled broadly, and tilted her face as though cameras were flashing. She'd learned the pose at the age of four.
"Ain't my little gal somethin'?" her father bellowed in his sandpaper voice.
The farmers applauded and the women nodded, studying her outfit, ready to copy it the next time they could afford yard goods.
"Thank ya, honey." He pinched her cheek.
It was then that Chloe glimpsed the elegant stranger. At the sight of him all thought of winning elections flew from her mind. He was tall, lean, dressed in a gleaming white shirt and dark trousers with a suit jacket folded over his arm. His hair was raven black, slicked back from equally dark eyebrows. He stood there, surrounded by the crowd, and his eyes met hers. The contact was almost electric.
The moment became too much for Chloe. The heat, her fear, the sudden stirring she felt looking at this stranger ... The air rushed out of her and she was rendered breathless again. She wavered within her father's arm.
"Don't faint, honey," her father soothed, ever the solicitous father. "Here, Jackson, help her down. The sun's gotten to her."
Hands reached up for her and lowered her to the ground. Someone pushed a fan between her fingers. With a quick smile at those around her, she looked past them, but the man had vanished. Disappointment pierced her. Who in the world was this stranger? Why was she so affected by this man she'd never seen before?
Later, in her upstairs bedroom, Chloe gazed out her window at Ivy Manor's grounds. Through the limbs of budding magnolia trees, she watched the day dim into twilight. Her view of the rolling spring-green lawn and ancient maples, oaks, and tulip trees usually eased her nerves. But not today. She'd survived her first speech-just barely. Sliding down to her knees, she cradled her aching stomach with one arm and rested her cheek on the cool white windowsill. "I can't do that again."
Unbidden, a memory breathed through her. She was a little girl again. Fleeing another one of her parent's battles, she'd run weeping from the big house to the small cottage behind Ivy Manor. Granny Raney had been there in her old rocker, holding out her arms. Chloe slipped up onto her wide lap and buried her face in Granny's soft bosom, scented with camphor. Granny didn't ask any questions, just rocked and sang her favorite hymn in her low, soothing voice. And Chloe was comforted, as always.
Granny Raney had loved her, never failed her, and today, though she'd been gone for years, she'd brought Chloe through the speech-making.
Chloe closed her eyes, willing away the clammy feeling that hadn't quite left her. I won't do that again.
Of its own accord, her mind brought up the image of the handsome, dark stranger at the schoolyard. Who was he? Had he come with Kitty? Her beau from New York? Her stomach quivered. What did that matter to her if he were?
Downstairs, the dinner bell floated up like a death knell. Both her parents were at home at the same time. Which meant dinner would be a nightmare. She toyed with the idea of staying in her room, begging off with a stomach ache. But that would only bring them up to her room, not stop them. Nothing ever stopped them.
With effort, she pushed herself onto her feet again and went to the blue-and-white willow-patterned pitcher and bowl on the stand across the room. Like everything else in her mother's house, the ewer had been in the family nearly a century. She washed her hands and face in the cool water and wondered what it would be like not to live in a museum, not to know the history of each piece her mother revered. Then, with a long sigh, she turned to examine herself in the free-standing mirror she knew Jason Carlyle had ordered from England for his bride in 1774 on the eve of the Revolution.
I look like I've been off to war and back again. She brushed her fair hair back from her face, tucking stray strands into the hairpins in the knot at her nape. Sunlight from the window made her hair shimmer like fire. Pinching her cheeks, she brought color into her pale face. She smoothed the wrinkles in her cotton outfit and then re-gathered her white silk stockings above her knees and freshly rolled her pink garters. Another glance in the mirror. She drew herself up into an elegant posture, her spine listing slightly backward, and proceeded to the hallway and the top of the stairs.
But there, a muffled feminine protest from below slapped Chloe like an open palm. She stiffened. Against her will she glanced down, already guessing what she'd see. Just below her, their maid, Minnie, stood looking up at her, a plea clear in her eyes. Chloe's father had his arms around Minnie. His hands curved along her bottom as he nuzzled her light-brown neck just above her white collar. Chloe recoiled, sickened.
Unbidden, an image flashed through Chloe's mind-the two of them, little girls, best of friends, running barefoot through wet grass while Minnie's brother chased them with a garter snake.
Another whimper. Staring up, Minnie mouthed, "Help. Please."
Chloe spun around, racing on tiptoe to her room. There she opened and shut her door-sharply this time. She waited, taking a deep, shuddering breath. Then she clicked her heels on the maple floor of the landing, returning to the top step. Below her, the hall had emptied.
Nauseated, she descended the stairs and entered the elegant white-and-robin's-egg-blue dining room with its chandelier glittering overhead. Her father had taken his place at the head of the long white-clothed table; her mother's place at his right was vacant. Along with Mr. Kimball, Mason Jackson, his campaign manager, rose at her entrance. A nondescript man in his late thirties, Jackson stood to her left. With his help she took her seat, and then the men settled back into their chairs.
The butler, Haines, Minnie's white-haired uncle, hovered with dignity behind Mr. Kimball, ready to serve dinner. Chloe swallowed as the fragrance of roast beef snatched away the last whisper of her appetite.
"Haines," her father said in an approximation of politeness, "will you send someone up to see if Miz Kimball is going to grace us with her presence at dinner?"
"I'm here, Mr. Kimball." Chloe's frail-looking mother, dressed in a stylish gown of deep maroon, sauntered into the room. The men rose perfunctorily.
Chloe observed her silver-and-brown-haired mother from under lowered lashes. Only a trained eye like her own would detect her mother's slight inebriation. What was it? Just a matter of how Mrs. Kimball held her head so steady, cocked to one side? Or the way she hesitated slightly before setting one foot down and raising the other? Whatever it was, Chloe had seen it enough times before to know.
Mrs. Kimball let Haines seat her across from Chloe. "I hear-" Without preamble, she launched the opening salvo. "-the three of you've had a busy day."
Mr. Kimball ignored her and bowed his head. "Thank you, Lord, for this food. Amen."
Chloe's mother sniffed and opened her white damask napkin, dragging it onto her lap. "I hear you forced our daughter onto a farm truck, of all places. Jackson's idea, no doubt."
"No, my dear Lily, it was mine," Mr. Kimball responded acidly with a twisted grin.
Once, Chloe had seen a dog and cat fighting in the farmyard behind the house. The cat had hissed and scratched and the dog had barked and charged. The farm manager had broken up the fight by swinging a broom. Chloe wished she had a broom now. With white gloves gleaming, Haines served a chilled fruit cup to her mother and then made the rounds of the table with the silver tray.
"Chloe's a natural," Jackson said, ignoring Mrs. Kimball's jibe and eating the fruit cup methodically, piece by piece. "I knew she would be. Pretty, charming. The perfect Maryland belle-shy and hesitant, but able to speak like the people. That down-home accent you put on, Miss Chloe, was very convincing."
"Why an accent?" her mother snapped. Her face, already pink, flushed brighter.
"Your daughter had the wit to talk like one of the people she was addressin'," her father barked and then took a bite of fruit and nodded approvingly at Chloe. "Spoke about my mother-a woman of the people."
Chloe spooned up a mandarin orange section. She had to appear to eat or draw fire to herself. She held the sweet wedge on her tongue, afraid to swallow and upset her stomach more.
Mrs. Kimball sniffed again. "Your mother never had the least use for politics and you know it. What I don't like is Chloe being dragged to these ... events. I tolerated it when she was a child, but she's made her debut now. She-"
"She'll do-" Chloe's father overrode. "-what needs to be done to help her daddy get elected senator."
"Chloe should be attracting young suitors, not traveling around the county, making a spectacle of herself."
"Your daughter didn't make a spectacle of herself," Jackson interposed. "She spoke to a few citizens and made a very good impression. After all, women's suffrage is just around the corner and Chloe provides your husband with a golden opportunity to show his respect for women by letting his daughter speak for him."
"Respect for women?" Mrs. Kimball was too genteel to snort, but her tone and expression together were the equivalent. "I can't vote, Mr. Jackson. So don't try to electioneer me. Chloe is a lady and ladies have nothing to do with politics."
Chloe wished she could second this idea. But she wasn't a participant here, just the captive witness.
"Chloe's a lady," Mr. Kimball blustered. "No one can doubt that. She's your daughter after all, a Carlyle. And make no mistake, Lily Leigh, I'm going to win this election, so don't bother tryin' to persuade me not to take advantage of every ace I got."
He turned to Chloe. "You did a good job today, sugar." With a smile, he drew out a small jeweler's box from his waistcoat pocket. "This is for you."
Excerpted from Chloe by Lyn Cote Copyright © 2005 by Lyn Cote. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted June 30, 2011
I am an avide reader of historical fiction and i had very high hopes for this one inperticuler. But it just went on and on and sometimes didnt make any sense at all. Aside from a few prayers here and there i would not call it christen at all..all in all i was very disapointed with it.
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Posted December 18, 2012
This is so carzy you need to read ths book it is so good that al of all that read it is not so and katte is so ugly that she look like the stuff that comes out of my butty and that is s nasty that i do not want to look at it so go hme ad read this bok cause it is so good ask to buy it for yor next book .but do not liike it .as i can
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Posted June 10, 2012
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Posted February 15, 2006
I read this book over a period of a few days (but could easily read it in a day or two). Very historically accurate and inspiring for women who feel like they need to break away and find that they really lost themselves when they left home.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 17, 2005
I have read many historical fiction novels, but this was the best yet. As a history major it's hard for me to enjoy a 'historical' story when the history is really fiction. Lyn Cote finds a superb way to blend fiction with historical reality in this coming of age story. Set among the backdrop of WWI and the Roaring Twenties flapper Chloe learns what real love is and deals with family dynamics in a way that keeps the reader turning the page to see what happens next. The storyline is original, characters are believable and authentic and the history is right on the mark. Congratulations to Lyn Cote for such a superb work of fiction.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 28, 2005
Posted June 3, 2005
To escape her controlling parents, Chloe elopes with Thorsen Black as WW I looms on the horizon. With her black servant girl, Millie, Chloe makes a decent life for herself and her unborn child in New York. Then, in a freak accident, Thorsen is killed overseas, forcing Chloe to find work. Good fortune leads her and Millie into a joint modeling career, and so life goes on for some time. Back home, one man still yearns to have Chloe for his wife, but Roarke is sure that he can never have her because of what happened to him in the war. It will be over a decade before the two meet again to find out if he's right or not. ................................ *** In one sense, Chloe feels like a saga, ala Barbar Taylor Bradford or Danielle Steele. Yet, it moves a bit faster. Why it's classified inspirational when God is not mentioned very often is a bit of a mystery, but it does shine light on a seldom explored facet of history and the early seeds of the civil rights movement. If you enjoy watching Turner Classic Movies, then this reads like a Barbara Stanwyck movie. ***Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 2, 2011
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Posted March 7, 2011
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