Having fled her privileged upbringing for a failed romance, Rebecca Heaton knows her pride has kept her from returning home. Now at her mother's boardinghouse in New York City, she's determined to forge a new life for herself--and her daughter. She just never expects to find a new love in the process
Ben Roth has always been compelled to help the downtroddenincluding single moms like Rebecca. But if the past has taught him one thing it's that offering his trust can lead to disappointment. Could these two wounded souls make one another whole and come together as a forever family?
Boardinghouse Betrothals: Hearts taking shelterand forging new beginnings
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Heaton House, New York City, January 1897
After helping her mother take down the last of the Christmas decorations, Rebecca hurried upstairs to check on her napping daughter. It was the Monday after New Year's, and she still found it hard to believe she and Jenny were finally moved into her mother's boardinghouse.
The past few months had sped byreuniting with her family, staying with her brother, Michael, and his wife Violet, to help out with her sweet nephew, who had been born two weeks before Christmas, and the weddings of several of her mother's boarders.
Here it was, 1897 alreadya new year and a whole new life for her and Jenny. What would the Lord have in store for them this year?
Rebecca entered the suite her mother had given them and still couldn't believe the space they each had. Compared to the tiny apartment in the tenements she'd left only a few months ago, the suite seemed huge and sumptuous. Her room was done in the blues and yellows she loved and the colors in Jenny's were her favoritespink and lavender. After living in the colorless tenements, she loved having color around them once again. The two rooms were connected by a bathroom they shareda real luxury after having to share a bathroom with everyone on one floor of the building they'd lived in.
"What do you think, Jenny? Are you going to like living here at Granma's?" she'd asked that very morning. Rebecca had smiled, realizing she'd begun to say granma like Jenny didwithout the d.
"Oh yes, Mama." Jenny's eyes had sparkled. "I love being with Granma every day and I like all the others here, too," Jenny had said. "And you won't be so sad anymore. We're going to have good days now, aren't we, Mama?"
Rebecca's breath had caught and her heart twisted in her chest at Jenny's words. Suddenly, she'd realized her child's daily moods in the past had been a reflection of her own. O Lord, please forgive me. Again.
Determination had risen up strong and swift and Rebecca had bent down, gathered her young daughter in her arms and hugged her tight. "Yes, Jenny. We are going to have much better days from now on."
If she had a bad day, she'd make sure she didn't drag her daughter down with her. "I love you so much!"
"I love you, too, Mama." Jenny's small hands patted her on the back.
Rebecca was always amazed at how comforting her daughter's hugs and pats could be.
Now, she crossed her room and went through the bathroom to sit on the side of Jenny's bed. She gave her a gentle shake and kissed her forehead. "Wake up, sleepyhead. We need to wash up and go see what Gretchen and Maida are cooking for dinner. Something smells really yummy downstairs."
Jenny stretched, smiled and opened her eyes. "I hope she's making chocolate cake!"
"Oh, I'm sure Gretchen will make something you'll like." Dessert was a real treat for Jenny. Living in the tenements, Rebecca could rarely afford any kind of indulgence for them. She'd done well most days to provide the basic meal, which had been awfully skimpy at times. She still found it difficult to believe she didn't have to worry about where their next meal would come from. "Let's go wash your face and hands."
Once they'd both freshened up, Rebecca took her daughter's hand and left her room. What a wonderful feeling not to have to lock her door or worry about someone breaking in. She and Jenny swung hands and then the child giggled, let go of Rebecca and ran to the staircase.
"Jenny, not so fast!" Rebecca watched in horror as her daughter grasped the newel post and swung a leg over the side, leaving her in a kind of lopsided position as she started to slide. "Jenny! No!"
Jenny's descent built up speed while Rebecca ran down the stairs on legs that had suddenly gone weak, terrified she wouldn't reach her in time. The front door of Heaton House opened and Benjamin Roth, one of the boarders, walked in. Rebecca yelled, "Ben, catch her, please!"
She saw him glance up and run to the bottom of the staircase just as Jenny flew off the end and plopped into his arms. Her child's delighted giggle helped Rebecca breathe once more as she reached the foyer, took her child from him and hugged her close. She looked up at the man who'd kept her from getting hurt. "Oh, Ben, thank you!"
He let out a huge breath. "You're welcome. That was a bit frightening."
"I was terrified." Rebecca turned her daughter's face to hers. "Jennifer Dickerson! I told you not to ever slide down the banister. You nearly scared the life right out of me and Mr. Ben."
She set her daughter down and grasped her hand. "You deserve a paddling for disobeying me, Jenny!"
"What's all the commotion about?" her mother asked, hurrying down the hall from her study.
"Granma!" Jenny reached out to her grandmother, sounding as if she'd been saved from the sound spanking Rebecca knew she needed.
Rebecca relinquished her to her mother and let out a huge sigh before explaining. "Jenny decided to slide down the banister and Ben caught her right before she flew across the foyer, Mama."
She still trembled at the thought of what might have happened had Ben not arrived when he did.
"Oh, my sweet Jenny, we don't want you to get hurt. Granma has a rule in this house. Never, ever slide down the banister. You won't try it again, will you?"
Rebecca watched her blond-haired, blue-eyed child shake her head. "You promise?"
Jenny hesitated only a moment before nodding. "Now what do you need to say to your mama?"
"I'm sorry, Mama."
Rebecca felt torn between hugging her close again and punishing her for disobeying. "I forgive you. But you still deserve a spanking. You slide down again and you'll get one, you hear?"
Jenny's head bobbed up and down once more.
"You received a reprieve this time, sweetheart," Mrs. Heaton said, patting her granddaughter's back. "I'm not sure you will a second time. May I take her to the kitchen to check on dinner, dear?"
"I suppose, but no treats before dinner."
"Of course not." She turned and headed for the kitchen. "You heard your mama, Jenny. You have to wait until after dinner for dessert."
"I know, Granma."
Rebecca shook her head, let out a shaky breath and looked up at Ben. Her trembles had only now begun to subside. "Oh, Ben, I am so glad you came home when you did. My legs felt like water as I tried to hurry down the stairs and I was sure I wouldn't make it down in time."
"I wasn't too sure I'd be in time, either." He ran a hand through his blond hair, then chuckled and shook his head. "She thought it was great fun."
"And it is. I tried the same thing when I was around her age."
"Was anyone there to catch you?" His blue eyes twinkled as he waited for her answer.
"Thankfully my papa heard Mama yell, much the same as I just did, and he caught me."
"Then what happened?"
Rebecca chuckled. "The outcome was about the same as now. Mama came running down the stairs and Papa said almost the exact same things Mama told Jenny."
"Like mother, like daughter?" He grinned at her.
She thought for a moment and then sighed. "I'm afraid so. I pray she's not as rebellious as I was when she gets older."
"Well, it appears you turned out fine. I'm sure Jenny will, too."
"I pray so. I hope our move hasn't changed life at Heaton House too much for all of you."
Ben grinned. "You and Jenny have livened things up a lot around here. It's wonderful to see your mother so happy. So don't worry about changing life around here. We're all enjoying whatever changes you and Jenny have made."
"Thank you, Ben. Still, I probably should be making her take her meals in the kitchen, but Mama will have none of it."
"I'm glad! Jenny is not a problem, Rebecca. You've taught her good manners and she mostly listens to the conversations around her. Makes it feel more like we are part of a family. Having you both here made Christmas especially wonderful."
Ben's smile went a long way in convincing Rebecca that he meant what he said. Then he bent down, tipped Rebecca's chin up and looked her in the eyes. "Please let yourself enjoy being with your family again. And don't for a minute worry about what the boarders think. We're all very happy to have you and Jenny here. You've been through a lot, trying to raise your daughter by yourself. Some women would have given up their children for"
"Oh! I could never have given Jenny up. Having her is what gave me reason to keep going." She stopped herself from saying more.
How much did Ben know about her past? Her mother had told her that all most of them knew was that she'd been found after having been missing for over four yearsexcept perhaps for Kathleen and Luke Patterson, who'd been responsible for finding her.
"It's your story to tell, Rebecca dear," her mother had said. "If you decide you need to, when and to whom is your choice. As for your brother and I, we're overjoyed to have you back in our lives."
The Lord had more than answered Rebecca's deepest prayers in sending Kathleen to her apartment as a liaison for the Ladies' Aid Society. Because of her, Rebecca had faced her past and been reunited with her loved onesbut she wasn't sure she'd ever share that past with anyone else.
The door opened and boarders Julia Olsen and Millicent Faircloud came in. They'd barely removed their outer wraps when Mathew Sterling, another of her mother's boarders, entered. Greeting each one, Rebecca had no chance to say more to Ben alone. Everyone rushed upstairs or down to get ready for dinner, but as Ben turned to go down to the men's quarters, Rebecca reached out and touched his arm. "I thank you again for catching Jenny."
"You're welcome. I doubt she'll be sliding downstairs anytime soon." Ben reached out and covered her hand with his.
Rebecca was a bit disturbed by the way her pulse raced with the touch of his hand on hers and she quickly slipped hers out from under his. "I'd better go find out if Jenny is getting in the way in the kitchen."
"And I need to go wash up. See you in a bit."
Rebecca nodded and smiled. She headed toward the dining room, trying to tell herself her racing pulse had nothing at all to do with Ben and everything to do with seeing her daughter sail down the banister. Still, her reaction to his touch unsettled her. She hadn't reacted quite like that in years and she was determined to tamp down the fluttery feeling inside. She would notcould notlet herself become attracted to another man. She'd been through enough heartbreak to last a lifetime and she wasn't going there again.
She hurried to the kitchen to give a huge hug to the only worthwhile thing to come out of her time of rebellion and reprimand her one more time about ever trying to slide down the banister again. Then she sent up a silent prayer of thankfulness that Ben had been there to catch her precious daughter.
When Ben entered the dining room a short while later, he was glad Rebecca and her mother seemed to have recovered from Jenny's near tragedy. Rebecca must have been terrified when Jenny began her slide downhe'd been quite alarmed himself in trying to get to her in time. The little girl was a bit quieter than normal, but she gave him a sweet smile as he held out a chair for Rebecca and then took his own seat across from her.
He smiled back. Jenny had her mother's beautiful blue eyes, but her hair was blonder with no red in it. Rebecca had just enough red in her hair to make him finally realize what strawberry blonde looked like. She was very pretty, petite and delicate to look at, but she was also a strong woman. She had to be, to have lived in the tenements and raised a child by herself.
He knew little about the circumstances that had taken Rebecca away from her family or kept them from finding her, but he admired her for the simple fact that she'd kept her child and tried to do the best she could by her. Jenny was a happy little girl and Ben was certain her mother deserved the credit for it.
His heart went out to women raising children alone. Always had. His own mother had abandoned him when he was a baby, dropped him off at an orphanage, leaving him to grow up wondering why she'd left him and what had been wrong with him to cause her to desert him.
He was thankful for Mrs. Butler, the director of the orphanage, who'd taken him in and been there for him all those years. And he'd been blessed in having an anonymous benefactor who'd paid for his education. Because of the generosity afforded him, Ben had made a vow to help other orphans in whatever way he could. He visited the orphanage often and men-tored the young people who were of an age to go out on their own. Still, the thought that his mother had deserted him
Ben swallowed around the tightness in his throat and turned his attention back to his fellow boarders.
With Kathleen and Luke Patterson married and starting their life together a couple of blocks away, and Elizabeth and John Talbot doing the same thing several blocks in the opposite direction, the table seemed very empty. Two couplesfour boardershad moved out within a few months of each other. If not for Rebecca and Jenny moving into Heaton House, it would only be him and Matt, Millicent and Julia left as boarders.
The four of them had wondered what would happen next. Would Mrs. Heaton close her boarding-house now that her daughter and granddaughter had moved in? Or would she take in more boarders? There was room for at least two more men downstairs and several more female boarders upstairs, if Mrs. Heaton utilized a room or two on the third floor. They might be a bit smaller on that floor, but still larger than many rooms to let in the city, and he had no doubt they'd be filled quickly if his landlady decided to rent them out.
He hoped she did. For some reason, the upcoming changes in boarders left him feeling odd, longing for something more and he wasn't even sure what that was.
Ben looked at Jenny, who was staring at him. He smiled and she grinned at himright before she ducked her head, touching his heart. He looked up and found her mother's gaze on him. Something stirred inside as their eyes met.
"I've been thinking," Mrs. Heaton said from the head of the table. "Before I put in an advertisement for new boarders, I want to tell you all what I'd like to do and hear what you think about it."
"What is it, Mrs. Heaton?" Matt asked from the other end of the table.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
. A Daughter’s Return, by Janet Lee Barton, is the fourth in the Boardinghouse Betrothals series. Ben and Rebecca are more than just boarders at Heaton Boardinghouse. Rebecca is the long lost daughter of Mrs. Heaton, and although her family has forgiven her of her past, she has not yet been able to forgive herself, and is certain she will never be able to trust a man again. Ben, likewise, has had trouble all his life with trusting women due to a secret from his past. He’s a teacher, who quickly becomes the hero of Rebecca’s daughter, Jenny. The story, set in 1897 in New York City, unfolds in a most genteel manner. A skating accident leads to a much closer physical relationship than Rebecca is accustomed too, as Ben seems to always be around when she needs help. After several evenings of night school, followed by hot chocolates and much encouragement from the former and current boarders, Ben and Rebecca realize that trust is only given to those who deserve it most, and that forgiveness is the beginning of learning to love again. Historically accurate, A Daughter’s Return paints a colorful picture of life at the turn of the century. Ben and Rebecca’s story is one of hope, forgiveness, and love.