Journey now to Niagara Falls, New York, of 1870 where...
She avoids danger at all costs. He makes his living by rushing headlong into it.
Outwardly, Adele Linley’s trip to visit her American cousins is nothing more than a summer vacation. In reality, she’s the daughter of an English aristocrat with barely a penny to her name seeking a rich American husband.
Having grown up in an overcrowded orphanage, Drew Dawson is determined to make a name for himself. He’ll take any honest job to provide for his sister—even crossing Niagara Falls by tightrope.
On a sightseeing trip to the Falls, Adele meets several eligible suitors. Incredibly wealthy and pompous, Franklin Conway takes an immediate fancy to her. But Adele would truly like to marry for love. When she encounters the mysterious Drew in the garden, Adele is confused by her feelings for someone who is everything she is NOT looking for. Will they both stay the course they have chosen for themselves?
More from My Heart Belongs in Series...
My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss: Priscilla's Reveille by Erica Vetsch (January 2017)
My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains: Carmella's Quandary by Susan Page Davis (March 2017)
My Heart Belongs in Ruby City, Idaho: Rebecca's Plight by Susanne Dietze (May 2017)
My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island: Maude's Mooring by Carrie Fancett Pagels (July 2017)
My Heart Belongs in the Shenandoah Valley: Lily's Dilemma by Andrea Boeshaar (September 2017)
My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah: Leanna's Choice by Angie Dicken (November 2017)
About the Author
ECPA bestselling author Amanda Barratt, fell in love with writing in grade school when she wrote her first story—a spinoff of Jane Eyre. Now, Amanda writes inspirational historical romance, penning stories that transport readers to a variety of locales. These days, Amanda can be found reading way too many books, watching an eclectic mix of BBC dramas and romantic chick flicks, and trying to figure out a way to get on the first possible flight to England. She loves hearing from readers on Facebook and through her website amandabarratt.net
Read an Excerpt
Derbyshire, England April 1870
As the coachman loaded her trunk onto the carriage, nausea churned in Adele's stomach.
This was a terrible mistake. One begun that long-ago day when she'd watched her father wobble atop the balustrade framing the roof of their home and take three wavering steps.
Then plummet to the ground below.
She'd been a girl of sixteen then. Was a woman of twenty now. A woman born on that chill October evening when she traded in her carefree childhood for the crushing mantle of responsibility. Her mother had been too weak to handle it, her brother too intoxicated.
So she — Adele Louise Linley — had become overseer of the Linley family fortune. A fortune that now fell faster than her father had.
Hence the reason for her journey.
She wrapped her cloak more tightly around her shoulders, facing her mother who stood in front of their stone manor house. The bitter wind buffeting Rosamunde Linley's slight frame made her appear even more fragile.
"I still cannot understand how you intend to make this journey alone. A single woman. Not even an escort to assure your safety."
"I'll have Nora. And Aunt and Uncle Osbourne will send a carriage to the depot." Adele found a smile, added comfort to it.
Worry pooled in Mother's eyes. "But it's across the ocean. And who knows how civilized America actually is? There might be savages. Or wild men who hunt and fish and rarely avail themselves of the comforts of a bath and clean clothes."
Adele laughed. "There are people like that in England too, Mother."
In our own family, she wanted to say but didn't add. In his pursuit of the gaming tables, her own brother, Tony, often didn't bother to change his clothes or comb his hair for days. "The Osbournes live a very happy life, I'm sure. They have a fine house, same as ours."
"Well, you know best, dear. But still —" The creak of the front door opening cut off Mother's words. Adele turned, her cobalt blue skirt sweeping the graveled avenue.
"Where you off to so early, Del?" Tony rubbed his eyes, as if the wash of morning light proved too much for his no doubt splitting head. What time had he gotten in? Two in the morning? Three?
"I'm leaving for America this morning, Tony. I've told you of my plans."
"Did you?" He approached, gait half steady, necktie splattered with the remnants of last night's drinking spree. "I don't remember."
Truer words were never spoken. Sometimes she wondered how he managed to keep straight the rules of baccarat versus those of whist. Adele could hardly do so, and she was never under the influence of too many brandies.
"I'm sure I told you. At any rate, it matters little now. Everything's been arranged." She pressed her lips together. No one, least of all her brother, would stand in her way.
"When will you be back?" His tone put her in mind of the ten-year-old boy he'd once been. Though the older sibling by two years, Tony never acted like it. Everyone else — family, staff, schoolfellows — had melted under his fretful pouts and winning smiles. Adele had been the only one to see straight through them.
Some things never changed.
"Once I've accomplished my purpose for going."
The wind blew his unruly black hair over his eyes. Standing this close made her even more aware of dissipation's rule over his life. His eyes, once a clear green like her own, were now bloodshot. His complexion had been that of an English country boy, one who engaged with gusto in various outdoor activities. Now hollows stood stark on his cheeks, his lips and forehead pale and sallow.
Long ago, his breath smelled of peppermint candy instead of liquor.
How much worse would things become before she returned?
"I'll miss you, Del." He put his arms around her as he hadn't done since the day they stood beside their father's newly turned grave.
Adele let herself hug him back, her once inseparable friend and companion. Unexpected tears filled her eyes.
"Will you? Then take care of Mother while I'm gone. Spend some time at home, instead of in London. It will be summer soon; the gardens are never prettier." It was useless to say such things. But she did so anyway, hanging on to the narrow thread of hope that should have been snipped long ago.
"You know I don't care twopence for gardens." He released her and stood next to their mother. Adele embraced her next, breathing in the whispery fragrance of lemon verbena perfume. As a little girl, she'd often doused herself in the scent, enamored by the fancy glass bottle and sensation of being a grown-up lady. If only she could go back, look her younger self in the eye, and admonish — Being grown up isn't all it's made out to be, silly girl. Stay young. Where life is all play and you're not fretting about bills and tradesmen and how you're going to reduce the number of household staff. Where you're not about to take a trip across the sea, leaving everything near and dear in the hope of saving just that.
A respectful distance away stood Bridges, the estate steward. If not for him, she wasn't sure she could leave her hapless family at all. Forsaking all schoolroom lessons about underlings being kept at arm's length, Adele hugged the man tight. He stiffened, not a surprising reaction, since her behavior bordered on unprecedented.
"Don't you worry, Miss Linley. You just go on and have a fine time." If he'd known what pursuits she intended to undertake once in America, Adele doubted he would have said such a thing. "I'll be here, keeping Linley Park in order." Looking into his angular face filled her with what the other partings had not — a trace of peace.
"You'll have to do everything yourself." Adele stepped back, lips upturned.
"That's my job, is it not?" He returned the smile, his gray eyes softening. "I'll manage."
"You don't know how grateful I am to hear you say that." She pressed his larger hand with her properly gloved one, then turned away, entering the carriage.
The vehicle lurched into motion, taking her down the avenue and onto the road ahead. A sheen of tears blurred her vision. She swiped them away, gaze pressed to the window, fixed on the beloved home she'd held dear since her childhood days. The aged stone walls rich with the splendor of centuries long gone, the gardens soft with springtime flowers. Every tree meant more than roots and trunk spreading upward into leafy boughs. Each possessed some memory, an ode to a past that was no more.
Soon, the familiar sights would be lost to her, exchanged for something altogether new and entirely frightening.
She'd never met Arnold Osbourne — her mother's younger brother and his American family. They lived in New York State, only a short drive away from a popular honeymoon destination. Niagara Falls, she thought it was called.
If all went well, she'd be taking a honeymoon of her own before the year was out. Married to some wealthy American, who didn't mind dipping into his expansive coffers to lend enough capital to see the Linley family back on their feet.
There were riches aplenty to be found on American soil. Tycoons. Fortunes. Scores of them, she'd heard.
Well, she didn't need scores.
All she needed, all she intended to secure, was one.
Niagara Falls March 1870
If this did him in, if he died ... then what?
Hope would lose a brother. The Falls, claim a victim.
It was too loud. Couldn't everyone just stop cheering? And the water, that pounding, teeming froth and fury that bludgeoned whatever crossed its path. Whirring through his brain, dancing before his vision. Dizzying. Nauseating.
"You going to be all right, lad?"
Drew Dawson zeroed in on the voice, forced himself to focus on Henry Godfrey's pool-ball eyes, coattails flapping behind like out of control duck feathers.
"Fine." He swallowed, his tongue dry as cotton batting.
"Then I'd say it's time to begin. Mr. Conway will be waiting on the other side."
"Yeah." He could do this. How many times had he climbed atop the orphanage fence and walked across? Skipped, almost, to the cheers of half a dozen admiring playmates. How often had he scampered over the high wire during his adolescence, while spectators gobbled peanuts and caramel candy?
A few feet off the ground was a million tons of difference compared to what he faced now.
The balance pole clutched in Drew's fist seemed made of lead as he ascended the small platform. The chorus of hurrahs rose to a deafening pitch.
I'd rather not die today, Lord. Though it'd be my own stupid fault if I did.
The first step onto the rope was easier than he'd thought it would be. The tightrope and the guy ropes securing it, stretched and stretched, a giant web meant to ensure his safety. Jaw tight, he steeled his gaze onward, refusing to look down, blocking out the mental picture of what he'd see if he did — the mighty Horseshoe Falls in all their foaming, snarling rage. Daring him to keep moving forward, closer and closer into their grip.
A few more steps. The balance pole became an extension of his limbs, steadying him as wind whipped the air, rattled the guy ropes, and licked his face like a dog, half ravenous. Sweat slithered down his back, though chills broke out on his forehead. The costume he wore — acrobat's tights, shorts, and a thin shirt — wouldn't slow him down. Neither would it keep him warm.
So ... if this killed him, what then? The thought rose again, unbidden and unwanted. He wouldn't get a cent of the one hundred dollars promised by Franklin Conway. And if he didn't, neither would Hope.
Her face filled his mind like a summer breeze, at total variance to the tempest around him. Sweet Hope. The reason for this mad battle against the elements.
Only for her, the sister who held his heart in the palm of her slender hand, would he do this thing.
The closer he got to the middle, the farther the rope dipped downward, sagging like a clothesline weighted with one too many undershirts.
Wind. Stronger. If he fell, now would be the most likely time.
He could sense, though not see, the sizzle of anticipation in the crowd lining both shores. As if he were a gladiator, the Falls a feral beast. They held their breaths, eyes riveted. Waiting. Watching for the merest stumble. Wondering if the next step would be the one that led to his downfall. Literally.
Blast the wind.
Every muscle in his body cried for relief.
There. Another one accomplished. Still fifty more to go.
Focusing too much on either expanse — the one before or behind — would only add to the agony engulfing his tissues and ligaments.
Drew blinked and he was eight again, doing stunts on the orphanage backyard fence. He'd never looked at the throng of boys, hooting and hollering for him to fall on his face. Instead he kept his eyes on Hope as she clasped her hands in front of her, drawing him forward with the trust in her gaze. Willing him to succeed, and by the strength of her willing, making him do just that.
She was helping him forward now. As surely as air blasted around him, he knew this. For Hope, he would gather strength.
For her, he would not die.
The second the thought flashed through his mind, a cramp seized his left calf. Keeping his breathing even, he took another step, as if by sheer force of mind, he could relax the knotting muscles.
It lingered. The cramp. At any second, he would slip. Not a lot. Just enough to send him into the roiling cauldron that would kill him in an instant, without a scrap of mercy or shred of remorse.
The spasm in his leg eased, as if erased by a divine hand that willed him live another day.
The crowd — cheering, whistling, bemoaning, or exulting — increased in volume the closer he came to the other side. He completed the final steps as if in a trance, body soaked with spray and sweat, joints stiff with clutching the heavy balance pole.
The man behind it all, Franklin Conway, was the first to greet him once dry earth replaced the slender, heaving thread of rope and wire.
"Congratulations, Dawson!" The firm clap the man administered to Drew's back was hardly helpful, though the sturdy hand he kept on his shoulders aided in grounding him.
"Thank you, sir." Drew couldn't help the grin that crept over his lips. It felt familiar, reminiscent of boyhood and the swell of success that came each time he bested his own feats.
He'd certainly done so this time. Not like Charles Blondin, perhaps. No one could best that funambulist. But Drew hadn't died. For that, he let a long and profound swell of gratitude warm his middle.
"You know why the crowds came out today?" Conway steered him away from the mass of people, who, rather than surging forward to show their appreciation, seemed to drift away like wrapping paper pushed aside after the thrill of Christmas morning. As if in disappointment. As if, by saving his own life, he'd done them a disservice.
"Why?" Wherever Conway was leading him, Drew hoped it was in the direction of a mug of strong black coffee.
Conway faced him, his thin ebony mustache forming a half smile. "Because they were just about a hundred percent certain you were going to die. It was a lucky thing, that Spaniard who was supposed to do today's stunt spraining his knee when he did and my finding you that very afternoon in time to get new posters printed. 'Inexperienced Youth Takes on Blondin's Feats!' I guarantee, at this very moment, there are a hundred gambling men who'd like to push you into the Falls for cheating them out of easy money." Conway chuckled as he motioned for Drew to enter the carriage — manned and guarded by a cadre of policemen.
Conway followed, taking the seat opposite. Drew leaned against the plush interior, wanting only to close his eyes and thank the good Lord for granting him another breath of air not fraught by danger.
"Yes, yes, it was a lucky break that brought us together, Dawson. You're quite the lad. No Blondin of course, but people are tired of Blondin the Invincible. Too much of a sure thing. And since he isn't performing here anymore, yesterday's news."
Conway lit a cigarette and blew out a wisp of smoke. "What Niagara needs is a new line of daring. Something along the lines of 'The Gentleman Daredevil.' Now, there would be an act to interest the crowds. Not to mention, fatten the pocketbook." Conway drew out a large leather billfold from a pocket within the waistcoat of his three-piece black suit. Licking the tip of his finger, he riffled through the bills before handing a stack to Drew.
Before they'd scarcely warmed his fingers, Drew pocketed them. It was for the bills, after all, that he'd just battled gravity. The first thing he'd do, after portioning out enough to pay the rent and stock the larder, would be adding the remainder to the jar. The one marked "Hope's Future." It currently held five measly dollars. Not enough for the doctors and proper care. The jar had never held enough.
Yet now ...
"An act." Drew couldn't tell whether Conway was muttering to himself or addressing him. "One that could bring in a good deal more money than what we've made today."
In a rush almost as heavy as the falls of Niagara, the sensations crashed over him. The sense of dangling high above solid ground on ropes that could twist and snap at any moment. The fear, stark and painful, that could make a man shake like a newborn colt. The risk of sacrificing one's very breath and life on the altar of cheap thrills for an insatiable crowd.
"No." Drew held up a hand, body aching with fatigue. "Not interested."
Conway emitted another low chuckle, smoke curling around his face. "Just think, Dawson. Think of the money, of the partnership. We'd be partners, you know."
Something in the air Conway was polluting must've done something to Drew's brain. He could hardly believe his own ears as his voice answered, "You'd go fifty-fifty?"
The look in Conway's eyes was shrewd and much too calculating for Drew's peace of mind. "You'd get your share, Dawson. Don't you worry none about that."
Stick a man atop a rope over a hundred feet in the air, and getting his share was all Conway thought he'd have cause to worry about?
But something in the exhilaration of having conquered and survived emboldened him as Drew straightened his shoulders and matched Conway's gaze with a hard stare. "Oh, I wouldn't worry. A man would have to be an idiot to do something like that again without it being a sure thing."
It only took a few minutes, more bills coming from Conway's pocketbook and ending up in Drew's hands, some preliminary conversation, for Drew to become exactly that.
Excerpted from "My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, New York"
Copyright © 2018 Amanda Barratt.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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