by Kaaren Christopherson


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Kaaren Christopherson's brilliantly observed novel captures the glamour and grit of one of the world's most dazzling cities during one of its most tumultuous eras--as seen through the eyes of a singularly captivating heroine. . .

In 1890s New York, beautiful, wealthy Francesca Lund is an intriguing prospect for worthy suitors and fortune hunters alike. Recently orphaned, she copes by working with the poor in the city's settlement movement. But a young woman of means can't shun society for long, and Francesca's long-standing acquaintance with dashing Edmund Tracey eventually leads to engagement. Yet her sheltered upbringing doesn't blind her to the indiscretions of the well-to-do. . .

Among the fashionable circle that gathers around her there are mistresses, scandals, and gentlemen of ruthless ambition. And there is Connor O'Casey--an entirely new kind of New Yorker. A self-made millionaire of Irish stock, Connor wants more than riches. He wants to create a legacy in the form of a luxury Madison Avenue hotel--and he wants Francesca by his side as he does it. In a quest that will take her from impeccable Manhattan salons to the wild Canadian Rockies, Francesca must choose not only between two vastly different men, but between convention and her own emerging self-reliance.

Rules Of Decorum

A gentleman should not be presented to a lady without her permission being previously asked and granted. This formality is not necessary between men alone; but, still, you should not present any one, even at his own request, to another, unless you are quite well assured that the acquaintance will be agreeable to the latter.

If you wish to avoid the company of any one that has been properly introduced, satisfy your own mind that your reasons are correct; and then let no inducement cause you to shrink from treating him with respect, at the same time shunning his company. No gentleman will thus be able either to blame or mistake you.

The mode in which the avowal of love should be made, must of course, depend upon circumstances. It would be impossible to indicate the style in which the matter should be told. . .. Let it, however, be taken as a rule that an interview is best; but let it be remembered that all rules have exceptions. . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617735219
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 03/31/2015
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 634,645
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kaaren Christopherson has been writing and editing professionally for over twenty-five years and is a senior editor for a large Washington, DC, international development nonprofit. She has been active in writer's groups and workshops. She lives in Alexandria, VA.

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By Kaaren Christopherson


Copyright © 2015 Kaaren Christopherson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61773-522-6


The Creaking Wheels of Life

* * *

"Etiquette," says a modern English author, "may be defined as the minor morality of life." No observances, however minute, that tend to spare the feelings of others, can be classed under the head of trivialities; and politeness, which is but another name for general amiability, will oil the creaking wheels of life more effectually than any of those unguents supplied by mere wealth and station. ... Be, therefore, modest and benevolent, and do not distress yourself on account of the mistakes of your inexperience; a little attention, and the advice of a friend, will soon correct these trifling errors.

—Decorum, A Practical Treatise on Etiquette and Dress of the Best American Society, Sold Only by Subscription, 1881, page 19

New York, New York, 1888

In the time it had taken Francesca to raise the field glasses to her eyes, the yacht was gone. In its place a spike of fire had shot skyward, followed by a blast of flaming debris and a spreading mantle of black smoke. An eternity had passed before an explosion tore the silence and the shock wave had jetted across the lake and left her flat upon the dock.

Francesca lay awake as she had done so many nights in the first year following the accident, when closed eyes could not blot out the images of wreckage and rent flesh that flickered across her mind. By day the assault of images was replaced by sensitivity to sound—the clatter in the street of two colliding carriages or the jagged household echo of an upended tea tray full of china—enough to send her fleeing to her chamber deep within the house. In the second year the explosions waned and images had begun to fade, but by then Francesca had accepted laudanum's blunting aid for sheer self-preservation and yielded all thinking and decision-making to the Jeromes.

Lately, though, Francesca had suspected an ogre lurking in laudanum's fog—a fear that staying longer at the Fifty-seventh Street mansion might mean an end to sanity altogether. At first the idea of leaving seemed laughable to someone who could barely rise from the divan to draw the curtain and see if the day were rainy or fine. Yet as the days wore on and the aspidistra on the corner stand grew limp with administration of the daily laudanum meant for her, she began to comprehend why Vinnie urged her interest in charity. As Francesca's unconscious wrestled nightly with leaving, the events of that deadly day threatened to rise again. Slowly, however, befriended by new resolve, rather than retreat from the memories, she welcomed them in silence.

Armed with a deck chair, a book, field glasses, and her father's old straw hat, she had determined to watch as the steam yacht bearing her parents and brother and their friends made its way from a neighbor's ten-room cottage and headed toward the house the Lunds had leased for the summer. Pleasantly weary from a morning of vigorous tennis with Oskar, she had declined the invitation to sail. The breeze from the lake had mitigated the late June heat and lulled her to sleep in the chair, the book fallen from her grasp. By the time she woke with a start, she couldn't tell how many times the whistle had signaled to her. The yacht had come within view, though still was many yards distant. She had risen, taking up the field glasses, and made for the dock.

The summer sun had dipped toward the western side of the lake, hot and yellow. Only the approaching noise of the engine had broken the stillness. She had stood upon the dock and pulled the hat brim low to check the glare. Even unaided she saw plainly the figures upon the yacht's deck, the ladies seated, the gentlemen walking or leaning on the railing. Odd to think of it now—her father's lean, linen-clad form, surmounted by flaxen hair, Oskar similarly built and similarly dressed, the ladies in shades of summer white and cream had comprised a vessel of tone-on-tone ghosts. When the whistle blew again, Francesca had taken off her hat and waved. Then she had raised the field glasses to her eyes.

Her scream might have come from someone else, tangled with the shouts of groundskeepers and house servants and the house's clanging alarm bell. Rushing, rushing, everyone flew past and she was swept up mechanically with the rescuers heading toward the lake until strong arms encircled her waist. Suddenly entrapped, she panicked.

"Let go! Let me go! Let me go! Papa!" She screamed and kicked. "Papa! Oh, God! Oh, Jesus, help me!" She reached toward the lake as if her extended arms could still save them. "Mama! Oskar! Oskar! Let me go!" She was hoisted toward the house, flopped over the gardener's arm as if she were a rag doll. Slowly, as each step drew her farther from the lake, her screams gave way to relentless sobs. "Oh, God! Oh, Jesus! Mama! Mama!"

How long the recovery had taken, Francesca could not remember. As word came that bodies were being brought ashore she broke free of the house and ran to the lakeside and, evading the rescuers, saw the body of her mother lying in the bottom of a rowboat—slits of gray-blue eyes fixed, lips parted, white-blond hair limp and matted, clothing disarranged. The lake-washed injuries might have been set in an alabaster statue. As shock overloaded Francesca's brain, she fainted.

She had awakened to the news that John had sent Harry to telegraph to the Jeromes. To summon the Jeromes seemed sensible to John, no doubt, though the choice would not have been hers. Childless, they had been attentive to her and her brother ever since the Lunds' arrival in New York when she and Oskar were children. Like many childless women, Maggie held firm opinions on child-rearing that had kept Sonia Lund's acquaintance distant but polite, and this only for the sake of Jurgen Lund's friendship with Jerry that emerged from their work together at the bank.

Their imminent arrival had galvanized Francesca. She remembered the sensation of standing outside herself, observing the world through senses newly sharpened. Throughout the night and into the morning, she moved, mechanical and steady, through the wretchedness and rituals of doctor, police, neighbors, servants, until all was as orderly as she could make it. The household was settling into a routine of working around grief—or perhaps working with it—as servants and staff and indeed the neighborhood began to take their cues from her. With a lifetime ahead of her in which to weep, she reckoned, she had answered all and turned no one away. By the time Maggie and Jerry alighted from the carriage from the station in Ithaca, Francesca had bathed and changed and met them at the door.

"I wired instructions to May and Evangeline to have your things ready before breakfast tomorrow," Maggie began when the perfunctory condolences had been exchanged. "John and Harry and Mrs. Howell will come with us, of course, to see to the house in the city. The rest of the servants will stay behind to close this house. We'll have to give the summer help their notice, of course."

"You'll do no such thing," said Francesca, offended but speaking with a quiet authority. "I've assured everyone that nothing will change for the foreseeable future. I won't see people turned out of their jobs and I won't allow you to undo everything I've done to make things as easy as possible for everyone."

"I don't expect you to know what to do at a time like this."

"This is hardly the time," said Jerry in a low voice directed at Maggie. "We have enough to get through with the immediate arrange ments—"

"A young woman alone. That's ridiculous," Maggie cut in. "We'll handle it all."

"We wouldn't be having this conversation if my family hadn't been obliterated in the last twenty-four hours," said Francesca, her head beginning to throb, "or have you forgotten why we're gathered in the first place?"

"You see, Jerry," said Maggie. "This is just what we may expect. Fits of anger. Outbreaks of tears—"

"That's hardly fair under the circumstances," said Jerry.

"Certainly, John and Harry and Mrs. Howell must go," said Francesca, regaining something like composure. "They can leave as soon as may be and open up the house. We'll follow as soon as any business here is concluded. John will have everything ready—"

"You certainly aren't expecting to go back to Sixty-third Street on your own," said Maggie, looking at Francesca in some astonishment. "That would hardly be proper. We're taking you home with us to Fifty-seventh Street to look after you."

From that moment, no funeral wreath, no mourning brooch, no scripture verse, no yard of crepe, no obituary had escaped Maggie's interference. The well-meaning Jerry acquiesced to Maggie, failing to cushion the daily blows to Francesca's psyche as her life spiraled downward. Her only refuge was the church and her friendship with Vinnie and the Reverend Lawrence's family, associations Maggie dared not disapprove. Finally, in the busyness of the parish, Francesca began to realize that her only chance to save herself was to go.

At last the time had come. Francesca had excused herself from dinner, sensing the commencement of the evening's argument from the moment the footman appeared in the doorway with the dessert tray, and pleading a headache, had stolen to her bedchamber.

"I've put in all your last bits and bobs, miss—your underlinen and stockings and such, an extra pair of boots, a jacket ..." the maid had whispered, the carpetbag full and the packing nearly finished.

"Thank you, May. My coat and hat?"

"Right here, miss, ready to go in the morning. Two mufflers and two pairs of gloves are in the bag. You'd best hurry now and get yourself to bed. Morning will come quickly."

The mansion was not large enough to swallow up the Jeromes' shouting. The hollow and lofty rooms only bottled up the friction until Maggie's words scraped across Jerry's frayed feelings like a match head across the bottom of his shoe. That Francesca could not distinguish the words from where she lay in bed mattered little. The recital was so frequent she knew it by heart.

"Can't you leave her alone?" Jerry had shouted, forgoing his usual conciliatory warm-up. "She's a grown woman—and a sensible woman, not to mention being sensible of her position."

"Yes, and it's thanks to you she's all too sensible of her position," Maggie spat back. "You've put it into her head that she can do things—manage things herself. She has no experience. She needs a guiding hand—"

"She's not a child, for God's sake," he retorted. "She's twenty-five goddamn years old. She would have had plenty of experience by now if you hadn't insisted that she come here so you could convince her that she's an invalid. You know as well as I do that she's going to have to manage her own life and that big house eventually. She can't hang on here forever, even to please you."

From the sanctuary of her bedchamber, Francesca could picture it all—Jerry pacing and standing over Maggie, glass of port in hand, addressing the top of her head or standing at the hearth or the sideboard and turning his back and yelling over his shoulder. Maggie would sit at her usual place, her face hard as granite, her eyes screwed into dark pinholes that shot darts of disapproval.

"Please me?" Maggie asked, in her familiar indignant tone. "You think it pleases me to see her frailty, her weakness day after day—"

"That's exactly what pleases you. You delight in finding a weakness and then driving a wedge into it. If you can't find a weakness you invent one. You want someone to manage and to disapprove of all at once. You can't face the truth."

"Which is?"

"That she doesn't need you—or me, come to that, or Edmund Tracey, or anybody else you think of so highly. She doesn't need your coddling. What she needs is to be left alone."

At five-thirty the next morning, Jerry's words reverberated through Francesca's brain as May helped her dress. They tucked folding money into the corset as May laced her up the back—six hundred dollars Francesca had scrounged from around the house. Francesca's worn nerves and wasted body had left plenty of room for the money around her frame.

"Remember," whispered Francesca as she pulled the skirt of dull burgundy plaid over her head and May secured it at the waist. "Mrs. Jerome may sound like she's giving you the sack, but I'm the only one who can sack you, and that's not likely." She held her arms out in front of her while May slipped the sleeves of the matching blouse over them. "She'll turn you out, though, after this. She'll call it insubordination—and something worse for me. But you know what to do."

"Yes, miss. John and Harry and Mrs. Howell are expecting me at the Sixty-third Street house."

"I'm sorry we couldn't send your box ahead." Francesca arranged the last coil of her thick white-blond hair at the nape of her neck and pinned it while May buttoned the back of her blouse.

"Never you mind, miss. It would've looked too suspicious. John will see to it that Harry fetches my box in short order."

"My old clothes have gone to Forsyth Street—you're sure?" Francesca rested her right foot on her dressing-table stool and laced the boot up to the ankle, then the left.

"Yes, miss," said May. "Mrs. Jerome thought it was a charity box for the settlement house. She even looked through it before Miss Lawrence came to fetch it. I was that nervous, miss, but Mrs. Jerome made no objection. I'm sure Miss Lawrence and Miss Reynolds will have taken it to the flat by now."

Francesca sat down on the stool, her elbow on the dressing table. She felt faint.

"I don't know whether I can do this," she said. "I seem to have lost my nerve. All I can think of is two perfectly good years wasted in this abominable place. I do so wish Aunt Esther could have ..." She checked herself.

"There's no sense dwelling on that. Mrs. Gray could have done nothing in the midst of her own bereavement," said May. "You've done your best. You can't lose your nerve, now. You've got to look forward. Your mother and father would say so if they were here. Your brother, too, no doubt. Here, you must eat something."

May was right. Her family would have urged her to work out her own grief and move on. Yet the thought of leaving the only underpinning she had known for two years threatened to overwhelm her. This was all Vinnie's doing, she thought—all her doing, bless her. Her childhood friend had discovered the new settlement through the gossip of her father's New York parish and proposed a flat in Forsyth Street near the settlement house as Francesca's means of escape. In helping others, she would help herself, Vinnie had said. Now that the time had come, Francesca wasn't so sure.

"I'm not hungry."

"You're never hungry," said May, "and look at you. So thin and pale."

Francesca looked at the ghostly reflection in the mirror—the white skin with two ice-blue pools surrounded by dark circles.

"Them at the settlement'll think you're the one who needs the help, and not the one who'll be giving it," May said. "You won't last for the cab ride to Forsyth Street. I won't let you out of this house until you've eaten the rest of this bread and cheese, and finished the tea. But you must make haste. Miss Lawrence should have the cab drawing up at the corner at any moment."

Francesca stuffed the last of the bread and cheese into her mouth and washed it down with the tepid tea as May held up the woolen coat and slid it onto Francesca's shoulders. Francesca pinned the gray woolen hat, picked up the carpetbag and a small valise, extinguished the oil lamp, and followed May to the back stairs. They reached the basement kitchen only moments ahead of the footsteps that began the morning descent from the servants' rooms. Grabbing a shawl from a peg by the door, May stepped out into the cold gray morning and up the stone steps, opening the iron gate onto the street. She cautioned Francesca to stay as she ran to the corner to make sure Vinnie was waiting. At May's beckoning, Francesca quietly pulled the gate to, then ran on tiptoe the half block.

"You're here. Thank God," said Vinnie as Francesca settled next to her and May set the bags at her feet. Vinnie rapped on the cab's roof. "Forsyth Street, cabby."


Excerpted from Decorum by Kaaren Christopherson. Copyright © 2015 Kaaren Christopherson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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