Austin, Texas—1904: Abandoned by the love of her life and still mourning the loss of her mother, Lily Donaldson has turned her back on the pain and come to Austin for a fresh start, working for the Marshall family as a kitchen maid in their luxurious mansion, the Butterfly Palace. The tasks before her are legion, and her mistress less than pleasant, but at least Lily’s new life will be, if nothing else, distracting.
But one night, while serving at a dinner party, Lily recognizes the man who abandoned her, Andy, her liaison from the livery stable, the blacksmith’s son . . . sitting among the distinguished guests. Though he recognizes her, Andy does not acknowledge her aloud, and Lily is left reeling, flabbergasted, and irate.
But before she can get an explanation, the path of the Servant Girl Killer swerves very close to the Butterfly Palace, sowing terror among the maids. Having come to Austin to start anew, Lily suddenly feels trapped in a spider web. How can she know who to trust in a house where lies come dressed in fine suits and deceit in silk gowns the colors of butterfly wings?
“This story about the importance of having faith, especially in your darkest hour, is recommended for fans of Amanda Quick and Sandra Brown and for readers who enjoy romantic suspense and historical fiction.” —Library Journal
Related collections and offers
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Colleen Coble
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Colleen Coble
All rights reserved.
Austin, Texas, 1904
The train's whistle sounded as mournful as she felt as it pulled away from the station, leaving her on the siding with her valise at her feet. Lily brushed ineffectively at the soot on her serviceable gray skirt and squinted in the October sunshine. What if her new employer had sent no one to meet her? She didn't know how to get to her destination.
A dray pulled by two fine horses went past, and the driver stared too boldly for her taste, so she directed her gaze to her dusty black boots.
She jerked her gaze back up to see a man dressed in a brown suit. A lock of reddish hair dipped below his stylish bowler. He appeared to be in his late thirties and was quite handsome.
He tipped his hat and nodded toward her luggage. "Is that all you have? You are Lily Donaldson?"
"Yes, yes, I am. You are from the Butterfly Palace?"
He picked up her valise and gave a vague nod her way. "This way."
People flowed around her as she followed his broad back to a fine automobile at the street. She hung back when he opened the door. "You didn't mention your name."
Amusement lit his pale blue eyes. "I'm not the killer attacking women here if that's what you're worried about."
She glanced around at the men loitering nearby. No one seemed to pay her any notice. "There's a killer?"
He shrugged. "A city is never as safe as it looks. Are you coming or not? I don't care either way. Mother asked me to fetch you when I objected to being forced to attend another of her boring balls, and I obliged. It's on your own head if you're late."
When he started for the driver's seat, she hoisted herself onto the plush seat. "I'm coming."
He grinned, and heat flared in her cheeks at his bold stare. His expensive suit proclaimed him to be much more than a driver sent to collect her. He'd mentioned his mother, so she assumed he was a Marshall.
The jerk of the automobile threw her against the leather seat and ended her speculation. It felt good to be away from the curious stares she'd endured on the train. Women didn't travel alone. She took off her bonnet and swiped some loose strands back into place, then replaced her hat.
She stared eagerly out the window at Austin. The state capital. It was much grander than she'd imagined. Electric trolley cars zipped by so fast they made her woozy. Houses larger than four or five homes back in Larson turned stately faces toward the wide street. Mercantile shops, printers, meat markets, and dress shops passed in a dizzying blur. Where did one start to find needed items? There were too many shops to choose from.
The scent of lilacs blew away the stench of the train's coal dust that lingered on her clothing. Her pulse beat hard and fast in her neck. Her new life was about to begin, and she had no idea what to expect. While she hoped to find a new life here, the recent death of her mother left her expecting only more heartache. Still, she had to support herself even if life seemed hard and dreary.
Didn't God care? She'd never expected him to let such terrible things happen. Ever since the fire, life had spiraled down in a disheartening whirlpool of pain.
The automobile stopped in front of a grand stone mansion illuminated by electric lights. The cobblestone drive was smooth under her shoes when the man assisted her out of the back. Lily stood, absorbing the huge edifice that would have been more at home on a French mountainside. Seeing it here on Texas soil felt wrong somehow, and something about the structure was off-putting in spite of its grandeur. Maybe it was the way the windows in the mansard roof seemed to leer down at her, or perhaps it was the dark brick that made it look stern and unwelcoming. A chill shuddered down her spine, but she picked up her valise. It would surely be more attractive in the daylight.
The man shut the automobile door behind her. "Welcome to Butterfly Palace, Lily."
His forwardness in addressing her by her Christian name made her straighten. "Why is it called that?" She craned her neck again and willed herself to admire the four-story mansion.
"My stepfather is a great collector of exotic butterflies. He employs a man to bring him the finest in the world. The sunroom is filled with them, and frescoes can be found everywhere." He pointed. "You'll want to go around back to the staff entrance, but I'm sure we'll be seeing more of one another. The name's Lambreth. I suppose I'll inherit this monstrosity someday." He winked at her.
The instructions and his wink took her aback. There was little distinction between servant and master in Larson, but then, no one in her hometown put on airs or flashed their wealth around. She took a step toward the side of the house, but Mr. Lambreth touched her arm and motioned her in the other direction.
"I'll have Rollo bring in your trunk. Mrs. O'Reilly will tell you where you're sleeping. See you around."
"Thank you." Gathering her courage, Lily followed a cobblestone path around the west side of the house.
Light spilled into a rose garden from large windows along the side of the house. Lily stopped and gaped. Women in shimmering silk dresses mingled with men in formal attire under a spectacular gas chandelier. The opulent scene was like something from Godey's. Houseboys and maids carrying trays offered food and drink to the guests, and piano music tinkled out the open windows.
She reined in her impulse to run back to the automobile and ask to be returned to the train. This life was far outside her experience, and she'd never fit in here. Would she be expected to wear a black dress and white apron and cap?
Tightening her grip on her small valise, she forced herself forward to the back door. The aroma of roast beef mingled with fish and cake as she knocked on the door.
The door opened, and a slim woman about Lily's age peered out. Her hazel eyes sparkled with life above flushed cheeks. "You must be Lily. I expected you an hour ago. We need you." She reached out and yanked the valise from Lily's hand. "We're shorthanded. Your dress will do for now, but take off your hat and put on an apron."
She left the door standing open and stepped back into a hall that opened into a large kitchen. Lily followed the young woman into the kitchen where the cooking odors grew stronger. The aromas of beef and fish vied with that of cinnamon and apples. Food covered a scarred wooden table, and several servants bustled around the room.
A tiny woman dressed in black orchestrated the chaos. The red hair under her cap was coiled in a bun tight enough to give her a headache. Her brown eyes assessed Lily, and she nodded. "So you're Lily?" Her brogue told of her Irish heritage. "I'm Glenda O'Reilly, the housekeeper. You may call me Mrs. O'Reilly."
"What would you have me do tonight?"
Mrs. O'Reilly pointed to a shelf and pegs. "Hang up your hat there. Emily, get her an apron."
The young woman who had opened the door nodded and reached into a cupboard. She handed a white apron to Lily. "You can take around the cider."
Lily pulled the pins from her hat and placed it on the shelf, then tied the apron around her waist. "You're Emily?"
The young woman nodded. "Sorry, love, I didn't introduce myself, did I? We'll be roommates, and there will be time to get acquainted later. After the party."
Lily's chest felt tight, and she wished she'd hidden out in the rose garden until the party was over. "When am I to meet Mrs. Marshall?"
"Tomorrow." Mrs. O'Reilly's brow lifted in challenge as if daring Lily to object.
"Yes, ma'am. I am just to offer the guests cider? I'll do my best."
"That's all I ask." The housekeeper pointed to a large tray filled with fine blue-and-white china cups. "Smile and let the guests take their own cup of mulled cider. Try not to spill it. When your tray is empty, come back here and get more."
Like Joan of Arc going to the stake, Lily squared her shoulders and picked up the tray.
* * *
Women in shimmering silks of every imaginable color danced by on the arms of men in sleek black suits. A mural over the fireplace depicted a butterfly in beautiful hues of blue and yellow. Drew Hawkes hung back in the corner and idly listened to the conversations around him, mostly about the recent murder of a servant girl. The unfortunate young woman had been discovered a few blocks from here, and the entire city was in a state. This was the third murder in two months.
Everett Marshall motioned to Drew, and he left the sanctuary of his corner to join him. Everett clapped a hand on Drew's shoulder. "This is the young man I was telling you about. Drew is quite gifted with investments, and you would do well to employ him. Drew, this is Stuart Vesters. He owns the stockyard on the west side of town."
Drew shook the man's hand, noticing the lack of enthusiasm in Stuart's grip. "Pleased to meet you, Mr. Vesters. I'm not currently taking on more clients though, sir. I'd be happy to put you on a waiting list." Dangling the carrot just out of reach tended to be much more effective than a hard sell.
Sure enough, the older man squared his shoulders and lifted a brow. "When could we discuss it, Mr. Hawkes? I might be persuaded to change investment companies. Everett here has been singing your praises for more than a month."
"I'm booked through the next three weeks, but I'd be happy to make an appointment after Thanksgiving." Drew had been trying to get close to Vesters for nearly six months. It wouldn't do to appear too eager. His supervisor wouldn't be happy if he ruined things now.
"That's much too far. I have some time on Thursday. We can meet in town."
Drew eyed the man's set jaw and read his determination. Good. "Let me see if I can rearrange my schedule." He whipped out a black leather calendar and pretended to peruse it. He pulled out a pencil and acted as though he were erasing something. "I can make that work. My other client may squawk, but I'll make it up to him with a new tip."
Vesters smiled with self-satisfaction, and Drew allowed himself a small smile as the man reached for a glass of cider. Drew looked at the young woman holding the tray. He blinked and looked again. All the blood drained from his head, and his knees went weak as he took in the blond hair and pointed chin.
Lily? It wasn't possible. She hadn't seen him yet as her attention was on Vesters. Drew's gaze drank in the face he'd seen only in his dreams for four years. Those delicate features and smooth skin hadn't changed in all this time. Her eyes were such a dark blue, and they grew even darker when she was angry. The glorious hair he'd loved to see released from its pins was hidden under an ugly maid's cap. The years had brought a new maturity to her beauty.
Drew turned on his heels and melted into the crowd. His pulse throbbed in his throat. He had to calm himself. If Vesters smelled something off now, it could ruin the whole thing. He spared a glance back at the group, but she wasn't looking his way. Maybe she hadn't seen him.
What was Lily doing here, so far from Larson? She wore an apron like she was a maid. Part of him longed to rush to her and announce himself. Did she hate him? He deserved it after the way he'd left without a word.
He was in the middle of the dancing couples, so he cut in on the man squiring Belle Castle. "I hope you don't mind, Miss Castle."
"Not at all, Mr. Hawkes." She flashed him a coy smile.
He'd known for weeks that the beautiful brunette held some fondness for him, and he hated to encourage it now, but Everett would be happy to see him dancing with his niece and would unlikely be upset at Drew's sudden departure. Everett would smooth things over with Vesters.
Drew was so distracted he didn't notice when the musicians struck up a reel. Belle picked up her pace but he didn't. Their feet became entangled. He tried to catch his balance, but everything was happening too fast. He released Belle so she wouldn't share his disgrace. In the moment he scrambled away, his arm collided with the soft body of someone behind him. The deep red Oriental rug rose to meet him, and they both went down in a tangle of limbs. The contents of the china cups darkened the red carpet to deep garnet.
The rest of the dancers stopped and stared. Someone snickered, and heat rose to his face. He quickly flipped the lady's dress over her lower limbs and sprang to his feet. "I'm terribly sorry. I—I—" His apology died when he stared into Lily's scarlet face.
Her eyes were wide and horrified. "Andy?"
He hadn't heard that nickname since his father died. "I'll explain later," he said low enough that only she could hear. After helping her to her feet, he knelt and put the cups back on the tray. Some of them were broken, and he prayed she wasn't blamed for the encounter.
She hadn't left when he stood with the tray in his hands. The rest of the guests began to move off, and the music tinkled out again.
Knowing his duty, he glanced at Belle. "I'm so sorry, Miss Castle. You are unharmed?"
"I'm fine, Mr. Hawkes." Belle smiled, and the amusement lit her eyes with a warm glow. "That was a much-needed bit of excitement for this too-dull party. I do believe I'll take my leave though and attend to my dress." She gestured to dark splotches on her gown. He opened his mouth to apologize again, but she held up her hand. "No harm done. I'll see you tomorrow for dinner."
He gave a slight bow. "I shall look forward to it."
Christopher Lambreth, Mrs. Marshall's son, gave a genial grin and held out his arm. "I'll escort you, cousin. I fear you've lost your usual fine sense of balance."
Belle laughed and took his arm. When her emerald skirt disappeared in the swirl of other gowns, Drew turned his attention back to Lily. She seemed rooted to the spot. His reappearance had to have rattled her.
He took her arm. "Let's get out of here. Make no sign that you know me."
She gave a slight nod. "Your past actions have already made it clear I don't know you at all."
His lips tightened, and he guided her through the crowd to the blessed cool of the hall outside the ballroom. "Lily, what are you doing here?"
She jerked her arm from his grip. "I think the better question would be, what are you doing here, Andy? And the first question begs the second. Where have you been for the past four years and two months?"
Part of him rejoiced that she knew so clearly how long he'd been gone, but that fact also revealed the depth of the pain he'd caused. "It will take too long to explain now. Can you meet me tomorrow afternoon at the park? Say nothing about my identity to anyone."
She shook her head. "I don't think I want to hear it. And besides, I don't know what my duties are yet. I just arrived tonight." Her eyes filled with tears. "Who are you really, Andy?" She turned toward the kitchen door.
"Wait, Lily, I want to talk to you." But the swish of her skirt was the only response he received.
Somehow Lily managed to keep a pleasant smile on her face while she served the guests their after-dinner drinks and dessert. Andy, here? Had it been real? She fingered the sore spot on her arm where she'd fallen and knew it was.
Seeing him again had torn the scab off a wound she'd thought had healed long ago. The moment he looked into her eyes, she instantly remembered every moment spent skipping rocks in the Red River and every stolen kiss—and more—in the livery. Her emotions churned with the desire to resurrect the love she'd felt once. But it could not be. He couldn't be trusted.
She sidled behind a strange tree with a long scaly trunk topped by flat, spreading leaves and some kind of round, hard fruit that was planted in a wooden container. This party was unlike anything she'd ever imagined. The glorious silks the women wore made her fingers itch with the desire to touch them, especially the mauve ones. No homespun dresses here.
And the ballroom itself made her jaw drop. The great domed ceiling over the space made it appear even larger than it was. Gilded maids frolicked in the fresco with deer, and silk draped the massive windows. But what held her captive was the enormous stained glass window between the ballroom and the next room over. It was circular and at least ten feet across. The butterfly depicted in it seemed to glow from the intricately fused colored glass. Though it was beautiful, the beady eyes of the butterfly made her shudder.
She turned away and her gaze collided with Andy's intent one. She wanted to look away but couldn't until a distinguished gentleman stepped to the center of the room and tapped a spoon on his glass of amber liquid.
The man's smile beamed with pride. "I have something exciting to show you. I purchased the cocoon of what is reported to be a Red Glider."
A buzz of excitement started around the room, and Lily heard "Africa" murmured more than once. "Everett always knows how to make a splash at his parties," Mr. Lambreth whispered in her ear. She gasped at his nearness and sidled away. If her employer saw her talking intimately with him, she'd be discharged.
Mr. Marshall put his hand on the bark. "This is a coconut tree from Africa. I had it shipped here with the pupa still on it. The last few days, the outside has gotten translucent, which is the sign the butterfly is about to emerge. The butterfly began to try to break free nearly a week ago, a long time in the insect's life cycle."
Excerpted from BUTTERFLY PALACE by Colleen Coble. Copyright © 2014 Colleen Coble. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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.