Moon in the Water

Moon in the Water

5.0 8
by Elizabeth Grayson
     
 

Ann Rossiter is no man’s idea of the perfect wife, yet she has a chance—a single chance—to insure her future. To protect her unborn child, Ann agrees to marry a common riverboat pilot. In exchange, he’ll gain command of her stepfather’s magnificent new steamer—the Andromeda. But as they ply the western rivers together, Ann is

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Overview

Ann Rossiter is no man’s idea of the perfect wife, yet she has a chance—a single chance—to insure her future. To protect her unborn child, Ann agrees to marry a common riverboat pilot. In exchange, he’ll gain command of her stepfather’s magnificent new steamer—the Andromeda. But as they ply the western rivers together, Ann is drawn to her new husband, to his quiet strength and smoldering magnetism. Still, she dares not yield her heart for fear he will discover her most terrifying secret.

As the Andromeda steams toward the wilds of the Montana Territory, Chase Hardesty finds himself falling in love with his new bride. But when Ann’s past comes back with a vengeance, will their marriage of convenience end in tragedy—or in love forever?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Compelling ... offers a charismatic hero who will easily beguile readers.... Grayson's details about river running would make Mark Twain proud."
Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly
Set in Mississippi during the turbulent mid-19th century, this compelling romance from Grayson (Color of the Wind, etc.) offers a charismatic hero who will easily beguile readers. A for-hire riverboat pilot of humble origins, Chase Hardesty has long dreamt of owning his own boat, so when his boss, James Rossiter, offers him a deal-the Star Line's new stern-wheeler if he marries Rossiter's pregnant stepdaughter Ann, whom Chase has never seen-Chase finds that he can't refuse. For her part, Ann only wants to be free of her brutal stepfather and stepbrother. Assuming Ann will stay with Rossiter while Chase makes a riverboat run up to the wilds of Fort Benton, he is startled to find that his willful bride has stowed away on the boat and locked herself in his cabin. Circumstances enable Ann to gradually trust and admire Chase and even develop a rapport with his crew, but Ann carries a secret that may destroy their fledgling marriage. Grayson's absorbing plot races nimbly along a fast current. The sandbars and snags are as realistic as the people who confront them, and her details about river running would make Mark Twain proud. When the dramatic denouement finally occurs, readers will feel as if Ann and Chase are personal friends. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553584240
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/30/2004
Pages:
480
Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

chapter one

March 1867

St. Louis, Missouri

IT WAS A PROPOSITION THAT WOULD TEMPT A SAINT.

Chase Hardesty hitched forward in his chair and stared across the massive mahogany desk in Commodore James Rossiter's well-appointed study. "Let me get this straight," he said. "What you're offering me is the captaincy—"

"Not the captaincy," Rossiter corrected him, "ownership. I'm offering you ownership of the Star Line's new stern-wheeler, commissioned out of the Carondelet shipyards just this morning."

Chase had been dreaming about captaining his own steamboat all his life. "And you'll give me the Andromeda," he clarified, "in exchange for marrying your daughter."

The commodore nodded. "That's exactly what I'll do."

Chase whistled under his breath. He'd been working as a pilot for the Gold Star Packets for the past three years, and not once in all that time had the commodore given any sign he favored Chase above the other pilots. Not once had he hinted he might consider promoting Chase to the captaincy of one of the boats, much less offering him ownership.

Not once had Rossiter mentioned his daughter. Which made Chase wonder what was wrong with her.

He'd been away on a run to Sioux City last fall when Ann Rossiter returned to St. Louis after years at some fancy school back East, but Chase's brother Ruben had told him about her homecoming. The commodore had driven his shiny new gig down to the levee to meet her boat. No sooner had the deckhands lowered the gangway than the girl came rushing across it, clearly glad to be home. Rue said Rossiter swept her up in his arms, every bit as pleased to see the girl as she was to see him.

But if Rossiter had held his daughter in such high esteem six months ago, why was he looking for someone to marry her off to now? And what made the commodore offer this sophisticated and pampered young woman to him?

Chase made no secret that he came from simple folks. His father had begun as a woodhawk on the frontier, and now sold fuel to the steamers plying the Missouri River west of Council Bluffs. His mother had been the only daughter of an itinerant Baptist preacher. Beyond what she'd taught him reading the Bible, Chase hadn't had so much as a lick of schooling.

All he really knew was the river. He'd climbed aboard a riverboat when he was thirteen and never once been sorry. He'd worked his way up from cub engineer to master pilot. It was a commendable feat, but for all his efforts to better himself, he'd never picked up the polish and social graces some pilots did. And though he was handsomely paid, Chase never seemed to have more than lint in his pockets.

Which made Rossiter's proposal all the more attractive—and all the more puzzling. What kind of man did the commodore think he was to accept such a bargain out of hand?

Chase cleared his throat. "If you don't mind me asking, sir," he began, trying to couch the question as diplomatically as he could. "Why are you offering your daughter to me?"

Rossiter seemed taken aback, either by the question itself, or that Chase had the audacity to ask it outright. He paced to the windows that overlooked the garden at the side of the house and the street of fashionable residences known as Lucas Place.

"Well, you're unmarried, for one thing," the commodore answered with far more candor than Chase had expected. "I like that though you came from humble beginnings, you've made something of yourself. It proves there's grit in you. And I thought that since you might never make captain on your own, you'd find this offer—intriguing."

It was intriguing, but Chase couldn't help bristling a little at the commodore's attitude. He didn't much mind admitting where he'd come from, but he resented that Rossiter had drawn his own conclusions about his prospects. The man had as much as said Chase had ambition enough to be hungry and was poor enough to be bought.

"Both the crew and officers like you," the commodore went on, enumerating. "They think you're evenhanded and dependable."

Which was the same as saying he was good at his job and could probably be counted on not to beat his wife. They were, at best, minimal qualifications for what the commodore was proposing. But then, the older man wasn't being all that exacting in his requirements for a son-in-law. Which made Chase wonder all over again what Ann Rossiter had done to deserve such treatment.

Then, clearing his throat, the commodore turned from the window, and Chase knew the time had come to make his choice. He scowled a little as he weighed the possibilities: Rossiter's daughter and a brand-new steamer against the unfettered life he loved and whatever adventures the future might hold for him.

His answer seemed obvious.

"While I'm complimented that you consider me worthy of joining your family, Commodore Rossiter," he began, aware of the gravity of what he'd been asked and grappling for the exact right way to couch his answer, "I've never once set eyes on your daughter. And as far as I know, sir, she's never once set eyes on me."

When Chase opened his mouth to continue, Rossiter cut him short. "You would be willing to meet her, though, wouldn't you, Hardesty?"

Chase hesitated, caught between the refusal he'd been about to make and the commodore's new question. "Well, I . . ."

"Would you be willing to meet her now?" Rossiter pressed him. "This afternoon?"

Chase's nerves tingled in warning.

The commodore raised the ante. "The Andromeda is a beautiful steamer, Hardesty. A man could gain a great deal by agreeing to this."

A man could get in over his head wanting things he had no business aspiring to. Or a man could make his dreams come true.

Visions of a sleek, freshly painted stern-wheeler flitted through Chase's mind. He could almost see the wide decks and graceful galleries. He pictured a wheelhouse standing tall, ornamented with stained-glass windows and an upholstered lazy bench. He could all but feel the smoothness of the steamer's wheel slide through his hands and hear the roar of her boilers.

He knew how his chest would warm with pride as he nosed a steamer like that in close to the bank at Hardesty's Landing, and what his father would think when he did.

"I can arrange for Ann to meet you in the parlor in ten minutes," Rossiter cajoled.

What could it hurt? temptation purred in his ears.

Chase swallowed uncomfortably and shook his head. "Of—of course, I'll meet her," he answered, in spite of himself.

He regretted the impulse the moment the words were out of his mouth.

TRAPPED—HERE. TRAPPED—HERE. TRAPPED—

The needle and thread Ann Rossiter thrust and then pulled through the fabric stretched taut over her embroidery hoop seemed to whisper of her predicament. Trapped in her stepfather's house, isolated, apprehensive, and vulnerable. Trapped by restrictions that chafed her raw and circumstances she could barely bring herself to acknowledge.

She ached to leave, to run away someplace where nobody knew her. She'd packed her things last fall and had gotten as far as Memphis before her stepfather's men caught up with her. Since then, the commodore had kept her too closely confined to try again, but Ann kept watching, waiting for an opportunity.

When the door to the cozy second-floor sitting room started to open, Ann grabbed for the kitchen scissors hidden in the folds of her skirt.

James Rossiter stepped through the doorway. "Hello, Ann," he greeted her. "How are you feeling today?"

Ann released the reassuring weight of the scissors. "Well enough, thank you, Father."

"Good," he answered, sauntering nearer. "Good."

He paused not quite a foot from her chair and compressed his lips. He clearly had something to say to her, something he thought was important.

Probably something she wasn't going to like.

Though her fingers had begun to tremble, she bent even more intently over her stitching.

The commodore cleared his throat and waited. When she refused to so much as look his way, he proceeded anyway. "Since you seem to be feeling well enough, there's someone I'd like you to meet."

Ann raised her head in spite of herself. Her stepfather hadn't allowed her to speak to anyone except family or servants for weeks and weeks. God knows, it had been easy enough to cut her off. She'd been gone from St. Louis long enough to lose track of the boys and girls she had played with when she was a child, and since she'd been back, she hadn't made the kind of friends who'd come banging on the door demanding to see her. She'd been sequestered in these upstairs rooms, shut safely away while the commodore met with his bankers and employees in his study downstairs, or had dinner with his cronies in the dining room.

Ann tucked her needle into the cloth at the prospect of having a visitor. "Who on earth is it you want me to meet?"

"The man's name is Chase Hardesty," James Rossiter answered. "He's one of Gold Star's most reliable pilots."

Ann set aside her embroidery altogether and struggled to suppress the note of eagerness that crept into her voice. "Is there a particular reason you want me to meet him, Father?"

Rossiter lowered himself onto the footstool, then reached to take her hands. She submitted to his touch, let her fingers lie lax in his, though she didn't like it.

"You know, Ann," he offered almost kindly, "I've been giving your situation a good deal of thought."

"So have I."

"And I think I may well have hit upon a solution."

She raised her gaze to his, succumbing to a thrill of hope. Perhaps the commodore had finally seen things her way. Perhaps he was asking this pilot, this Mr. Hardesty, to escort her to New Orleans or Cincinnati. To someplace where she could live in peace and anonymity.

"What seems to make sense"—her stepfather allowed himself a satisfied smile—"is for you to marry a strapping young man and start raising your family. And I've found just the fellow!"

The breath whooshed out of Ann like air from a bellows. Her brain went porous with shock. "You—you want me to m-m-marry this Mr. Hardesty?" she finally managed to gasp. "The man downstairs?"

Her stepfather inclined his head. "I've been watching Hardesty ever since he came to work for me. He's a good, dependable fellow, and an extremely able pilot. I think he'll make you a damn fine husband."

Ann couldn't do more than gape at him. This man—the man her mother had entrusted her to when she lay dying—intended to marry her off to a stranger! To some riverboat steersman!

He meant to betray her all over again.

Cold ran through her veins and pooled in the pit of her belly. Her head swam and her mouth went dry with revulsion. Then blistering outrage roared in on the heels of the shock.

Ann jerked her hands out of James Rossiter's grasp and surged to her feet. The scissors clattered to the floor.

"This isn't the Dark Ages!" she shouted at him. "Men don't arrange marriages for their daughters. Women aren't wed against their will. Surely Mr. Hardesty hasn't agreed to this!"

"He's consented to meet you."

At least Mr. Hardesty was astute enough not to buy a pig in a poke, Ann thought. Still, what kind of a man would be party to wedding a woman he didn't even know?

He'd have to be someone unscrupulous. Someone ambitious. Someone who didn't understand the scope of what he was agreeing to do.

Suspicion swooped through her. "What exactly did you tell Mr. Hardesty about me?" she wanted to know.

"For God's sake, Ann!" her stepfather snapped at her. "How do you expect me to remember exactly what I said?"

That meant her stepfather hadn't told her prospective bridegroom why he'd been soliciting someone to marry her. He was leaving it to her to tell him, to stand there sick with shame as contempt rose in Hardesty's eyes.

"Well, I won't meet with him," she declared. "I won't!"

Rossiter all but leaped to his feet. "Damn you, girl! If you'd only be agreeable, we could get this settled."

" 'Get this settled?' " she echoed. "Have you made some sort of bargain with Mr. Hardesty, Father? Is my new husband already bought and paid for?"

When he didn't deny it, Ann pressed him. "So what is the going rate for a man's good name?"

Though his face mottled red, James Rossiter couldn't seem to deny what he had done. "No petty price! I'll tell you that!"

For a moment Ann thought he was going to refuse to say anything more. Then he sucked in his breath, as if he wanted her to know exactly how grateful she ought to be.

"I've offered him ownership of one of the Gold Star's steamers in exchange for a quick marriage and no questions asked."

"Is it really worth giving Mr. Hardesty a boat worth tens of thousands of dollars to strip me of the Rossiter name?"

Her stepfather's jaw clenched. For an instant Ann thought he meant to strike her. He backed away instead.

"I suggest you make the most of the time you have with Chase Hardesty, because you aren't likely to find a better—or a more congenial—suitor."

"Please, Father! Can't you just let me leave on my own?" she all but begged. "If you let me go, I swear I'll never trouble you again."

He paused when he reached the door. "Go see to your appearance, Ann. Put on your good gray gown and repin your hair. I'll show Mr. Hardesty into the parlor once you're ready."

He slammed the thick wooden panel behind him, leaving Ann standing alone in the ringing silence.

AT FIRST CHASE DIDN'T SEE HER.

What he saw when James Rossiter showed him into the town house's deep double parlor was a pair of enormous gilt-framed mirrors that gave back reflections of the soft-green silk wallpaper, the rose and green velvet settees, and plush Aubusson carpets. The room smelled of lemon polish and elbow grease, of bayberry candles and extravagance. But the silence, broken only by the ticking of the ormolu mantel clock, was the most unexpected luxury.

A steamboat was never quiet. The engines roared and banged and wheezed, the paddles sluiced, bells clanged and whistles hooted. People were always about and the hum of conversation, to say nothing of the shouted orders and the cries of the vendors on the levee, added to the cacophony.

The silence in this room was restful, calming, like being submerged in a pool of still, green water on a summer day.

Only slowly did Chase come to realize that the woman he'd agreed to meet was already here. She was standing motionless, looking out the window at the far end of the room as if there were something of consuming importance taking place in the street.

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