First, There Is a River (Spirit of the River Series #1)

First, There Is a River (Spirit of the River Series #1)

by Kathy Steffen



Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781932815931
Publisher: Medallion Media Group
Publication date: 09/28/2007
Series: Spirit of the River Series , #1
Edition description: REV
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.08(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.95(d)

About the Author

Kathy Steffen belongs to the International Women's Writing Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America. She lives outside Madison, Wisconsin.

Read an Excerpt

First, There is a River

By Kathy Steffen Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2007 Kathy Steffen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-932815-93-1

Chapter One September 1900

Long ago Emma settled with the fact that she was headed straight to Hell. She hated Sunday, and getting out of bed before sunrise was the worst part. Despising the Sabbath was sure to be a sin. Working on the holy day doubled it. Well, whoever wrote the Bible hadn't taken into account how much effort it took to get a family clean, fed, and off to church. Still a bit groggy and careful not to wake her husband, she dressed, pulled her hair back, and tiptoed down the steps.

She glanced around the room making up the first floor of the small farmhouse. The family Bible lay comfortably on her quilt thrown over the chair by the fireplace. Jared insisted she read the Good Book to him and their children every night. The Bible was written by men, for men, and therefore should be taken with a grain of salt in Emma's opinion. She imagined St. Peter adding that to her list of misdeeds. It was Hell for sure.

Working quickly, Emma lit the stove and began breakfast preparations. She didn't dare be the cause of her family's tardiness to service. She heard the sounds of her family upstairs and hurried even faster than before. She slid a pan of biscuits into the oven and closed the door with her foot while she pulled a cast-iron skillet down from the shelf above her. Fire danced around the edge of the pan a bit too high, but time prodded her relentlessly forward.

Reverend Paul waited for no man and, certainly, no woman.

She sliced bacon and tossed the slippery strips into the skillet. They sizzled. The smell of cooking pork filled the kitchen. Sarah and Toby clomped noisily down the stairs and out the door, squealing while they chased each other around the yard. Emma cherished each wisp of laughter tumbling through the window and took a moment to giggle along with her children.

She turned back to breakfast preparations. Instantly, she realized her mistake.

Black smoke billowed from the skillet on the stove. Frantic, she pumped water into a pan. Her husband, Jared, ran down the steps and grabbed the quilt from the rocker. The Bible tumbled to the floor and split open, face down.

Jared beat viciously at the small inferno with the quilt. Emma, her pan filled with water, doused the stove, the quilt, and her husband. Silence, broken only by a weak sizzle, fell upon them. Outside, a bird chirped merrily. Jared glared at her. And he dripped.

Emma clamped her mouth shut tightly, but only fueled the growing pressure in her chest. Not laughter. Not now. A bubble rose in her throat, threatening to choke her if it didn't escape. She simply couldn't hold back. She laughed.

Jared's eyes grew frigid. Bleak and empty, as if his soul iced over. Emma knew this desolate expression all too well.

"Jared, no, please." Fear pushed more laughter out in a harsh sound that frightened her. She couldn't stop. He dropped the quilt and moved close to her, sliding his hands gently up the sides of her cheeks to frame her face. His thumb caressed her lips.

"Shhhh." He tilted her face up and leaned closer to brush his lips over hers. Suddenly he jerked her forward and stepped aside. Emma plunged down. Her face banged against the wood floor, exploding in pain. His fists entwined in her hair, and he pulled her to her feet and over to the sink. She braced herself against the rim with her hands and kept silent. Twelve years of marriage to Jared Perkins taught her struggling was futile and only made whatever was to come much, much worse.

His massive hand reached out and swallowed the bar of soap.

"Papa, don't!" Sarah's tearful voice cried from behind. Why had her daughter come in? Emma hated that Sarah watched.

"Papa, please." The pain in Sarah's voice hurt Emma more than her throbbing head.

"Sarah, get upstairs, this ain't none of your business," Jared ordered calmly.

Please, God, keep my daughter out of this, Emma prayed.

Jared pushed his body into her. Emma was tall, but Jared was taller and bigger. His broad chest and shoulders pressed hard against her, hemming her in.

"This'll learn you." He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back, shoving waxy soap in her mouth. She choked as he pushed it back in her mouth, further and further. She grasped the sink tightly; she didn't dare fight back. The burn of soap assaulted her sinuses, and pain spread, slow and sharp. Her knees buckled, and he held her tight. Tears poured from her face.

As quickly as the ordeal began, it stopped. Jared pulled away from her, and she fell to her knees at the sink, coughing, gagging, and gasping for air. Leaning over her, Jared calmly washed his hands with the soap he'd just plunged in her mouth. He gently lifted her. She couldn't let go of the sink. Her hands felt like they were made of stone. He pried them loose. Her vision swirled with wavering colors. Still coughing, she was a mess of tears, snot, and soap.

"Em, what am I going to do with you?" He steered her to a kitchen chair. "The Good Book says honor thy husband. Not laugh at him. You know better'n to act like that." Jared knelt before her. "You better watch yourself, or you'll end up in Hell, sure as death."

Funny how they had both reached the same conclusion that morning.

With one hand he smoothed her hair back, and with the other, he grabbed a towel to wipe her face, gentle, like rain following a savage thunderstorm. She trembled under his hands and prayed he wouldn't notice or care.

"I just gotta learn this out of you, Emma. It's for your own good. What do you think Sarah and Tobias learn when they see their ma act like that?" He spoke softly, bringing his face up to hers. A face, warm and smiling. In his gentle aftermath, she remembered falling in love with the strong, handsome young man with broad shoulders and sunlight in his hair. She'd never dreamed his strength would hurt so much.

He kissed her cheek. She shook harder and took in a deep breath to calm herself. No, not a breath. A sob.

"I love you, Emma. More than anything. I know you got trouble in your mind. This is for your good, all for you," he whispered in her ear. He put his arms around her and kissed her neck. She knew what came next; it always did after one of his explosions.

They were going to miss church after all.

* * *

Scores of spectators lined the riverbank to watch the Spirit arrive. Farmers, factory workers, businessmen, and folks of society crowded the landing. Quentin Smythe-Applebury searched the crowd for Emma's face as he did during every landing in Sterling City. He never gave up hope that his niece might be among those waiting to welcome their family home.

The families of passengers and crew were obvious, faces changing from anticipation to pure delight when they pinpointed their loved ones aboard the approaching riverboat. Although countless people swarmed over the bank, Quentin felt complete desolation. No Emma. He swallowed back a shot of disappointment and chased the bitter flavor with loneliness. He stood on the top deck of the boat, alone.

On the deck below, first-class passengers vied for position on a grand oak and brass staircase cascading down to the lowest deck. Men wore their finest suits, and women's dresses sang out in a symphony of color. These people were dressed to be seen. On the lowest deck the roustabouts-large, muscled men hired to do the physical labor on the boat-made ready to unload cargo.

The Spirit maneuvered majestically past several docked boats to her place of honor along the wharf. Calliope pipes pointed up to the sky, glistening like a silver crown and made complete by a misty veil of drops cascading about her freshly painted paddlewheel. The stopping bell clanged out. In reply the engine's rumble dropped off, and water dripped from glossy red planks while the paddlewheel slowed to a stop. Two roustabouts jumped out and tied the boat to her home.

"Looking for anyone in particular, old man?" Captain William Briggham tossed his question out as he scaled effortlessly down the steps from the pilothouse, sure of every step he took. Quentin glanced up to see whom the captain had left in charge. The Spirit's young cub pilot stood behind the massive pilotwheel to continue watch now the boat was still.

"You really should let the boy bring her in one time."

Captain Briggham just snorted in reply.

"Well, really, Briggs, how else will he ever learn to do it?"

"By watching an expert, that's how," Briggs answered, pulling on his jacket over his work-muscled arms and shoulders. His complexion, tanned from a life of work outdoors, and his crooked nose, broken once too often in a fight, appeared incongruous with his painstakingly elegant uniform and neat, close-cropped hair. His captain's suit fit him crisply; not a wrinkle would dare to appear anywhere on him.

"You'd best get down there; they'll have the stage in place in a moment," Quentin said, watching a group of roustabouts swing the hanging walkway to the dock. Several more men turned a massive crank, lowering the stage to make a bridge.

"Not to worry, old man. I haven't missed a landing yet." Briggs disappeared down the steps and reemerged on the bottom deck. The stage thudded into place. He crossed first and turned to help passengers off, plunging into his role as captain with enthusiasm.

Quentin sighed and returned to scanning the crowd for his niece's face. Years ago, after his brother died and Emma married, she always came to the wharf to welcome him home. They would travel the few miles to visit the run-down farmhouse Emma somehow managed to turn into a cozy, charming home. But over the years something came between them.

When Quentin first noticed her bruises and mentioned them, Emma made explanations based on her own clumsiness. She was tall, she said, and tripped over her own feet. Quentin accepted her excuses when really he knew better. She might be tall, but moved with such grace, her deceits were thinly disguised at best. He should have stepped in and done something then, no matter the cost.

Should have. Quentin regretted his passivity. In fact, he loathed himself for it. By the time he realized he needed to intervene, Emma had withdrawn from the world. Her green eyes dulled, her lithe frame, slumped. His strong, beautiful niece was lost to him and quite possibly to herself.

"Well, now I've thoroughly depressed my sorry soul," he said aloud. Only one thing to do. He retreated to his cabin, closing the door on happy families and working crew, and headed straight for his closet. He fell to his hands and knees, rooting around on the floor and pushing aside boots. Finally! His hand closed around smooth glass. He stood and held the bottle with reverence.

"Hello, my beloved companion." He popped the bottle open and poured amber liquid into crystal. He raised his glass to the hum of activity outside.

"To lost souls and absent loved ones." Scotch slipped down his throat with smooth, dependable warmth. Two glasses later, Emma's absence no longer hurt. At least, not so much. He relaxed into his favorite velvet chair, a lovely drowsy sensation clouding over him.

An earsplitting blast caused him to slide to the floor and spill his scotch on the brocade carpet. Another thick blast ripped through the cabin. Quentin picked himself up and pushed aside a curtain to look out.

The Ironwood slid past a few feet from the Spirit, black smoke pouring from ornate twin smokestacks. Quentin came out of his cabin just as Briggs topped the steps. The captain of the Ironwood, Archibald Yoder, stood out on his Texas deck. Since the Ironwood was one deck taller than the Spirit, both Briggs and Quentin were forced to look up.

"I see you finally made it back, Briggham. Beyond you to keep to a schedule, isn't it?" Yoder called out, leaning forward on a rotting section of rail. A slick coat of paint hid the deterioration from a less experienced eye. Quentin saw all the Ironwood's flaws, the largest of which was her captain.

The big boat passed quickly, her paddlewheel slopping muddy water over the bow of the Spirit and rocking the smaller boat. Briggs scorched the back of the Ironwood with his eyes as she chugged away.

"Tell me again why I shouldn't turn the bastard inside out," Briggs said, his anger barely contained as his face clenched and his hands fisted at his sides

"Because you are a respected riverboat captain. You have a duty to maintain a modicum of decency."

"Decency? Yoder doesn't know the meaning."

"And that will be his undoing. His actions are bound to catch up with him."

"I'd like to know when. He consistently runs with his cabins full." Briggs' voice brimmed with frustration. Quentin patted his arm.

"People always flock to ostentatious spectacles. The Ironwood may look like a floating palace from a distance, but closer inspection reveals no more than a gaudy façade. Quality is what we have, and quality always matters in the end." Quentin dropped his hand to the varnished oak rail. The hardwood and beveled edges cost them quite a bit extra. Money well spent in Quentin's opinion. No other boat on the river boasted such quality of detail and materials.

Quentin continued. "I know you're proud of this boat. I am too. We mustn't lose sight of what is important."

Briggs turned and leaned his back against the rail, riveting his intense brown eyes to Quentin. Then he visibly relaxed and even offered a bit of a smile "I suppose you're right. Quality to bankruptcy, that's our motto. Which reminds me. Thaddeus requested to meet with both of us." The Spirit's clerk, Thaddeus, booked cargo and passengers and controlled all finances.

Quentin groaned. "Good Lord, Briggs. I'm not in the mood for a dollars-and-cents lecture."

"I'm in no mood either, however, it is our responsibility," Briggs said.

Quentin followed Briggs as they headed for the office. "Responsibility was the last thing I had in mind when we bought this boat," Quentin said. "Adventure, travel, romance, the high life. Now, that's what I'm in for."

As if agreeing with him, a chorus of moos came from the lowest deck. Quentin scowled, grateful for dulled senses thanks to his earlier indulgence. He found more and more the world was a lovely place from a hazy viewpoint.

A viewpoint he fully intended to keep.

* * *

The taste of soap still soured Emma's mouth.

Jared's eyes followed her around the kitchen. She moved carefully, afraid she might disturb him. She gingerly placed a bowl of green beans on the table and sat down. Jared mumbled grace. Emma concentrated on her own prayer.

Please God, let him die, she thought. An accident, anything. Anything. Just let him die.

Jared's voice intruded. What kind of woman prays for the death of her husband? God's law is to honor thy husband. Just what kind of woman are you, Emma Perkins He invaded her most private of places. Her thoughts.

A bruised one, she answered his voice silently. She wanted so badly to jump up and laugh hysterically. The urge felt close to insanity.

She opened her eyes and glanced sideways, needing to see her daughter. Sarah peeked back at her. Emma winked, and Sarah squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

Jared finally finished his rote reciting. Sarah kept her eyes cast down on her plate; Toby was also quiet. They passed the dishes around in silence, Jared's mood blanketing them all.

"I'll be slaughterin' one of them pigs soon," Jared stated. Emma fought to contain a grimace in reaction to his witty dinner conversation. She didn't eat much.

Finishing his meal, Jared settled in the rocking chair by the fireplace and held the Bible in his hands. She knew he waited for her to finish the dishes so he could call the family to read together before she left for the Crenshaws. She doubted she was able to run the three miles to her job in the city like she usually did. She hurt too much. Perhaps Jared would allow her to skip the reading of the Bible. She inwardly laughed at the preposterous thought. Nothing came before time with the Good Book. Unless, of course, he was busy teaching his wife a lesson.

Jared held the book carefully. Gently. Lovingly. Someone should have taught him to hold a woman the same way.

Emma lifted her hand to the pump, biting her lip to keep from crying out at the pain flaring across her shoulder.

"Mama, I'll do it," Sarah said, gently moving her mother aside. The young girl pumped diligently until the dishes were covered. Emma smiled and stroked her daughter's hair.


Excerpted from First, There is a River by Kathy Steffen Copyright © 2007 by Kathy Steffen. Excerpted by permission.
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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

First, There Is a River 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1047 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is filled with such engaging characters that you can't put it down. You are immediately captured and drawn into their lives, and the book is so visual you can see it unfold as if in a movie. To witness the main character evolve from a frightened shell of a person, into a strong independent woman is a revelation. It is inspirational for anyone who ever wonders if they can succeed. The descriptions of the workings of a riverboat, living on a riverboat --are vivid and you feel the author knows exactly what takes place. The book touches your heart, makes you laugh and makes you cry --it is just a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
After I finished reading 'First, There is a River,' by Kathy Steffen, I started thinking about what makes a book memorable. Out of the thousands of books we read in our lives, what is it that makes us remember plotlines and characters years after we've read a particular book? I think part of it might be that something about the story resonates with the reader. Another component could be that the characters are so well-drawn that they become real people to the reader and as the story unfolds, the reader comes to feel he or she has a vested interest in the outcome. This novel about a wife's escape from her abusive husband is just such a story. 'First, There is a River' should not be dismissed as a story about abuse. This story is more about hope and redemption as heroine Emma Perkins flees from her abusive husband Jared, taking a job as a cook aboard the 'Spirit,' a riverboat co-owned by her uncle Quentin. The journey down the river parallels Emma's path to regaining her sense of self-worth as she struggles to find the courage to escape the cycle of abuse her life has become and find a way to regain her children, who have been sold into labor by Jared. As Emma emerges from her cocoon of fear and begins to thrive aboard 'The Spirit,' her tentative friendship with Gage, an engineer scarred from youth from an explosion aboard a riverboat, becomes a poignant romance. Gage is the quiet, reflective antithesis of Emma's brutal husband Jared, and Emma gradually falls for the kind, perceptive engineer, unaware that Jared remains on shore, following the path of the riverboat, waiting for the opportunity to exact his revenge, not only against Emma, but against all those who have assisted her in reclaiming her life, especially Gage. Set during the days when elaborate excursion boats paraded up and down the Ohio river, the author infuses her story with fascinating descriptions of the riverboats and details about life on the river, using her research to form a framework for her story without detracting from the story by inundating the reader with too much detail. The result is an engrossing, exciting story set against a colorful, unusual backdrop. I will remember Emma and Gage's story for a long time to come.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1900 in the Ohio Valley, the neighbors assume that Emma and Jared Perkins share a wonderful life raising two children Toby and Sarah on their farm. However, after twelve years of living in hell, Emma knows that her hardworking spouse hides from their neighbors that he beats her over every little perceived error. However, Emma remains with Jared insuring he does not harm their children from him. That bind ends when he hires away their offspring to a nearby farmer.--------------- With no ties to bind her, Emma flees to the safety of her uncle¿s riverboat The Spirit of the River. To earn her keep, she cooks. She makes real friends with Lily another cook, Captain Briggs, and especially Gage-the engineer, who hides from society ever since a riverboat accident scarred his face. As an outraged humiliated Jared comes to claim his wife to teach her a lesson in loyalty, Emma begins to emotionally heal and while she does so Gage does as well..--------------- Kathy Steffen provides her audience with a powerful historical fiction that focuses on the lack of rights for women and the lack of protection for children. Emma is a fabulous as the only reason she remains with abuser Jared is their offspring, but once he sells them into child labor, she has no ties. The support cast including the river and the boat is strong as it brings out a bygone era. The romance is unnecessary though well written as FIRST, THERE IS A RIVER is foremost a character-driven deep historical tale.-------
Jeanne Ennis More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Full of interesting characters that were so well-drawn they were easy to visualize. The same can also be said for the descriptions of the setting and time period. The story kept my interest throughout. It isn't a book I would cringe at my teenage children reading - i.e. no graphic sex scenes (Barnes and Noble really needs to update to allow for parental controls. It's great that my kids and I can share games on our Nooks, but I don't want them having access to ALL my books. No way to control that unfortunately). This came close to being a five star book for me, but some aspects of the plot seemed to strain credulity and the ending wasn't completely satisfying. A good book though. I will probably buy the author's subsequent book that tells the story of Emma's children ten years later. Thanks for the worthy freebie Barnes and Noble.
Renee Wade More than 1 year ago
This book was mostly good. The end was a little unsatisfying. I wish she would have tied up all the loose ends a little better, but all in all a good easy read. And stop retelling the whole book in your reviews people!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author of this book has either done some really good research, or knows the river well enough to write about it in detail. As someone who lives on the Mississippi River, I enjoyed this aspect. The storyline is at times spellbinding, and at times it is heartwrenching. Many could relate to the hardships of the main characters, in some way, shape or form. This gives it a realistic aspect that pulls you right into the story. Overall, the more you read it, the more you want to read it, and the more intriguing it gets.
GypsyWitch More than 1 year ago
There are so many vivid images in this book and the story line is awesome. This would make an awesome movie. I have not been able to put this book down since I downloaded it for FREE last Friday. Thank you Kathy Steffen for writing this awesome novel and thank you Barnes and Noble for giving this book to us for FREE last Friday. It started my weekend off on a romantic riverboat advanture.
Genni More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. At, first I didn't like the authors writing, but I warmed up to it. I liked most of the characters, except for Jared (duh), but someti,es Briggs offended me and just annoyed me. So I wish Briggs, as a main character was more likable, such as others like Gage, Lil, or Em. It really made me think for a second (this book) because I never thought of the personal conflicts everyone had in he 1900s, such as an abusive husband and degrading of women, or people that just look different, like some people do today. Overall, this was a really good book, but I didn't love it either.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have finally read this free Friday book. I liked it so much that I bought another from this author. I do not read any long reviews for fear of ruining a good story. I enjoyed this wonderful story and recommend it. I tend to start by looking at negative reviews first...what I read was complaints about reviewers, not about book. Took a chance and so glad. Please read the synopsis of book and give it a try. I am REALLY glad I did. Enjoy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book held my interest until somewhere in the middle where I began tofeel as tho I had read this before.As I continued on I knew then I had not. Perhaps the scenerio was simular to another that I had read. The Rest of the book was exciting, I could not put this book down. I had to see it thru to the end which was very dramatic,surprising and good. I enjoyed this book .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book very easy read!
Lauren Pinto More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book and its characters. The power of friendship and love travels down this river leading a woman to find her courage and strength. Super inspiring! Loved it!
gma2lana on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I actually enjoyed this book. I didn't think I would at first, but it grabs you and go. In fact towards the ending I was excited to turn each page to learn the outcome.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome imagery and storyline. Felt as if I was part of the book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
There were many parts of the story that I took issue with however it was well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago