A Hero from Her Past
If Kathleen O'Bryan were capable of trusting any man, it might be someone like Luke Patterson. She never expected to be reunited with the man that rescued her last summer. But when she arrives at Mrs. Heaton's boardinghouse, seeking refuge, it's the handsome writer who greets her at the door.
Something about the lovely Irish immigrant stirs Luke's protective instincts. Life in New York's harsh tenements hasn't dimmed Kathleen's tender spirit. Day by day, Luke feels the walls around his heart crumble. But it will take faith on Kathleen's side, too, and the heart's power to recognize a real home at last .
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New York City
A knock on the door this time of evening was never a good sign. Luke Patterson paused at the staircase and frowned, looking around for Mrs. Heaton, the owner of his boardinghouse. Neither she nor Gretchen, the maid, were anywhere to be seen and everyone else had scattered after dinner. The knock sounded once more and he took it on himself to answer the door.
" Sir, I've a young woman in my hack and was told to bring her to this address." The man at the door handed Luke a familiar-looking card. It was one of Mrs. Heaton's, embellished simply with only Heaton House, then the address and telephone number underneath. She often gave the cards to young women she thought might be in need of a safe place to come.
"What is it, Luke?" Mrs. Heaton asked as she hurried out of her study.
"This man has a young woman in his hack. He says he was told to bring her here." He handed Mrs. Heaton her card.
"Well, tell her to come right in," Mrs. Heaton said.
"She's in bad shape, ma'am. She passed out on the way over. In fact I think she's more in need of the hospital right now than anythin'. My wife's a friend of her sister's and they told me to bring her here, and that's what I've done. They told me you'd given her the card."
Mrs. Heaton's brow furrowed. "I'm sure I did. Luke, please help this young woman in."
"Of course." Luke didn't bother putting a coat on against the cold February night air. He hurried out to the hack alongside the driver. The man grabbed a small carpetbag, helped him get the young woman out of the hack, up to the front door and into the house.
"I've got to get back to the family, sir. I hope she's all right." He dropped the bag on the floor and let go of the woman, leaving her to slump against Luke.
Luke immediately lifted her into his arms as the man hurried out the door. She was light as a feather and when she moaned, he shifted her in his arms, hoping to make her more comfortable.
"Where do you want me to take her, Mrs. Heaton?"
"Let's get her upstairs, so I can see what she needs, Luke. I've had Gretchen call the doctor and let the other women know a man will be in the upper hall."
Male boarders were normally not allowed on the upper floors, but there really wasn't any other way to get this young woman upstairs. She wasn't in any shape to maneuver the steps. As they passed under the light in the foyer, Luke cringed at what he saw. The woman in his arms looked as if she'd had a fist shoved in her face. Several times. And she had a cut on the side of her temple that oozed blood through a makeshift bandage. What had happened to her?
He followed Mrs. Heaton up the stairs to the landing and waited while she turned to go up to the third floor. Then she paused. "No, let's put her in Violet's old room. There's no need to jostle her any more than necessary. I'm sure she's in a lot of pain or she wouldn't have passed out, poor dear."
Mrs. Heaton hurried into the room and lit a lamp before turning back the cover on the bed. "Lay her down easy, Luke. The doctor should be here any moment now."
He did as told and then tried to step back to let Mrs. Heaton see to her. But the young woman held on to his hand and wouldn't let go.
"Pull up a chair, at least until the doctor gets here. For right now it appears she doesn't want you to go anywhere," Mrs. Heaton said.
Luke grasped the chair by the side table with his free hand and pulled it a little closer, sat down and clasped the young woman's hand with both of his. If he could convey that she was safe, he'd sit there all night. "Do you have any idea who she is?"
From the other side of the bed, Mrs. Heaton lowered the hood of the woman's cape and looked down on her. Luke could hear her sharp intake of breath. "It's hard to tell with her face so bruised and swollen, but with that red hair of hers, I do believe she's the young woman we met in the park last summerthe one you'd helped defend."
Luke leaned closer. The young woman's hair cascaded over the pillow and his heart gave a sharp twist at her moan. Its deep red color told him she might well be the woman in the park. Aside from the fresh bruising and swelling, he could see a fading bruise under her left eyeapparently she got beaten up on a regular basis. His fist clenched at the very thought of anyone treating a woman that way. And if she was the same woman from last summer, he had a good idea who did it.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs and Gretchen and another woman, whom he recognized as one who came to some of the benevolent committee meetings Mrs. Heaton often hosted, entered the room. She was probably a member of the Ladies' Aide Society as was Mrs. Heaton, but he wasn't certain.
"Clara! What brings you"
"Kathleen's sister contacted me and let me know she'd sent her to you. I've been afraid something like this might happen."
"Kathleen? Is that her name? How do you know her?" Mrs. Heaton asked.
In what Luke thought was an effort not to disturb the injured woman, his landlady led Clara over to the windows. But in the quiet of the night, he could still hear what was being said.
The woman Mrs. Heaton had introduced as Clara Driscoll lowered her voice. "She works in my department at Tiffany Glass Company and yes, her name is Kathleen O'Bryan. Evidently her brother-in-law lost his job again and came home drunk today. When Kathleen got there, she found them in the middle of a fight and she tried to stop him from hitting her sister. That's when he came at her, hit her and knocked her down and hit her again. He left saying she'd better be gone when he came back."
White-hot anger surged through Luke as the young woman moaned. How dare the man touch her! He
The doctor arrived just then and Mrs. Heaton turned to Luke. "Why don't you wait downstairs, Luke? I'll let you know what the doctor says and how Miss O'Bryan is doing in a little while. Thank you for helping me get her upstairs."
"You're welcome." Luke tried to slip his hand out of the young woman's, but she held on tighter. Her eyes fluttered open and she hoarsely whispered, "Thank you."
He leaned close and whispered, "You're welcome. And you're safe here. Doc and Mrs. Heaton are going to take care of you now."
Only then did she let go of his hand. He watched her eyelashes drift downward and turned to leave as the doctor took his place.
Luke cringed as he heard a louder moan this time and he fought the urge to rush back to her side. But the doc was the one who could make her feel better now. He'd only be in the way.
"Please do let me know how she is, Mrs. Heaton."
She gave a short nod. "I will."
Luke's heart twisted in his chest as he hurried down the stairs to the main floor and then down the next flight to the first floor where he and the other male boarders' rooms were. He'd try to get some work doneat least a scene or two on the book he was writing. Otherwise he'd only pace the floor waiting for Mrs. Heaton to let him know how Miss O'Bryan was.
He flipped through a few typewritten pages to get back into his writing, but in only moments Luke realized he wouldn't get any work done this far away from what was going on upstairs.
He gathered a tablet and pencil and went back upstairs and settled at Mrs. Heaton's desk. He knew she wouldn't mind; she'd offered to let him work in here before. Maybe he could at least make a few notes about his next chapter. Luke tried to concentrate on what he was writing but the connection to it and the woman upstairs was so apparent he couldn't concentrate on anything but her.
If not for meeting Miss O'Bryan that day in the park, he might not even be writing this book. Her name fit her well, or at least the woman he remembered from that day in the park last summer, when her brother-in-law was threatening both her and her sister.
She'd shown such dignity that day, but the look in her eyes told him how vulnerable she really was. Ever since that encounter, he hadn't been able to get her out of his mind and every time he caught a glimpse of hair the color of hers, he took a second lookat the park, on a trolley, in the tenements, when he'd gone on an assignment from his boss, Michael Heaton. Michael was Mrs. Heaton's son and owned his own detective agency. Until his marriage this past December, he'd lived here, too.
Michael felt he had reason to believe that his sister who'd been missing for several years might have wound up living in the tenements. He didn't want his mother to know of his fears, but he'd confided in Luke that he'd almost given up hope of finding her at all.
It was the traveling in and out of the tenements that had precipitated the change in his writing career. He liked writing the lighter dime novels that made him a living, along with occasional investigative work for Michael, but over the past few months, his goal had changed. He wanted to make a difference in people's lives with his writing. What he was working on now was a book that depicted life for those less fortunate in the city, and Luke hoped it would continue to call attention to their plight as Jacob Riis had done with his book, How the Other Half Lives.
Tonight he realized the woman upstairs had everything to do with the direction his writing had gone inbecause of the way she and her sister had been treated that day in the park. The conditions he was afraid they lived in. And seeing her tonight
"Luke?" Mrs. Heaton broke into his thoughts.
He jumped to his feet and came around the desk. "Yes, ma'am? How is she?"
"The doctor says Kathleen is going to be all right. But he said she's going to be in some pain for the next few days. He thinks she may have cracked a rib, too. Clara is giving her this week off and we're going to try to find out how best to help her. She'll be staying with us for now."
"That's good, I'm glad." Relief washed over him, knowing she'd be here. He couldn't explain the strange connection he felt for the young woman, but it was there and it was strong.
"Evidently her sister's husband has beaten Kathleen several times, probably because she comes to her sister's defense and keeps her from taking the beating," Mrs. Heaton continued. "Clara says Kathleen's sister, Colleen, is expecting a child. However, after tonight, she realized she had to get Kathleen out of there. Colleen was afraid that if she didn't, her husband might hurt Kathleen even worse."
Luke felt his lip curl in disdain for the man. "Kathleen will be safe here. I'll see that she is."
"I know you will. She's awake now and trying to remember what happened and why she's here. Things are slowly coming back to her. I'm going to take a food tray up to her and see if we can get her to eat something. I'll let her know you were asking about her and helped to get her upstairs."
"If you need me for anything at all"
"Thank you, Luke. I know where to find you and I'm thankful you are here. We're going to take care of her."
Luke watched his landlady leave the room, thankful that she'd given Kathleen her card last summer. The pretty redhead might not know it, but she was in the best place she could be right now.
The vision of Kathleen's face, so lovely under all the swelling and bruising, came to him. He clenched his fist once more and went to look out of the window. He didn't know how long it would take, but he was going to find that no-good brother-in-law of hers. If the man were lucky, the cops would get to him before Luke did.
Kathleen opened one eye and then the other. A sliver of sunlight creeping through the slit in the draperies told her it was morning. The last thing she remembered from the night before was the nice lady Kathleen closed her eyes and concentrated. Mrs. Heaton. Yes, the woman who'd given her a card last summer and who owned the home she'd been sent to last night?
She took a deep breath. Why was she having such a hard time putting her thoughts together? Her face, her temple, her whole head ached, but nowhere near as bad as the night beforeuntil she reached up to touch the bandage on her temple. The light contact was enough to make the throb feel like a pounding hammer.
She closed her eyes against the pain and held her breath until it eased off a bit. Then she lay as still as she could until she felt she could open her eyes once more.
Her mind flooded with unconnected memories. She remembered telling her coworkers good-night and leaving work. Money had been especially tight lately, so, though she was tired, Kathleen hadn't given in to the urge to take the trolley. Instead, she'd trudged over to Second Avenue and down to Eighth Street to the tenement building where she lived with her sister and her family. They seemed to have traded one pitiful existence for another since they'd left Ireland two years ago. Believing they'd have a better life in America, they'd pooled what little they had to make the trip, only to find life wasn't any easier here.
She didn't think the dreadful place could ever be home to her or her family. All the buildings in the area seemed the same to Kathleen. They were made of brick, with stoops in front. The six and seven stories housed scores of families, some even larger than hers, crowded in two- and three-room apartments. One had to know the number of the building and where it set on the street to be sure of where they were going.
But last night, as she'd neared their tenement and saw her nephews sitting on the stoop, her heart had dipped into her stomach and she'd felt a little sick. She'd known something wasn't right. Collin and Brody had looked at her with their big blue eyes and she could see they'd been crying. She'd bent and hugged them when they ran to her.
"What's wrong? What's happened?" she'd asked.
Collin had answered, "Papa came home early and started yelling and"
"He was really loud." Brody wiped a hand across his eyes. "Mama started crying, and he yelled more."
"Mama sent us out."
Kathleen's heart constricted with dread. "Well, now, I'm sure things aren't as bad as you're thinkin'. Your papa does get worked up a bit at times. I'll go see what all the ruckus is about."
She hadn't wanted to take the boys, but
A knock sounded on the door, bringing her out of her thoughts. The door opened just a crack and she heard a whisper. "Kathleen? It's Mrs. Heaton. Are you awake, dear?"
"May I come in?"
"Of course." This was Mrs. Heaton's home after all and she'd opened it to her, a total stranger except for that chance meeting in Central Park last summer.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a love story about two people who meet after the woman comes to live in a shelter after leaving the tenament houses in New York City. The story details how these two individuals come to deal with their pasts and learn to trust one another and eventually learn to recognize that they have come to love one another.