- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
San Francisco — 1871
Singing was the only real pleasure Rachel Sommerville knew. It made her heart soar, her troubles fade. She could close her eyes and lose herself in the music, for a while, and that's exactly what she did as she sang the haunting love ballad, "Lorena."
Aunt Edwina had been arranging these musical evenings for hotel guests for the past three years, since shortly after Rachel had turned seventeen. Rachel did not think herself a great singer, not by any means, but she had a pleasant voice, and people did seem to enjoy hearing her. Once she finished, there was usually someone else in the crowd who could be persuaded to sing or play the fiddle or strike a tune on the piano. These musical evenings were Rachel's greatest joy. Her only joy, to be honest.
But tonight her mind wouldn't be still as she sang. It twisted and twirled and robbed her of peace. In the back of her mind, a niggling certainty ate at her: Once she married Daniel there would be few, if any, evenings such as this. The man spent most of his days at his vineyard, and that was several hours north of San Francisco! He was often out of town on business, as he was at the present moment, sometimes gone for weeks at a time. What would she do with herself then, all alone in that big house so far from everything and everyone she knew?
Rachel had lived in this small hotel, the exclusive Sommerville Towers, for as long as she could remember. Aunt Edwina had purchased and taken over the management of the place years ago, when Rachel had been less than five years old. Since then, the spinster Edwina Sommerville, Rachel's late father's sister, had devoted herself to two things: raising her niece and running the hotel.
When Edwina had moved to San Francisco and bought the place it had been called The Golden Manor, a name that did not suit the ramshackle frame building. The walls sagged, there were bullet holes in the main lobby desk, and the furnishings were rough-hewn. But Edwina had seen potential here, and a piece at a time she'd rebuilt and reshaped the establishment. Rather than being made entirely of weathered wood, the hotel was now fashioned from an enchanting combination of stone and well-kept white frame that brought to mind a small, peaceful castle. The furnishings were fine, the carpets thick, the paintings on the walls in gilt frames.
The public rooms were located on the first floor: The gold salon and the silver parlor, the dining hall, a billiards room, and the lobby. The second floor was for guests, permanent and temporary, and the third floor was where Rachel and Edwina had their rooms, along with quarters for the few employees who lived in-house. There were also two rooms that could be rented if the need arose.
Rachel had offered, many times, to take a more active role in the running of Sommerville Towers, but Aunt Edwina always refused, insisting that Rachel's only job was to be pretty and to marry well.
She would soon do that, taking the man her aunt had chosen as her husband. Rachel was about to be the bride of a man fifteen years her senior, a man who openly worshipped her, was socially acceptable and who was extraordinarily wealthy. And Daniel's winery was only one of his business ventures. He had made a small fortune in real estate and had an interest in the railroads that had also become profitable. He was charming and handsome and looked at her like the sun rose and set in her eyes.
Why wasn't she happy?
With a mental shake, she brushed off her useless musings and tried to concentrate on the present. The gold salon was her favorite public room in the hotel. Furnished elegantly in gold and white, it served quite well for small gatherings such as this one.
As she sang, Rachel stared over the heads of the small audience. Less than twenty were in attendance tonight, but they all listened raptly. The widow Mrs. Weatherly sat in the front row, roosting on her gold padded chair with her hands clasped in her lap. Her hat, a monstrosity in pink and lavender, fairly quivered atop her gray head. Dr. Moore sat in the last row, leaning back with a smile on his weathered face and his eyes closed. He sometimes fell asleep during these gatherings, and she had promised him that if he began to snore, she would awaken him before he embarrassed himself. He was a little sweet on Mrs. Weatherly, who refused to give him the time of day.
Horace, who had been in charge of hotel security since the day Edwina bought the place, was present as always. Six-and-a-half-feet tall and completely bald, dressed somberly and built wider in the shoulders than was normal for a man of his years, he stood out among the regular residents and new guests. Many of the guests, most of them to be honest, were apprehensive around Horace. They did not know, as Rachel did, that beneath his intimidating exterior beat a heart of gold. In fact, the man could be quite sentimental. She was almost sure there were tears in his eyes at this moment. This particular song always made him maudlin.
Rachel studied the rest of the crowd, her gaze lingering fondly on the smiling group all dressed in their finest. Oh, she did hope someone in attendance could be persuaded to perform once she finished. If not, the evening would come to an end much too soon, and she'd have no choice but to retire early. She did grow tired of long, lonely evenings in her third-story room.
At the doorway to the gold salon, a movement caught her eye. The man who stepped in was a stranger. She would have remembered, were he a guest. He was young, and handsome, and ... different. Very, very different. His narrowed eyes met hers, he leaned against the doorjamb much too casually, and after a long moment he smiled insolently. At her.
She averted her eyes, as was proper, and continued to sing. Her heart skipped a beat, and an almost imperceptible tremor marred her voice. She took a moment to gather her strength and to silently chastise herself for reacting so strongly. When she glanced at the doorway again, she was surprised to find that the stranger was still there.
The others in attendance had dressed for a fine evening, but this man looked as if he'd just come in off the trail. Tall and dark-haired, his lean body was encased in tight denim pants and a soft blue cotton shirt. His face was handsome, as she had noted immediately, but in a rough sort of way. He had a man's face, with nicely sharp lines and teasing, narrowed eyes. He continued to smile, casting in her direction a crooked, boyish grin that said Amuse me. Entertain me.
Rachel lifted her chin and continued, coming to the end of her song with her eyes trained on the man in the doorway. She would not allow him to affect her this way. She would not let insolent eyes and a roguish manner turn her stomach and her inner calm upside down. He did not look away or nod his head in acknowledgment, yet he continued to stare blatantly. How unbearably rude!
A smattering of applause marked the end of her performance. The man in the doorway did not join in. Rachel smiled and nodded to Mrs. Weatherly, a familiar and pleasant face, but refused when another selection was requested. She'd sung three songs. Anything more would be too much. She lifted her eyes to find that the doorway was empty. Her insolent admirer was gone.
Thankfully another young lady, the daughter of a new guest, was persuaded to sing. Rachel moved to the back of the room, taking a vacant chair in the last row. Aunt Edwina smiled and nodded in restrained approval, then turned her attention to the young guest who was speaking with the piano player. Dr. Moore grinned and winked at Rachel before leaning back and closing his eyes again. Horace glanced at her as if to make sure she was all right, then showed his pleasure with a nod of his head and a short-lived, rare smile.
Rachel smoothed the skirt of her favorite pale blue gown as she perched nervously on the edge of her chair. When the entertainment had ended, she really would have to talk to Horace about strangers wandering into rooms that should be reserved for hotel guests. Security was his job, after all. Complete strangers should not just appear out of nowhere to disturb the residents.
The young woman who had volunteered to sing, began. The first few notes were admirably precise and clear, and Rachel forced the stranger from her mind. She was not herself tonight, she chided silently. The upcoming wedding had her all atwitter.
Which was silly, she thought as she dug deep for assurance. Any woman would be thrilled to be in her shoes. Daniel was a fine man, she often reminded herself, wealthy and well-respected, and handsome for his thirty-five years. He had no potbelly, like some of the older men she knew, and he still had all his hair. His features were regular and without flaw, and he always dressed impeccably.
The problem was within herself; she was not properly grateful for what she had been given. Surely that was a character flaw she could remedy if she tried hard enough. She had everything a girl could possibly ask for. Aunt Edwina loved and cared for her, and Daniel adored her. She had friends in this old hotel. Most of them were old enough to be her grandparents, but they were her friends. She tried to remind herself of her good fortune, she tried to be grateful ... and yet she felt uneasy. As if life was passing her by, as if she was not cared for but imprisoned.
She had all but forgotten the stranger, until he passed by the window and glanced into the gold salon from the garden path. His eyes found hers, his disrespectful smile flickered, and then he disappeared, walking away and melding into the darkness of the garden.
Rachel returned her gaze to the front of the room and listened to the simple and pleasant singing for a moment longer, searching again for elusive contentment. She would dismiss the stranger, she would be complacent and happy and undisturbed.
She did not last long before nervously and quietly slipping from her seat and through the doorway, into the long hall. At one end of the hallway was a double door. That was, no doubt, where the stranger had exited the hotel and found his way into the gardens. She walked that way, head high. She was not afraid, not of any stranger, not of what awaited her in six-weeks' time.
Annoyed and curious, she opened the door onto the garden. And there he stood, just a few feet away. Her heart hitched, but he was apparently not at all surprised to see her. It was almost as if he'd expected her arrival, as if he'd been waiting for her with that damnable grin on his face.
She opened her mouth to speak, closed it, then took a deep breath and tried again. "This garden is exclusively for the guests of Sommerville Towers," she announced.
"What makes you think I'm not a guest?" His deep voice sent chills up her spine. It was slow and easy, with a touch of the South lingering there. Something about that voice was intimate, impudent. Intriguing.
"I am familiar with all the guests, and I don't recall seeing you until this evening." Rachel would not allow this man to see that his voice and his manner disturbed her. She held her chin high and her spine straight.
"Perhaps I'm trespassing," he said, unconcerned. He continued to look amused. "If that's the case, are you going to toss me over your shoulder and escort me from the property?"
The idea of actually touching the stranger made Rachel's stomach leap unpleasantly. Oh, he was rough and crude, too tall and much too alarming. "No," she said calmly. "But I can have someone else do just that." Horace would have no problem handling this man!
"So, the beauty of Sommerville Towers is reserved for paying customers, is that it?" He raked his eyes up and down her body, audacious and brash. "That sounds downright undemocratic."
The stranger was lit by a combination of moonlight and the yellow cast that broke through the window of the gold salon. Surely it was the strange lighting that made him look so distinctive, so imposing and oddly elegant. He stared at her insolently, his eyes seeing too much. Asking too much. And not at all disturbed that he'd been chastised for trespassing.
Rachel lifted her chin stubbornly, determined to be serene even in these bizarre circumstances. This man bothered her because she'd never met anyone like him; it was as simple as that. She spent her days ensconced in the hotel, surrounded by men like Horace and Dr. Moore, and on occasion Daniel. They were all older and softer and undeniably safe. This stranger was disquieting because he was different. Nothing more.
And perhaps he was right. Perhaps it was unfair to deprive others of the beauty of this garden. "As long as you behave yourself, I suppose you can stay."
He grinned, impertinent and amused. "Why, thank you, miss. Unfortunately, I rarely behave myself, so I'm sure you'll have me escorted off the property in due course." He took a single step closer. "As a matter of fact, I'm going to be down-right ill-mannered and ask you for your name." His low voice washed over her as if it were tangible, as if it lingered in the air and wrapped itself around her like a warm blanket.
"Miss Sommerville," she said softly.
"That's not the name I want," he said, shaking his head softly. "When a man dreams about a woman, he doesn't want to come awake moaning Oh, Miss Sommerville."
Rachel was so shocked by his forward manner, she almost turned her back on the stranger and ran.
He was not at all embarrassed. His grin dimmed but did not die, his eyes raked over her with a boldness she had never known. Rachel found herself staring at his chin, focusing on the small, fetching dimple there.
"My name's Roland," he said softly. "Just in case."
Rachel felt herself blush, her cheeks growing warm, and suddenly she was grateful for the semidarkness of the garden. "You, sir, are insufferably rude."
"Then why are you still here?" he whispered.
Why was she still there? She never should have come to the garden to confront the intruder, and once she had found him to be so bold, she should have returned to the gold salon to fetch Horace. It was not safe for a lady to be alone with an unknown man, especially not these days. The man they called the Crimson Strangler had killed six women in the past eight months. Four of them had been fallen women, one a newly arrived immigrant, and one, the murder that had shocked all of San Francisco, the daughter of a wealthy banker. All six of the victims had been strangled with a red silk scarf.
Yes, she should've rushed back inside to fetch Horace the moment the stranger had spoken to her. But she had not. And still she did not.
Why? Because this man looked at her like no one else ever had. Because as much as she loved singing, she was bored with musical evenings spent in the company of elderly residents and commonplace strangers and Aunt Edwina and Horace. And while this stranger looked a little dangerous, he certainly didn't appear to be threatening. It was a fine and risky differentiation.
"Because my aunt owns the hotel," she said softly, "and I feel it's my duty to ... to ..."
"Miss Sommerville," Roland whispered, his voice skimming over her like velvet. "Are you protecting the hotel residents against little ol' me?"
She did not dignify that ridiculous question with an answer. But she didn't turn and run away, either. Before she knew what was happening, the stranger, Roland, stood directly before her. She had to tilt her head back to look up at him.
Even in the near dark she could see that his eyes were a deep, warm brown, and they bored into her until she felt hot and ruffled. Those eyes were framed by long, dark lashes and topped by well-shaped eyebrows. His nose was long and straight and noble. His lips were perfectly shaped, firm and almost smiling. And then there was the dimple in his chin. Egad, the man was beautiful.
"Rachel," she whispered. "My name is Rachel."
He touched her, his fingertips light against her cheek. "What a lovely name."
"Now, I really should be going," she said, not making a move to do so. Oh, she liked the feel of his fingers on her cheek — too much. They were warm and tender. She liked the feel of this man standing so near. He was passionate and exciting. "My aunt will miss me soon."
"I'll miss you all night."
She swallowed hard. "You shouldn't say such things."
"Why not? It's the truth, Rachel. Don't you speak the truth, always?"
"Usually," she admitted.
"Do you want me to kiss you?" he whispered.
She shook her head. "No."
"I thought you said you usually speak the truth."
Usually. Her mouth was so dry she couldn't speak. Her heart pounded so hard she was afraid he would hear and know how affected she was by his closeness.
Excerpted from Let Down Your Hair by Linda Jones. Copyright © 2001 Linda Winstead Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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 December 19, 2001
This book was very good. the plot was very suspenseful, i could not put it down.The very best about the book was how they got back together.I hope Linda Jones keeps writing these great books!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1871 San Francisco, Rachel Connor feels gratitude towards her spinster Aunt Edwinna for raising her at the Sommerville Towers Hotel, but also feels like a bird in a gilded cage. Rachel does anything her aunt wants of her even if it means acting dumb and pretty while never performing work at her relative¿s hotel except occasionally singing. Edwinna selected Rachel¿s fiancé and the niece meekly agrees to wed the older and highly respected Daniel. <P> Roland Connor wants to destroy Daniel and sees the vulnerable Rachel as the weapon of choice. He persuades her to sneak out to enjoy life. However, once Edwinna learns about her niece¿s nocturnal activities, she locks the girl in her room before Rachel causes a scandal. Rachel, now having tasted fun, uses a rope to be with her now beloved Roland. He too is in love and wonders how to inform her about his odious using of her without losing Rachel. <P>LET DOWN YOUR HAIR is an astutely drawn historical romantic rendition of Rapunzel. The main plot is as good as any recent romance sub-genre novel produced because the audience observes the machinations of Roland vs. the innocent Rachel's growing awareness of love. A serial killer sidebar adds tension to the mix, but takes away from the prime triangle even if it tightly wraps the engaging story line together. Fans of fairy tale translations into adult romances and anyone who enjoys an Americana tale will want to read Linda Jones¿ fine novel. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.