The Heart's Haven

The Heart's Haven

by Jill Barnett

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Jill Barnett's very first title, The Heart's Haven, won the Persie Award for Best First Book.

The lawless, gold-hungry town of San Francisco was no place to raise a family, but Hallie Fredriksen had little choice after her mother's sudden death. Her father's call to sea took him away for months at a time, and there was no one but Hallie to raise her headstrong sister and impish twin brothers. The young Fredriksen clan was a handful, but the last person Hallie needed involved was Kit Howland, the arrogant and handsome whaling agent who was her father's good friend…and her own secret crush. But Kit had been burned by love and thought himself immune to feelings of the heart, until he was face to face with the most unlikely beauty, who captured his heart with her spirit and laughter. He refused to trust his feelings, refused to forget the past and step into the dangerous territory of love and desire. Then fate made them an instant family, bound them as husband and wife in wild town full of danger, where their battle of wills and love was as treacherous as the stormy sea and…as thrilling as the rush for gold.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781935661726
Publisher: BelleBooks Inc.
Publication date: 07/15/1990
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 254,496
File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 A patch of faded blue gingham hovered in the lofty branches of Abner Brown's precious apple tree. As the branches shuddered, dropping the delicate pink blooms onto the grass below, Haldis Fredriksen stopped. Her gray eyes narrowed when she recognized that familiar swatch of cloth -- the same cloth that was becoming more and more visible with each quiver of the tree. Grinding the heel of her boot into the soil, she turned and crept slowly toward the tree.

Hallie edged closer, using the furrow of lush rosebushes for cover. As she peered through the roses, she could see the checked fabric, now waving like a flag in the gentle spring breeze. She glanced from side to side, assuring herself that her nemesis, that priggish Mr. Brown, was nowhere in sight. When she was three feet from the tree, she straightened and planted her hands firmly on her hips. "Liv, get down out of that tree, now!"

There was a frantic rustling in the upper branches of the tree, followed by a heavy shower of apple blossoms. As the floral curtain thinned, a mass of gingham skirts and blond braids tumbled to the ground. Sitting indignantly on a bed of crushed apple blossoms was Hallie's nine-year-old sister, Liv.

"Thunderation! Hallie, you scared the spit out of me!" Liv stood up, carelessly slinging a knotted pair of black stockings over a shoulder before attempting to dust off her debris-covered behind. "A person could get hurt, having a body creep up on them like that."

"I know a person who'll be hurting -- and soon." Hallie turned Liv around and swatted the dust off the girl's skirt a bit harder than necessary. "You swore you'd stay oft Mr. Brown's property. Here it is only two days later and you're back in his tree again. Why?"

"I don't know," Liv mumbled. She gave Hallie a quick, guilty glance before she sat down and started fumbling with the knotted hose.

Hallie looked down at Liv. The young girl was tugging on a stocking over her bark-scraped leg and muttering something about crossed fingers. The sight struck a familiar chord in her. It seemed that all she did lately was lecture Liv. Was she being too hard on her, or was Liv just testing her limits? She'd been a handful for as long as Hallie could remember, but in the three years since their mother's death, Liv's belligerent attitude had worsened. Hallie had tried reasoning with her, but that hadn't worked. The young girl kept defying the rules. With Liv, you never knew what to expect next. But Hallie loved her, and because of that she couldn't let Liv's disobedience go unpunished. The child needed a lesson in keeping her word.

"Well, young lady, it seems you don't know why you're doing anything lately, doesn't it?"

Liv was silent.

Hallie tried to infuse a stern tone into her tired voice. "A day spent inside might improve your memory. And while you're trying to remember why you broke your word, you can do that stack of mending sitting by my bed."

"But Hallie -- "

"And if you finish before supper, you can give the boys a bath." Hallie watched Liv's face contort into a grimace of distaste. They both knew from experience that bathing the four-year-old twins was like being thrown from Noah's Ark -- only forty days and nights of rain was probably dryer.

Liv scrambled to her feet, this time ignoring her dusty derriere in an urgent effort to make a last plea. "A person could get sick, stuck in a stuffy house all day, breathing that stale air." Her eyes grew big as she added dramatically, "And then, if she got wet, a person could get lung fever and die!"

"You're going to wish you were dead, young lady, if you give me anymore backtalk. Now get!"

The angry flush staining Hallie's neck sent Liv scurrying toward home. As she rounded the corner, Hallie noticed Liv's shoeless feet. She started to call the girl back, but didn't want to risk alerting Mr. Brown. They'd been trespassing in his prized garden long enough, and if children's shoes weren't so hard to come by in San Francisco, she would have been sorely tempted to just leave them. But the memory of the last interminable wait for the very shoes Liv had so carelessly abandoned now sent her searching for them.

She looked around the base of the tree and found nothing. Poking in a few nearby bushes only resulted in disturbing a few bees. As she swatted the bugs away, she looked up and found what she was seeking. Dangling from one of the uppermost branches of the apple tree were Liv's new shoes.

Now what? Hallie thought, hoping some solution other than retrieving them herself would pop into her mind. For as long as she could remember, anything steeper than a flight of stairs had sent her into an attack of vertigo. Her one prideful attempt at overcoming this weakness was burned into her memory, along with the humiliation she had suffered when she, the captain's own daughter, had to be cut down from the tangled rigging some thirty feet above the ship's deck. The endless five minutes she had spent helplessly swaying from the ropes convinced her to accept her weakness.

Of course, that had been six or seven years ago. Maybe it had only been a childhood fear. Didn't one grow out of such things? She was much taller now. What could be so frightening about climbing one fair-to-middling-sized tree? Besides, she reasoned, how else was she going to get those shoes?

Hallie glanced around self-consciously, knowing she really shouldn't do it, but now she was convinced that retrieving those shoes somehow symbolized her emergence into womanhood.

The lowest branch was right above her head, and for, once thanking her Nordic ancestors for her majestic height, she pulled her five-foot-ten-inch frame onto the branch. By throwing her right leg over it, she managed to get into a sitting position. Feeling secure on her perch, she sat there grinning, surprised and proud of her newfound skill.

Fortified with confidence, she reached up and grasped the next limb, pulling herself into standing position. Then she made a mistake. She looked down.

The ground appeared to rise like yeast on a hot day. Her vision blurred and she wrapped her arms around the limb, holding on for all she was worth. Sucking in great breaths of air, she managed to calm her fluttering heart. Her sight cleared and she glanced around the tree, hoping to somehow recapture her nerve. It was gone.

Stuck in her precarious position, Hallie glared at the shoes. The blasted things were hanging high on the branch, and their mocking challenge egged her on. With one arm gripping the limb, she very slowly stretched her free arm toward the shoes. She was still a few inches shy.

She searched around for a twig to help extend her reach, found one, and tore it from the branch. Standing bravely on her tiptoes, she hooked the forked end of the twig around the knotted shoelaces. Gradually, she lowered the boot enough so she could grab its toe. With a quick tug, the leather half-boots came free, along with most of the blossoms on the high branch. Clutching the shoes in one hand, she waited for the drifting petals to clear, and then she turned slowly, trying to get a better grip on her security limb. Just as she started to squat, the wood cracked under the pressure of her weight. The branch tipped sharply toward the ground and Hallie slid down the limb, stripping it of twigs and blossoms before she skidded abruptly to the ground.

"My tree! My tree!"

The high-pitched wail pierced the air, penetrating Hallie's rattled brain. She brought one stinging hand up to brush the pale hair out of her face. There, with arms waving like the semaphore atop Telegraph Hill, was a raving Abner Brown. Clad in his usual black undertaker's garb, he was hopping up and down while he whined his tree litany.

"Mr. Brown, I...uh," Hallie stammered, unable to voice aloud any feeble excuse as she watched his apoplectic reaction.

His pallid skin was unnervingly lifeless for a man in his thirties, and its sallowness made his brown hair appear lank. The huge hook nose that dominated his homely face was his only bit of color. It was bright red. And as his jaw worked in and out, it looked to Hallie as if the man had finally grown a chin. The anger that emanated from his cold, penetrating eyes had a sinister quality that made her spine itch, and her eyes widened as she watched his long, skinny fingers form claws which she could picture wrapped around her throat -- squeezing.

"Mr. Brown, I know I've damaged your tree." Hallie swallowed, noticing that as his anger became more rabid, the knotty Adam's apple in his long throat began to twitch. "I'm sorry -- "

"Sorry! You're sorry?" he cried, walking over to stand directly above her. "I'll tell you what's sorry! You and those rowdy children. Don't have any respect at all for other people's property!" He paused and his pale blue stare turned into icy assessment.

Hallie sat frozen and fearful. But her fear subsided when he turned his calculating eyes away and began to pace back and forth in agitation.

"Do you realize I had this tree shipped from New Hampshire? It made it all the way around the Horn, enduring stormy seas and traveling with that gold-seeking riffraff. It survived the last three San Francisco fires, and what destroys it? A blight known as the Fredriksen family!" Abner stopped directly in front of her.

Hallie looked up at his accusing finger. "I know how you feel about that tree." Oh do I know, she thought, feeling an unexpected affinity with poor Liv. She watched him raise his spindly arm and shake one finger at the sky, a gesture she knew from experience preceded one of his lectures.

"Girlie, do you realize this is the only apple tree in San Francisco?"

Oh no, Hallie groaned inwardly, here it comes.

"It produces only the finest fruit. Back East, people pay the highest prices for the succulent apples from this strain of tree. They come from township after township to taste the crisp, luscious, red..."

Hallie stood while the man droned on. She knew the story well enough from the times he'd come to the house, dragging out Liv or the twins and accusing her of letting the children run wild. He called them vandalizing little urchins and said she was too young to control them. Agitated at the memory, Hallie shook out her skirts. She wasn't too young; she was almost nineteen.

Since her fifteenth birthday her father had left her in charge; he trusted her. As captain of a whaler, he was gone so much of the time that Hallie was left to rule the roost, and her roost consisted of her two younger sisters and her twin brothers. She tried to give the children a normal home, but with no mother, it hadn't been easy. And their home was changing.

In the last three years San Francisco had grown from a sleepy little village to a wild and sprawling port. Hallie had watched the city fill with men who were lured by the tales of gold. And now many of those same men were so disillusioned that they had become as savage as the criminals who had also swarmed West. It was hard, living in a place where gold fever drove even the best of men crazy.

Was that part of Liv's problem? Could she expect a young girl to behave when grown men showed so little restraint? Maybe they needed to get away from the violence of this city. She would talk to Da when he came home.

Hallie realized that Abner wasn't even looking at her, he was so enthralled, having reached the pinnacle of oratory bliss. As she bent over and picked up the troublesome shoes, her long blond braid flopped over her shoulder. She flung it back and began rummaging through the broken foliage in search of the large hairpins that held her heavy braid in a tight bun. She only found two. Shoving them into her shirt pocket, Hallie straightened.

Lord, that man loves to hear himself talk. She shook her head in disgust and then, out of boredom, turned to survey the wreckage. She wanted to cringe when she saw the damage. There were only a few dozen blossoms left on the fractured fruit tree, and its biggest base branch was angled down toward the ground. It was almost laughable the way the broken limb looked like a crutch. No doubt there would be little if any fruit ripening on that tree this year.

She knew she was at fault; she had practically destroyed his tree. But the way he was acting -- well, it was unnatural. Of course, Abner Brown was pretty strange himself, kind of picayunish. And he was always talking. But then, his job was dead people, and since the dead don't talk, it was little wonder he would rattle on whenever he came across a warm body.

Suddenly aware of her own warmth, Hallie looked up at the sun. Its position high in the sky indicated that most of the morning was already wasted. "Mr. Brown," she interrupted. "I'll pay for the damage."

"You sure will, girlie. Someone your age climbing trees when you ought to be watching those -- those brats!" He sneered. "I'm going to report this vandalism!" With that pronouncement, Abner Brown raised his gump of a chin, crossed his gangly arms and waited.

Hallie considered his threat, knowing it was made to intimidate her. The authorities hardly had time to keep peace, much less cause her any trouble. But Abner Brown had influence. He knew Sheriff Hayes well, since he was the only undertaker in the city, and what with the lack of law and order, heaven knew San Francisco had enough bodies to be buried lately.

"I said I'd pay for the damage," Hallie repeated. "How much do you want?"

Abner's eyes took on a larcenous gleam. He looked at the nearly naked tree and then toward its remains, scattered like flotsam all over the grass. He bent down, picked, up a blossom and began to stroke it affectionately. "Oh, I think five hundred dollars ought to do it."

Five hundred dollars! Hallie swallowed, hard. The greedy pirate had her trapped, and they both knew it. He could claim to have been able to sell the fruit to the miners for that much and he was most likely right. With so much gold exchanging hands, prices, especially for eggs and fruit, were outlandish. Men had been known to pay ridiculous amounts for scarce items.

Since she had damaged the tree, she felt responsible, but it stuck in her craw that he could legitimately extort that kind of money from her. She didn't need any trouble with Da gone, and on the slim chance that Mr. Brown could make trouble for her and the children, Hallie didn't call his bluff. She was mad at this chiseling weasel, mad at Liv, and even madder at herself for getting into this mess.

Feeling the heat of her anger bubbling forth made her anxious to get away. Giving in to it would only make things worse. "I'll have the money for you by Friday." She forced the cowardly words past her lips and briskly walked away. Just before she reached the perimeter of the yard, she heard his nasally voice.

"See that you do, girlie. See that you do."

Kit Howland crumpled the letter into a tight ball and pitched it across the room. Reaching over his cluttered desk, he lifted the brass lid from an ornately carved tobacco holder. His strong, dark fingers disappeared into the depths o0f the wooden jar as he filled and packed his pipe before jamming the bit between his teeth. Striking a flame, he lit the leafy blend and began to puff, hoping that a smoke would ease the tension he felt knotting inside.

His father's letter had been apologetic. He had tried to dissuade Kit's mother and his aunt from their plan, telling them Kit was a grown man and doing fine on the West Coast. But his mother worried anyway.

Kit remembered her tearful pleading a few years ago, when he had announced his plan to move to San Francisco. His wife had died and her death had finally put an end to their disastrous marriage; and he'd wanted, needed to get away. As much as he loved his family, he couldn't stomach the pity he saw lurking in their eyes. Staying in New Bedford would have only served to remind him of his failed marriage and of the love/hate he still perversely felt for his unfaithful and now dead wife.

Now, he drew deeply on the pipe, holding the rum-tainted smoke in his mouth before expelling his breath. The bittersweet taste heated his mouth like the bitterness of his wife's betrayal burned in his hollow heart. Slamming his fist on the desktop, Kit stood and walked over to the wad of paper he had angrily thrown to the floor. Picking it up, he pressed it open and stared, hoping maybe he had misread its contents. Two words loomed from the page. Aunt Madeline.

Groaning in reaction, Kit felt like the black cloud that had been shadowing him had just unloaded. It was bad enough that he had to pay exorbitant storage fees while he cooled his heels waiting for the cursed merchant ship, but now his father wrote that his aunt Madeline was on board -- something his family conveniently neglected to tell him until now. No doubt they assumed that the ship had docked and Maddie would already be billeted in his house, philanthropically mothering him. According to his father, Kit was her latest lost cause.

He swore loudly, relishing the release he felt at uttering a vulgar word. Where the hell was Taber's ship anyway? The clipper should have docked weeks ago. It wasn't unusual for merchant vessels to arrive a few weeks late, and battling anything from fierce storms to windless seas made the long voyage from the East Coast arduous and unpredictable.

Having once captained his own ship, Kit knew how nervewracking it could be, stranded in a doldrum sea, dependent upon the whims of the ocean current as the only mode to propel the ship, waiting for the wind to once again catch the sails and speed the vessel toward its destination. Picturing his aunt on that journey brought a smile to Kit's lips. He could imagine his domineering relative ordering the crew about like a seasoned master. Spending those endless hours with her would be unbearable to the men on board.

Kit chuckled. She could nag the weather into changing. But if Charles Taber were real resourceful, he would use Maddie's flapping mouth to help blow the ship to port.

With that thought, a smiling Kit returned to his desk. He picked up the last quarter's market prices, forwarded by his father, and checked the figures against his current contracts. His smile faded. Prices were dropping, which was not good news to an agent who had a leased warehouse full of whale oil and baleen, waiting for shipment to the factories back East. He had promised his friend, Captain Jan Fredriksen, that he'd get top dollar for the Sea Haven's last cargo. They had agreed to wait for Kit to sell the goods to the highest bidder.

Kit leaned back in his chair and chewed on his pipe, wondering when the clipper would arrive. Once the ship docked and unloaded, it would reload with Jan's goods, already consigned and waiting. What a relief it would be to have those accounts settled and get out from under the warehouse lease. His own warehouse would be built with the agent's share of the profits, alleviating the need to pay the huge warehouse rents that were now eating up his profit.

Of course, now he had another problem. Although the ship's arrival would eliminate his business problems, it would also bring a new one -- his aunt. Kit cursed his luck, knowing with his aunt's arrival, his heretofore peaceful existence would be no more.

Hallie's foot sunk into the oozing mud that masqueraded as a San Francisco street. With last night's spring rain, the sandy dirt had turned into a reddish-brown clay that made the flat section of the road almost impassable. Hallie lifted her skirts and she trudged through the boggy stuff.

In her rush to get away from that greedy rat of an undertaker, she had missed the wood-paved street, and now she had to plod her way down the unpaved section of one of San Francisco's narrow streets. Reaching the plank walkway, she stomped her feet in a futile attempt to dislodge the gunk from her shoes. The gritty mud was seeping through the eyelets on the inside of her leather boots, adding fuel to the fire of her already heated temperament. She banged her shoes a bit harder, imagining it was Abner Brown's knobby throat lying on the gray, weathered boards.

Pacified somewhat, Hallie dropped her skirts and marched down the walkway to the Adams Bank and Express. The door opened suddenly and she stopped. A petite, raven-haired woman emerged, dressed in an expensive looking plum taffeta gown. The woman pulled the strings of her embroidered purse closed and drew a silk parasol cord off her gloved wrist. As she eyed Hallie up and down, her features filled with haughty disdain. She snapped open her parasol, and as if it would ward off some unseen plague, wielded it in Hallie's face, forcing her back to avoid the lace contraption, whose sharp peak bobbed so perilously close to her nose.

"Well, of all the nerve!" Hallie muttered, watching the woman and her frilly armament scurry away.

As Hallie started toward the door, she caught her reflection in the window. Lord, what a mess! Thick strands of pale blond hair had escaped from her long braid and hung from her head like Medusa's snakes. She glanced down at the baggy flannel work smock covering her dark woolen dress. It was littered with petals and twigs. She swiped off the debris and critically eyed her clothing. Dazzling it was not.

Hallie had taken to wearing the concealing smocks almost two years ago, when, in a matter of months, her boyish thinness had blossomed into womanly proportions. When she had dressed this morning, she hadn't intended to go anywhere, but she couldn't find Liv, and so left her sixteen-year-old sister Dagny in charge of the twins and went off to track down her precocious nine-year-old sister.

Hallie frowned at the dreary smock; it made her look dowdy. Little balls of wear speckled its front, and the dour shade of gray drew the color from her face. Throwing caution to the wind, Hallie stepped into a nearby stoop, unbuttoned the overblouse, and pulled the wretched thing over her head. She looked around and spotted an old spittoon. Wadding the garment into a tight ball, she crammed it into the brass urn, holding her breath and doing her best to ignore the urn's rancid contents.

She grabbed a handful of hair, pulled the two hairpins out of her pocket, and placed them between her teeth while twisting her braid into a lopsided bun. Jabbing the pins into her knotted hair, she tucked a few scraggly wisps behind her ears and glanced down at her dark dress. The soft wool didn't hide her deep bust; instead, the fabric clung to her torso before it flared downward in draping gores. No, plum taffeta it was not, but she'd make do. Hallie squared her shoulders and, with a determined step, entered the bank.

Miners were gathered six deep in front of a mahogany counter, and behind it stood two men, dressed in crisp white shirts and absorbed in weighing bag after bag of gold. When the din occasionally lessened, she could hear the clink of gold nuggets as they spilled into the scale's dish.

Another line formed at the counter to Hallie's right. She figured that this was the express station, by the bellowed names of various cities and by the men who groped their way forward so they could arrange to send funds.

Three desks were jammed into the room, their tops smothered with papers and empty chamois bags. The path to one of the desks was open, and the man behind it appeared to be immersed in a stack of papers, oblivious to his chaotic surroundings.

Hallie walked up to the desk. "Excuse me, sir?"

The sound of a distinctly female voice rendered the room suddenly quiet. The young man behind the desk looked up, and startled, he quickly rose. "Can I be of service, miss?"

"I am Miss Fredriksen. My father is Captain Jan Fredriksen of the Sea Haven. He said he made arrangements for me to have access to his funds, if need be." Her voice seemed to echo in the room's sudden silence.

"Just a moment, Miss Fredriksen. I'll get Mr. Adams." He walked over to a large door at the back of the room, knocked briefly, and entered.

Hallie could sense the attention she was receiving, and she fell as conspicuous as a nun in a bawdyhouse. She could feel the heat of the miners' eyes blatantly staring at her, and it was frightening. After a few long seconds she crossed her arms protectively over her chest and forced herself to stare straight ahead, wishing she still had the concealing security of her lackluster smock. She felt movement around her, but before she could panic, the door behind the desk opened and an older gentleman walked toward her.

"Miss Fredriksen, it's a pleasure." He stepped around the desk and grasped her still trembling hand. He must have felt her shaking, because his expression changed to one of concern. He assessed the situation, then quelled the ogling miners with a stern look. Placing her hand on his stocky arm, he led her to the safety of the room beyond.

After seating her and closing the door, he walked around the massive oak desk and sat down. "Now, what can I do for you?"

Hallie looked at his kind, round face and felt reassured. "I need five hundred dollars."

"I see," he said, his expression unchanging.

He opened a leather-bound ledger and began thumbing through the pages. Appearing to have found what he needed, he perused the page, and during those awkwardly silent seconds, Hallie's curiosity got the better of her. She stretched her neck, trying to decipher, upside down, the figures on the page. She was beginning to rise from her chair in her craning effort when she caught his sigh and quickly settled back down into her seat.

He looked up. "It seems we have a problem."

"But Mr. Adams, my father assured me he made arrangements for me to withdraw from his account. His voyages have been getting longer and longer, so he felt there might be a time when I would run short of funds. This is an emergency. I must have -- "

"Excuse me, Miss Fredriksen," he interrupted. "Captain Fredriksen did give me the authorization. That's not the problem. There isn't five hundred dollars in the account."

Hallie was stunned. "I don't understand, there should be at least fifteen thousand in that account. The cargo from my father's last voyage was worth that much."

He looked back at the book. "There haven't been any deposits for eight months."

"But my father's agent should have transferred the funds over two months ago."

Mr. Adams looked concerned. "Who is his agent?"

Hallie fidgeted slightly. "Howland and Company, across the street."

"Oh yes, I know Kit Howland. A fine young man. There must be some mistake. Kit is as honest as the day is long."

Kit Howland. Her stomach lurched at the mention of that name. Oh Lord, I don't want to face him. She could feel the heated blush of embarrassment flood her neck and face. Just the thought of facing him again sent tension speeding from her stiffened shoulders down to her fingers, pressured white from clutching the arms of her wooden chair.

"I'm sure Mr. Howland can straighten this out," he said, oblivious to the turmoil bubbling through Hallie. The banker rose from his chair. "In fact," he said, flipping open an ornate pocket watch, "I have an appointment, so I'll be happy to escort you over to see him right now."

Tucking the watch back in his vest pocket, he grabbed a low-crowned hat off a peg behind him and helped a stunned and subdued Hallie from her chair.

He whisked her out of his office and through the racket of the bank before Hallie had a chance to regain her composure and find some excuse not to see Kit Howland.

Once outside, the bite of the air released Hallie from her stupor. Her eyes locked on the bold black letters of the Howland and Company sign, watching them grow larger as they neared the opposite side of Montgomery Street. The banker led her along the board walkway that dissected the muddy street, and he chattered about how easy it would most likely be to straighten this matter out. He assured her that Mr. Howland was a reasonable man, a gentleman.

Ha! Hallie thought. She remembered their last meeting vividly. The "gentleman" wasn't very reasonable then; "livid" was a more appropriate description.

He had been the handsome whaling agent her father had befriended, and sixteen-year-old Hallie had taken one starry-eyed look at Kit Howland and fallen deep into the throes of puppy love. When the men sat down to dinner, Hallie had been so busy staring at him in adoration that she had accidentally ladled hot chowder onto his lap.

Horrified at her clumsiness, she had tearfully fled to her room, barring the door, and refusing to come out until the next day. While her father had been sympathetic, saying that Kit wasn't too angry and he'd be fine in a day or so, Hallie knew otherwise. Kit had looked as if he wanted to smack her. She had seen his face redden in anger just before the tears of humiliation blinded her vision, so thereafter she made sure that she was never around when Kit was. Luckily, most of her father's business was conducted in Kit's office, so Hallie hadn't had to do too much hiding.

Mr. Adams led Hallie to the Howland and Company office door and gave her hand a fatherly pat. "Now, my dear, once those funds are transferred, I'll see that you get your money. You just go right on in there and I'm sure Mr. Howland will clear this up." He opened the agency door, and a pale Hallie reluctantly stepped halfway inside.

Thinking quickly, she used the door to shield her from any occupants inside and she forced a polite smile to her lips. "Thank you, sir."

Hallie watched as he doffed his hat and turned to walk up the street. She had stepped back outside, planning to run as fast as she could in the opposite direction, when she noticed that the banker had stopped and turned back around. She quickly stepped back inside, peering around the doorjamb with a false smile and lifting her hand near her dimpled cheek as she wiggled her fingers at him in a farewell gesture. He stood, watching her with a puzzled look on his pudgy face.

Resigned to her fate, Hallie shut the door. Taking a deep breath, she turned slowly, preparing to meet the man she had astutely managed to avoid for the last two years.

Copyright © 1990 by Jill Barnett Stadler

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