Miss Emeline Wright risked everything to escape the monster who stole her innocence, her dignity, her pride. Now no one in her little home town nestled in the West Virginia hills must ever know what she was forced to do while a captive in the city. Her only chance is to make a go of her uncle’s failing farm, but how can a woman alone, in rough country, survive?
With unfailing courage and an open heart, Em wins over the townspeople who’ve judged her so harshly, taking in a motley crew of misfits who show up, one by one, to lend a hand. But it’s the quiet strength and unfailing love of a single man that will show her how to trust again as they build a home to last forever…
DOWN IN THE VALLEY
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July 2, 1881 Richmond, Virginia
The petite maid brushed aside a rogue wisp of hair from the back of Emeline Wright's slender neck and clasped the necklace. Miss Wright's chestnut brown hair wasn't exactly unruly, but there was a lot of it and it had a soft, natural curl, so there was always this tendril or that escaping the pins. Plus it blew ever so slightly from the airflow caused by the two-blade ceiling fan. Each suite on the floor had a ceiling fan, powered by a stream of water, a turbine and a belt — or so she'd been told. She stepped back with a, "If that's all, miss?" since it was one of the few lines she was allowed to speak to Miss Wright.
"Yes," Miss Wright replied, since it was one of the few words she was allowed to speak. "Thank you, Jenny," was added out of sheer defiance.
Jenny contained the smile that wanted to break through, curtsied and then left the suite, quietly shutting the door behind her before turning the key in the lock. She always felt a qualm about doing so, more than a qualm, really, but she unfailingly locked it because she was required to. An employee did not cross Mr. Peterson and keep one's job. It was rumored that one did not cross Mr. Peterson and keep one's life, although that might have been exaggeration.
As she started back to the east wing to see to her other duties, it occurred to her what an irony it was that someone as powerful and ruthless as Wilson Peterson was called Sonny. Sonny sounded sweet and harmless, while he was anything but. He didn't just own this place, The Virginia Palace, the largest, grandest hotel in Richmond; he had power. City officials existed quite cozily in his pockets and eagerly carried out his bidding.
Poor Emeline Wright. Even in the unlikely event she managed to get free of the hotel, it wouldn't matter. She could strip naked, run into a street full of people and scream at the top of her lungs all the things Sonny had done to her — and no one would say one single word against him after she was dragged back inside and probably beaten half to death.
The Palace was not just a hotel. The elegant, four-story stucco structure, fittingly built in the palazzo style, took up half a block. It housed a refined restaurant at one end and a lavish saloon, brothel and gaming facility at the other, where big money was made. Without question, Sonny had charm, and yet everyone knew he was little more than a thug at heart, having acquired every red cent of his fortune through deviousness and utter heartlessness. Take away his stature and confidence, and he was a plain-looking man, six feet tall, with wheat-colored hair. Not thin, but nor was he muscular. He hired muscle; he rarely had to use his own anymore.
Everyone, at least everyone within the confines of The Palace, knew about Miss Wright, as well. Like most every other possession Sonny had ever set his sights on, she had been wooed, lured and then trapped. Tenderly wooed, cleverly lured and then fatally trapped. Jenny had seen her arrive the first day of what Miss Wright had thought was to be a brief visit, all bright-eyed, kind and polite. How quickly things had changed, including Sonny's loving demeanor.
Once the trap was sprung, Miss Wright was informed they'd be married just as soon as she learned to behave as the perfect wife. It was simple, Sonny stated. If she chose, theirs would be an exceedingly pleasant life. If she resisted, as he suspected she initially might, she could expect her "training" to be harsh. No matter what, she would be his and she would make him proud, or she would pay the price.
Oh, and had he ever been right about her resisting. She had entirely too much spirit, but Jenny suspected that was one of the reasons he'd chosen her in the first place. After all, he could have had his pick of any number of impressive young ladies from Richmond. Docile, obedient creatures who'd been raised to be perfect wives. Instead, he'd chosen Emeline — a young woman attending college. A young woman without anyone in the world to come looking for her once she abruptly and unexpectedly withdrew from school and the society she'd chosen.
Naturally, Jenny and the other maids saw more than most. While Em was paraded around almost every day on Sonny's arm, presented as his lovely, fortunate fiancée, dressed in the finest fashions and glittering jewels, the casual observer didn't see the evidence of Sonny's "training." They saw. Some even believed that Emeline had finally learned a certain level of submissiveness, and that there would be a wedding announcement before long. In Jenny's opinion, what Miss Wright had "learned" was to become a master at subduing and concealing her emotions. She couldn't possibly be naïve enough to believe that Sonny bought the act entirely, but she'd performed flawlessly of late. There had been far fewer marks and bruises.
As a door opened just up the hallway, the door to Veronica Peterson's room, Jenny dropped her gaze and picked up her pace, hoping to pass without having to acknowledge the woman. Veronica was Sonny's aunt and one of the most formidable, joyless people she had ever had the misfortune to encounter. Luck was with her, for Veronica's back was to her as she passed.
Indeed, Em wasn't naïve. She'd withdrawn so far within herself, she often felt nothing at all, but she wasn't naïve. After Jenny left the room, she rose from her vanity table and walked over to the full-length mirror. The pale blue gown she wore was form-hugging and beautifully made, the design straight from Paris. The bustle had all but disappeared and a short train had been added. It was highly flattering and yet there was nothing she would have liked better than to rip it off. To rip it to shreds.
Perhaps it was her lack of expression or the rigidity of her body, but she was suddenly struck by the memory of the porcelain doll she'd had as a girl, because she resembled that doll. The thought was so bizarre, she shivered. She blinked and the impression intensified. She was nothing but a doll, whose arms and legs could move, sometimes at her bidding, sometimes at his, but a lifeless, dressed-up doll just the same. That was what she had become.
"Barbara Jean," Em whispered as she recalled the name of the doll. How funny; she hadn't thought of the doll in years. She moved closer to the mirror, gazing fixedly into the eyes of her reflection. No, she was not quite a soulless doll yet, but she had to master her fear, find the right opportunity and get away from this place. There had to be a way to make it happen, especially since she'd managed to stash traveling essentials in a soft-sided bag in the basement. In it was clothing, a train ticket, and money — the exact same amount she'd possessed when she'd come to Richmond. She didn't want anything that belonged or had ever belonged to Sonny.
Everything she'd accomplished so far had been difficult and dangerous. In fact, purchasing the ticket to Green Valley, West Virginia, had been a risk she'd barely gotten away with. She'd been on a shopping excursion with Veronica, an infrequent and only recently granted privilege, when, in a milliner's shop, Veronica became involved enough in conversation with an acquaintance that Em was able to duck out of sight. Rushing to the railway station to purchase a ticket had been so nerve-racking that the station attendant had inquired whether she was ill.
She'd stammered that she was perfectly well, and, with badly shaking hands, she'd stuffed the ticket into her reticule and hurried back toward the milliner's shop, arriving just as Veronica emerged. Red-faced with fury, the older woman latched on to Em's arm with a brutal grip. "Where were you?"
"I just stepped out for ... for air," Em replied shakily and much too quickly. She needed to calm herself. "I was feeling faint," she added. She was suddenly gripped with fear that Veronica would search her reticule. She should have hidden the ticket in her bodice or up her sleeve.
"I will never take you out again," Veronica swore as she led the way back to the carriage. "You can rot in that room for all I care."
In the carriage, Em kept her face turned away from Veronica and her reticule clutched at her side until the hotel was in sight. The tall arches that led to the portico had once seemed awe-inspiring; now the sight made her stomach ache with tension. Beyond the entrance was a lobby of grand scale with a marble floor strewn with thick, Oriental-style rugs, yet the path to the stairs was all marble and the sound her shoes made when she walked up was ominous and hollow. She hated the sound. She swallowed hard, knowing she was nearly out of time, and something else had to be said. "I only wanted a breath of fresh air," she said as tears sprang to her eyes.
"Not without my permission," Veronica uttered through clenched teeth.
"It won't happen again," Em replied quietly. Beseechingly.
Seconds of agonizing silence passed before the older woman gave a stiff nod. "We will neither of us mention it," she warned.
Em looked back out the window again, nearly light-headed with relief that the crisis had passed. Not only that, but, with the ticket in her possession, freedom had finally become a real possibility. All she needed now was a window of opportunity.
"Emeline," a dry female voice said, startling her back to reality.
Em turned to find Veronica standing in the doorway. As Em started forward to retrieve her fan from the vanity table, Veronica raked her over from neckline to hemline, her gaze full of resentment. They walked without speaking, Em taking a slight lead as if she were in control of her destination. As always, Veronica followed nearly the entire way to the private salon on the second floor where Sonny and his guests had gathered.
The doors were opened for her and Em entered the salon, prompting heads to turn and a chorus of accolades regarding how lovely she looked. She smiled and murmured her thanks with all the hypocrisy she could muster.
"You're a lucky man, Sonny," one of the guests murmured, setting her teeth on edge.
As Sonny acknowledged the comment with a self-satisfied smile, Em took a breath and exhaled discreetly, forcing herself to relax. One day soon, very soon, she would be free of him, and once free, she would never allow a man to touch or control her again. It was a good thought.CHAPTER 2
By ten o'clock, Em sat at her vanity wearing nothing but a white silk dressing robe. She brushed her hair distractedly until she froze at the sound of the lock turning. Dread seized hold, but she focused on her face in the mirror. Her eyes were not the eyes of a doll. She was not a doll; she was pretending to be one, but with a mind he knew nothing of.
Sonny stepped in carrying a drink, having left his jacket, vest and cravat behind, and nudged the door shut behind him. He sauntered toward her, set his drink down on the vanity and pulled the front of her robe apart. Watching her mirror image, he cupped her breasts. "You looked mighty fine tonight," he said, "but you look even better like this."
She watched his hands so she didn't have to see his face. A doll feels nothing. Nothing. A doll feels nothing.
He pulled her up and around to face him, untied the belt of her robe and looked hungrily at her body before he pulled her against him and his mouth closed in on hers. There was no tenderness in the intrusive, alcohol tinged tongue or the grip on the back of her neck. He tugged down the straps of his suspenders, his jaw set in anticipation, and she began unbuttoning his shirt with stiff, slightly trembling fingers. He liked things done in a specific way and she knew the order. She'd learned her cues. He stepped back and removed the long silver chain with the key to her room from around his neck and set it aside. Reaching for his drink, he said, "Middle of the bed. On your back."
He swallowed the last of his bourbon, emptied his pockets and moved toward her. As always, she had to fight her instinct to turn away or close her eyes. He climbed atop her, pinned her hands and bent to kiss her neck, but a knock on the door surprised them both. He got up and moved toward the door, scowling with irritation, while she sat and tugged the robe together to cover herself, thankful for the distraction. But how foolish, she silently chided herself, when he would be right back.
He jerked open the door.
"Sorry to bother you, Mr. Peterson," a man said quickly, "but we just learned the President was shot."
Sonny drew back. "What?"
"Shot," the man repeated. "Today. In Washington. The newspaper man, Harper, he received the telegram and came right over to tell you."
"Is he dead?"
"No, sir. He was taken back to the White House. Least, that's what the telegram said."
"Who did it?"
"Uh, some lawyer. Funny last name. The telegram's downstairs."
"I'll be right down," Sonny replied, already shutting the door.
He turned and looked at Emeline, but his mind was obviously busy evaluating all possible aspects of the matter. Her head was spinning, and not just because the news was shocking. Sonny was a creature of habit, and his routine had just been interrupted. "It's terrible," she murmured. As he began to button his shirt, she experienced a chill at the irony that President Garfield had been in office just about the same amount of time she'd been Sonny's prisoner, six months or so. Did it mean something? Her body and mind felt on sudden high alert. She was an animal ready to spring from a trap.
"I'll be back," he said, and then he turned and left, pulling up a suspender strap as he went.
The door closed and she held her breath, waiting for the sound of the lock, only it didn't come. She looked at the vanity table and saw the key. He'd left without it. She looked at the door again, expecting it to open once he realized his mistake, but there was only silence. She got up so quickly, the blood rushed to her head. She moved to the vanity, staring down at the items left behind, his money bound by a monogrammed silver clip, the key and his pocketknife. She reached for the knife with a trembling hand, knowing she had to go. Now. This very minute. No! He'd realize his mistake and be back, and to be caught leaving — She withdrew her hand, but continued to stare at the knife. She tied the belt on her robe and a tear slipped down her face. She swiped it away angrily and picked up the knife. Damn it, this was her opportunity and she was squandering it. She started toward the door, but stopped short when she heard the soft squeak of the doorknob twisting. Staring at the brass knob, she stuck the knife behind her, clutching it so hard that the mechanism sprang the blade. He would demand to know why she had the knife, and what would she say?
The door opened, and Veronica, wearing a nightdress, leaned in and grabbed up the key from the dressing table. By the look of her sleep-creased face, she'd been rudely awoken. Em experienced simultaneous jubilation that it wasn't Sonny and dread that her chance was about to disappear. Her only hope was to place some kind of block in the crack of the door once it was closed. The blade of the knife. But already Veronica was shutting the door. "D-did you hear?" she called, stepping forward on wobbly legs.
The door opened again. "Hear what?" Em closed the distance between them, careful to keep the knife from view. "The President was shot."
Veronica blinked in surprise. "All he said was to lock the door," she croaked, obviously dazed from being awoken so abruptly.
"It's terrible, isn't it?"
Veronica grunted and shut the door.
Shaking with equal measures of fear and adrenaline, Em leaned against the door and stuck the blade in the right spot to prevent the lock from catching. Her breath caught as the bar pushed against the blade. This was it. If Veronica realized what she'd just done, she'd force her way in and it would all be over. Em waited, half expecting the door to fly open and knock her backward, but it didn't. She managed a deep breath and then another. All she had to do now was to open the door and make her escape. But what if Veronica was still standing there? Or Sonny? What if it had all been a trick? A test of some sort? Memories of past punishments paralyzed her. "Stop it," she whispered.
She hesitated a moment more and then pulled the door open far enough to release the metal tongue. She tossed the knife onto the rug behind her and peeked though the crack. No one was visible. Slowly, she opened the door and looked out at the empty hallway. This was it. This was her chance. She had to move. Get to the side door, slip out, and get down and around to the cellar without being seen.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Down In The Valley"
Copyright © 2015 Jane Shoup.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If, your looking for a book that chapters your interest with more than one story line. This is your book. The characters are so thought out. The story has many twist and turns. But, oh, what book!
Orphaned, abused and betrayed – Emeline “Em” Wright is sure at some point in her life she must have been cursed. Handsome, shy and unassuming – Tommy “Pretty Boy” Medlin is sure he will never have anything good in his life. Two lonely souls have the possibility of finding more in life than they have ever dreamed of IF they can overcome the negative people and issues that continue to plague their lives. This book, set in the late 1800’s has caught the feel of the past. The law, medicine, rights of women, transportation and many other things were not what they are now and that is made abundantly clear as the story unfolds. Not wanting to give away the plot of the book I will say that this is a riveting story that has heart. It had me hoping for a happily ever after from beginning to end – no matter what adversity was faced by Tommy and Emeline – and they faced quite a bit. The writing is excellent, the storyline is well thought out and plotted; the characters are interesting and well fleshed out. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good historical novel that is not just a simple romance. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the copy of this book to read and review.