Carter Stockton, a recent college graduate and pitcher for the Manawa Owls baseball team, intends to enjoy every minute of the summer at Lake Manawa, Iowa, before he is forced into the straitlaced business world of his father.
When Emily crashes into Carter at a roller skating rink, neither could guess what would come next. Will Carter strike out? Or will Emily cast her vote for a love that might cost her dreams?
The perfect summer novel, A Great Catch will enchant readers with its breezy setting and endearing characters.
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About the Author
A history buff, antique collector, and freelance graphic designer, Lorna Seilstad is the author of When Love Calls and the Lake Manawa Summers series. A former high school English and journalism teacher, she has won several online writing contests and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Lorna lives in Iowa with her husband. Learn more at www.lornaseilstad.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Great CatchA NOVEL
By Lorna Seilstad
RevellCopyright © 2011 Lorna Seilstad
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLake Manawa, Iowa, 1901
Three blind mice.
Three little pigs.
Three days in the belly of a whale.
Emily Graham stifled a moan. Some of the worst things in life came in threes, and she was facing her favorite meddlesome trio right now.
"The right to vote won't warm your bed at night, dear." Aunt Millie poured fresh lemonade from a crystal pitcher into four glasses, then blotted her round face with a handkerchief. Even though the table, complete with an heirloom lace tablecloth, sat in the shade of the Grahams' cabin at Lake Manawa, the late May heat brought a sheen to her aunt's crinkled brow.
Emily pressed the glass of lemonade to her cheek and watched the sailboats on the lake lazily glide across the rippling surface. "As hot as it is, the last thing I want is a warm bed."
"Honestly, what are we going to do with you?" Aunt Ethel, rail thin, stiffened in her chair, and Emily imagined her aunt would launch into a tirade concerning Emily's character flaws at any minute.
Aunt Ethel turned toward her older silvery-haired sister, Emily's grandmother. "It's your fault, Kate. You filled her head with all those ridiculous notions of changing the world, women voting, and all that other nonsense. Now look at her. She's twenty-three years old, and she's still not married."
"I'm twenty-two, Aunt Ethel."
"But your birthday's just around the corner."
Emily rolled her eyes. "It's six months away."
"So sad. Almost a spinster." Aunt Millie shook her head and smoothed her apron. "If we don't do something soon, no man is going to want a woman that advanced in years."
"I guess it's up to us." Aunt Ethel tsked and patted Emily's hand. "Even though you're no great catch, don't worry, dear. With the three of us on the job, we'll have a man on your arm in no time."
"Three?" Emily felt a millstone sink to the pit of her stomach. She turned to her grandmother. "I thought you were on my side."
Grandma Kate smiled. "I am. That's why I'm going to help. If I leave it up to your aunts, they'll have you married off to some spineless simpleton you'd have henpecked in a matter of days, or some bald, solid member of the community that every other bright girl has already discarded."
"Do I even want to know what these two have in mind?"
The corners of Grandma Kate's crinkly mouth bowed. "Probably not."
"Trust us, dear. We have your best interests at heart." Aunt Millie held out a plate. "Prune cake?"
"No thank you." Emily checked the watch hanging on the chain around her neck. "I have to go now. I promised to meet some friends to go roller-skating."
"You're not going out in that abysmal outfit." Aunt Ethel's face pinched. "It's hardly proper."
Emily held out the sides of her sporting ensemble, complete with a shorter-length, divided moss-green walking skirt. "I can't very well skate in a full skirt. I'd kill myself."
"You probably will anyway," Aunt Ethel said solemnly.
"Ethel!" Grandma Kate shot her a warning glance. "It's not Emily's fault she struggles a bit in the art of gracefulness."
"A bit?" Aunt Millie chuckled. "That's like saying I'm a bit old."
"Aunties, Grandma, we'll talk about all of this later."
Aunt Ethel squeezed Emily's forearm. "No need to thank us, dear. It's our pleasure to help."
* * *
After buckling the metal roller skates to her boots, Emily pulled the straps tight and dabbed her upper lip with a handkerchief. Patrons of the roller-skating rink, the newest addition to Lake Manawa's Midway and ever-growing resort, lined the bench beside her.
"I can't believe you two talked me into this again." Emily set her feet on the paved brick sidewalk, shook the wrinkles from her skirt, and smiled at her two dearest friends, Lilly Hart and Marguerite Andrews.
"You're the one who said we should challenge ourselves to grow." Lilly, formerly Marguerite's personal maid and still her best friend, grabbed Emily's hand and pulled her to her feet.
"I said we needed to challenge our minds, not break our necks." Emily wobbled, and Marguerite caught her arm.
"You both realize that you are putting yourselves at great risk. It's common knowledge I could trip over a chalk line drawn on the sidewalk."
"You were a little shaky when we started last time, but you caught on just fine." Lilly kept a firm hold on Emily's elbow. "Besides, teaching you to skate is the best excuse Marguerite and I have for getting a break from our children."
Keeping a hand on the door frame, Emily rolled in behind her friends. Her lips turned downward as the excitement soured. "Did you have to ask your husbands for permission to come today?"
"Tate takes a long afternoon nap, so Trip doesn't mind." Marguerite paused to give the clerk her coin. "Did Ben give you any trouble about coming today, Lilly?"
"Nothing I couldn't handle. Besides, Levi's with my mama." She deposited her nickel on the counter. "And probably being spoiled rotten."
Emily fished a coin from her chatelaine purse attached to the wide belt at her waist. "I can't imagine having to ask a man if I can go somewhere. How utterly degrading."
Marguerite stepped onto the smooth wooden floor of the rink. "That's what I used to think."
"And now she's just a plain old married woman." Lilly laughed as she followed her onto the floor.
"And you're not?" Marguerite countered. "Emily, it's not that I ask permission, really. Trip and I share our lives. It's more of a common courtesy."
Emily eased out onto the rink, pausing to adjust to the feel of the wheels on her feet. "But what if Trip told you no? If he said he didn't want you to go, would you be here?" She wavered on the uneven floor and narrowly avoided the boy in front of her. His brows knit in anger, and she shrugged in apology. Why did skating and speaking at the same time have to be so difficult?
"The right answer is probably 'no,' but I can't honestly say I'd obey him. I'm not sure what I'd do." Marguerite smoothed a crinkle in her skirt.
"I am." Lilly spun backward with ease. "You'd be here now and fight with him later." "That's why I'm not sure marriage is for me. Obey? Even the word irritates me."
Lilly laughed. "You just need to find the right person— like we have." Emily started to lose her balance, and Lilly caught her hands. "Relax. Don't fight it. Think of the skates as wheels on your feet."
"Remember, I'm not graceful on my feet without the skates."
They giggled, and Marguerite linked her arm in Emily's. "You're your own worst enemy. Smile. Act like you're having fun."
"It would certainly be acting." Emily adjusted her hat, set askew by her last near fall. "I'm holding you two back. Why don't you two go skate together awhile and let me practice on my own for a few minutes?"
"We couldn't do that." Lilly twirled in a circle.
"Please. It's hard for me to talk and concentrate on the task at hand. I need about ten minutes to get used to this."
"Are you sure?" Marguerite worried her bottom lip between her teeth.
Emily reached for the wall to steady herself. "Yes. Please, I'll do better on my own. I certainly couldn't do worse."
"Ten minutes," Lilly said. "And no hugging the wall."
Like birds set free from their cage, the two friends sped off. Lilly skated with such ease she made it look as if she'd been doing it all her life, and Marguerite looked angelic floating around the rink with her blonde hair surrounding her head like a halo. Emily felt a stab of jealousy but pushed it away. It wasn't their fault she'd been born without an ounce of athletic prowess.
She let go of the wall and shoved off, determined to master at least one lap around the rink. It might not be fair that fear pulsed through her every time another skater whooshed by, but that wouldn't stop her. It never had before.
Despite her worries, her wobbly legs seemed to solidify as she rolled down the length of the maple floor. The soft thunk, thunk, thunk of her skates passing over the boards caused her confidence to grow. She rounded the first corner by pressing her hand to the wall and grinned. Perhaps she'd get used to this yet.
Relax. Don't think about the skates.
Maybe if she concentrated on something else, like the Council Bluffs Equal Suffrage Club. With the recent failure of the Iowa legislature to amend the state's constitution, the women were despondent, tired after losing a hard fight. As their local president, she needed something to rally the troops—something they could put their wholehearted efforts into. They couldn't quit before they'd won the right to vote. She wouldn't let them.
Would a husband complicate all she hoped to accomplish? Marguerite and Lilly had been able to participate in the fight, but having young children affected the amount of time they could commit to the cause. As a single woman, she was free to give the effort her undivided attention.
She reached the end of the rink and bit her lip when she crossed her right boot over her left, as she'd seen Lilly and Marguerite do many times.
Suddenly her feet tangled. Arms spinning like the paddle wheels of a steamboat, she teetered precariously to the right, then the left. Strong hands tightened around her waist and attempted to move her out of the way. Instead, she gave an ungainly kick and fell hard against the person holding her. Air whooshed from her lungs as they tumbled together onto the floor, a heap of knotted limbs and skates.
Chapter TwoEmily hurt. She just couldn't figure out where.
The man regained his footing and crouched in front of her. A mass of coffee-colored curls tumbled from beneath his cap and over his chestnut brown eyes.
"Carter? Carter Stockton?"
"Emily Graham? I didn't figure I'd bump into you here." He shoved the locks away. "Are you okay?"
"I think so." A sharp pain shot through Emily's wrist as she struggled to sit up. She clutched it to her stomach. Trying to ignore the sting, she smiled weakly. "I haven't seen you since high school."
His gaze dropped to her wrist. "You're hurt, aren't you? How bad is it?"
"I'm okay. I'm so sorry. This was all my fault."
"Nonsense." He smiled, and the cleft in his chin deepened. "Come on. Let's get you out of harm's way before some of these other skaters do more damage."
Carter skated behind her, slipped his hands under her arms, and lifted her to her feet. Then, to her surprise, he kept his hand locked on her elbow until they had safely skated off the rink. He lowered her onto a bench and dropped down beside her. "Is your wrist broken?"
"Oh, heavens no."
"Let me see it."
"Honestly, I feel bad enough having taken so much of your time."
He gently pried her arm loose and examined the puffy area. "It's already swelling. Does it hurt to move your fingers? Wiggle them."
His cool touch made her skin tingle in a most alarming way. Emily tried to tug her arm free, but he held her elbow fast. With an exasperated sigh, she gave a tiny wave with her digits. "See. I'm fine."
"Humph." He scowled and rubbed his chin.
Lilly rolled toward them and used the back of the bench to stop. "Emily, we saw you fall. Are you all right?"
Marguerite joined them, out of breath from rushing across the rink. "Carter, are you the man she crashed into?"
"No, I crashed into her." He laid Emily's hand back in her lap and stood up.
"That isn't true, and you know it." Emily winced when she jostled her arm. All this fuss. It was bad enough to make a fool of herself in front of all the skaters, but now they were all drawing added attention to her embarrassment.
"She needs someone to take a look at that wrist. My carriage is outside, so I'll be glad to take her home. Is she staying here at the lake?"
"Her grandmother has a cabin on the south side." Lilly checked the watch hanging off her belt. "I can ride with you. It's on my way."
Marguerite elbowed her side. "You're not going in that direction. Remember, you have to pick up Levi and your mother at the Grand Plaza. She's waiting for you."
Puzzled, Emily eyed her best friends.
When Marguerite tilted her head toward Carter, realization seemed to explode across Lilly's face. "Ooooh, yes. Sorry, Emily."
Emily's eyes widened in disbelief, and her cheeks flushed hot. They were abandoning her on purpose.
"You really don't mind taking her home, Carter? It would be such a help because Trip is expecting me soon. He has a sailing lesson to give in half an hour."
"Actually, I insist. I want to make sure I didn't do any lasting damage."
"In that case, we leave you in good hands." Marguerite flashed Emily a winning smile. "I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Emily's eyes shot fire. "You can bet on it."
"Take care of her, Carter." Lilly squeezed her shoulder. "She's one special lady."
Emily watched the two betrayers skate away and turned to Carter. "Thank you for your kind offer, but I really can get home on my own." She bent to unbuckle her skate and let out a tiny yelp.
Without a word, he knelt in front of her and scooped up her boot. He slipped off the heavy skates and set them on the bench beside her. "Emily Graham, I can see one thing hasn't changed. You are as stubborn as ever. Still trying to change the world?"
"Someone has to."
"Indeed they do." He chuckled, stood, and offered his hand. "But even crusaders can get a lift. Come on. Your carriage awaits."
* * *
Every rut and bump along the dirt-packed service road made Carter flinch. The road wound behind some of the buildings and cabins lining the lake's edge. Usually, resort patrons rode the streetcar to Lake Manawa, but Carter was glad he'd chosen to take his own carriage today. If not for the sporty two-seated phaeton, Emily would have had to walk home, and her pale face told him she wasn't up to that.
He glanced at her and found her jaw clenched against the pain caused by the jostling. Having been in his own share of scrapes on and off the ball field, he sent up a silent prayer on her behalf. A lock of silky, soft brown hair had slipped from her bun in the collision and now danced across her forehead and landed on her nose. She struggled with her good hand to tuck it back in place. When the strand refused to comply, she finally puffed it away from her face.
She caught him watching her and rolled her eyes. "I must look a mess."
"You look fine." Truth be told, she looked more than fine. The Emily Graham he remembered from high school was all arms and legs with no obvious curves. This Emily had grown into her arms, legs, and curves quite nicely.
He shook his head and forced his gaze back to the road. What made him notice that? This was Emily, Martin's little sister. Martin had played on some of the same ball teams with him in high school. Emily and Carter had simply been acquaintances, due in part to their positions on the school's literary magazine staff. Even though she was a year younger than he, she was selected editor of the publication, a fact that still both riled and impressed him.
"So, Emily, what's your brother up to?"
"He's running Graham Implement Company while my parents are out of the country."
"I'm sure he's good at it. I remember he had quite the competitive streak in high school."
"You're telling me. I don't think he let me win so much as a game of checkers growing up." With a wince, she adjusted her hold on her wrist. "I believe my father's company banks with your father. If you're joining his business, it looks like you and Martin could be on the same team again."
"Not unless he's playing baseball."
"My father is semiretired. My brother Nathan is the vice president who runs everything now. So unless Martin is playing baseball, we won't be on the same team. Though my brother expects me to join him this fall."
"And until then?"
He drew his left index finger over the red letters on his striped wool baseball jersey. "I'm pitching for the Manawa Owls in the field they put up a couple of years ago."
"I didn't realize the owls at Lake Manawa gave a hoot about pitchers." She giggled, a soft, full, infectious sound that rolled off her lips, not a high-pitched twitter so many girls tried when flirting.
Carter chuckled too. "Of course they do. Whooooever it is, they have to be the best."
Excerpted from A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad Copyright © 2011 by Lorna Seilstad. Excerpted by permission of Revell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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