Journey now to San Francisco, California, of 1853 where...An English socialite finds more treasure than expected on her trip to the American West. When Abby Effingham becomes stranded in the middle of the California gold rush, her money depletes quickly even while her prospects for marriage increase daily. But Abby is on a mission to find her mother—not romance. Will a ridiculous scandal keep her from traveling on, or will it wake up an aloof innkeeper to the treasure right under his roof? Samuel Harris runs a moderately priced hotel where Abby and her family’s elderly butler find shelter. He is looking forward to when she—and her parade of suitors—move on, though he concedes to let her work in his restaurant. When the sassy socialite is in trouble, will Samuel come to her rescue or find himself alone? 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)My Heart Belongs in Niagara Falls, NY: Adele's Journey by Amanda Barratt (January 2108)
About the Author
JANICE THOMPSON, who lives in the Houston area, writes novels, non-fiction, magazine articles, and musical comedies for the stage. The mother of four married daughters, she is quickly adding grandchildren to the family mix.
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Late April, 1853
Never underestimate the power of coffee, Neville." Abby lifted her delicate white cup and took a sip of the powerful brew, then did her best to balance it on the saucer. The jolting of the train made the task nearly impossible, but Abigail's expertise with a cup and saucer won out in the end. She managed to place the items on the dining car table without spilling a drop.
"I'm a tea man, myself." The family butler took a sip from his cup and his nose wrinkled. "Not that I would call this stuff the Americans drink tea." His porcelain cup clattered against the saucer, which he gripped until his knuckles turned white. Neville's furrowed brow softened after another drink of the hot beverage. "I spoke with the conductor earlier this morning. We're a mere hour and a half away from St. Louis. Can't arrive soon enough to please me."
"Wonderful. And from there?" Abby glanced out the dusty train window to the vast prairie, which ran for miles.
"We take a coach into the Oregon Territory, where we will join your mother in Oregon City. She will be expecting us in two weeks, if all goes as planned." Neville's sour expression gave away his thoughts on the matter. "I have been told, however, that things ordinarily do not go as planned. We might not arrive until the last week in May."
"All will end well, Neville." Abby took another sip of the hot coffee, assurance rising up within her as the words took root. "Everything will work out for the good. Watch and see. And along the way we shall have adventures aplenty. After a while, you will forget to be upset at me at all."
"Hmm." Neville's brows drew downward into a frown, but he said nothing, at least for a moment.
"Why you chose to travel in late spring is beyond me." He tugged at his collar and swiped beads of sweat off his forehead with his napkin. "This heat will be the death of us."
"Certainly nothing like the weather in Philadelphia, is it?"
"Nor like the weather in Nottingham, which is precisely where I'd prefer to be at the moment." He seemed to lose himself in his thoughts. "Why your father decided to move us lock, stock, and barrel to the States is ..." His eyes widened and his words ended abruptly. "I'm sorry, Miss Abigail. I've spoken out of turn. Please forgive me."
The train jolted and began to round a curve. Abby held tight to her coffee cup, though the hot liquid threatened to slosh over the edge. "Speaking one's mind is not the same thing as speaking out of turn. And I rarely get to hear your truest thoughts, Neville. I find it refreshing." She set the cup down, reached for a gingersnap from the china plate in front of her, and pondered his words as she took a little nibble of the delicious treat. Of course, Father would balk at the idea of a family servant sharing his thoughts so openly, but Abby didn't mind.
"Refreshing?" His expression softened, and she saw a twinkle in his eye as she glanced his direction. "Interesting description for an old butler, set in his ways."
"Not old at all, Neville. And I wholeheartedly agree. I'd prefer to be back in jolly old England, myself. But Mother has set our family on a westward path, and we must stay the course. No point in turning back now, not when we've made such progress."
"I suppose, but what an unexpected course it is." He paused and took another sip of his tea, as prim and proper as ever. "And I thought the move to Philadelphia was daring."
"Oh, it was, at least at the time. And Father seems perfectly happy there. If only Mother ..." She bit back the words that threatened to escape then turned her gaze out the window to the expansive prairie. "Anyway, we'll talk her into coming back home. This wanderlust of hers will be short-lived, I pray. A person can't travel forever. By now she's probably bored of spending time with Aunt Eliza and will be ready to be escorted back to Philadelphia."
"One can hope." Neville's words were spoken under his breath, but she understood them just the same. "These last couple of years have brought change upon change, and, as I said, I'm old and set in my ways."
"I know this is hard on you, Neville." Tears welled in Abby's eyes and threatened to spill over onto her lashes. She fought to swallow the growing lump in her throat. "But don't you see? I've got to fetch Mama and bring her back home to Philadelphia. If I don't ..." Her words trailed off.
"I know, miss." He cleared his throat, his gaze darting to the table.
The train chose that moment to jolt, and a shrill whistle filled the air. Neville's teacup tumbled out of his hand and clattered onto the table below, soiling the white cloth and spilling over onto his jacket. The cup remained intact, but the liquid sloshed all over the plate of cookies.
"Crying shame. Can't believe I did that." Using his napkin, Neville began the arduous task of mopping up his mess.
A waiter appeared moments later with a towel in hand. "Sir, if I may." The young fellow went to work dabbing the moisture from the white tablecloth. Abby couldn't help but notice the handsome stranger peeking at her out of the corner of his eye.
Neville rose and brushed his hands across the damp spot on his coat. "Will you be all right alone, Miss Abigail? I need to head back to my cabin to clean this before it stains. I will return shortly."
"I'm a big girl, you know." She fought the temptation to roll her eyes and, instead, gave him a strained smile. "Honestly. No need to come back at all. I will be fine."
"That is yet to be determined." He responded with a tense nod, then turned on his heel and headed out of the dining car.
The young waiter set his cluttered tray on an empty table nearby and gave her a pensive look as he leaned forward to clear Neville's cup and saucer. "That fella your father?" "Certainly not. Neville's our butler."
"Butler?" The handsome stranger's eyebrows arched. "Well now, ain't we sumpthin'." He held up his pinky finger as he lifted Neville's teacup and pretended to take a dainty sip. "Where you come from, anyhow? Never heard an accent like that b'fore." He set the cup and saucer on his tray, then turned back to face her.
"England, of course. I'm surprised you couldn't place it. Why, back home I could tell from a person's speech patterns exactly where they hailed from, right down to the county."
"Where'm I from, then?" He gazed her way, as if daring her to guess. "C'mon. Tell me. I'll even throw in a fresh plate of gingersnaps if you get it right."
She thought it through before answering, "Kentucky."
His eyes widened in surprise. "How did you know that?"
"As I said, I'm very good with dialects. Yours gave you away at once. "Ain't we sumpthin" puts me in mind of good country folks, so I determined right away that you must hail from someplace farther south. Only, your tone has a bit of a musical lilt, so I narrowed my guess to Kentucky." She paused as she thought through her next words. "There is a hint of a western dialect, as well. Strikes me as odd, for someone Kentucky bred."
He placed the plate of soggy cookies onto his tray, which he then lifted with ease. "San Francisco. Went with my Pa a few years back. One of the original 49ers."
"Forty-Niners. I've heard the phrase, of course, but don't know much about it."
"We wanted to strike it rich, panning for gold. Settled in the Sierra Mountains and surrounding foothills, but spent many a day and night carousing in San Francisco, our pockets filled with gold."
"Hmm. And yet here you are, working for the Pacific Railroad."
"Did well for myself. So did Pa." The young man's expression shifted, and she thought she saw a hint of sadness in his eyes. "At first, anyway. In the end, he gambled it all away."
"Mercy. Your money, as well as his?"
The waiter released an exaggerated sigh. "Yep. That's the long and short of it. Happens to the best of 'em out there." His handsome blue eyes lit up once again. "But if I had my druthers, I'd head back to San Francisco in a hurry. Plenty of excitement there. You ain't lived till you've seen folks from so many different places across the world, all gathered in one location. It's something to behold. I heard every language you might imagine: Chinese, Spanish, even German."
"Oh, it was. Best couple years of my life. So far, anyway." He seemed to lose himself to his daydreams. After a moment, he snapped to attention. "If you ever do make it there, go to the restaurant at the Gold Rush Inn. Opened in '51, just before Pa and I headed back east. Best cook in town. The cherry pie is the best in the West, and don't even get me started on her coffee. Tell 'em Jimmy Blodgett sent you."
"I don't imagine I'll ever see the inside of the Gold Rush Inn, but thank you for the recommendation, James."
"Jimmy. Only my Ma calls me James." He shook his head and continued his work. "So, where're you headed, if you don't mind my asking?"
"With the family butler?" His right eyebrow arched and he whispered, "Scandalous."
"Hardly." She felt her cheeks grow warm at his implication. "I'm headed there to fetch Mama and bring her home where she belongs." Shame washed over her as she spoke the family's secret aloud.
"I see." Jimmy paused and gave her a look that spoke his curiosity. He leaned in close, the tray still balanced in his hand, his voice still coming out as a whisper. "You sayin' your Ma ran away from home?"
Oh my. How would she ever answer this question? "Not exactly. It might be more accurate to say that she found her life in Philadelphia a bit boring and sought adventure elsewhere."
"Yes. My father has tried to calm her spirit, even moved the two of them from London to Nottingham when they married. But that didn't satisfy her, so a year and a half ago, he moved our family to Philadelphia to satisfy her wanderlust."
"That didn't work either, I take it?" He shuffled the tray to his other hand.
"Correct." Abby sighed. "She just doesn't seem to want to stay put."
Abby could only picture her father's face, were he witnessing this conversation. Why, he would stop her in her tracks, not just for revealing personal information, but for talking at length to a young man she did not know.
"Did you call it wanderlust?" Jimmy asked. "Don't think I know that word."
"Love of wandering. Yes. But Philadelphia wasn't far enough, apparently." The train's whistle sounded and the dining car rocked. Abby gripped the table. "Mother has ventured on to Oregon Territory, where she's visiting her sister. My aunt is married to a banker. From what she says, Oregon is the place to be."
"I'd still choose California any day." He released a whistle as he straightened his posture. "But what a story. Good enough for one of those dime novels the washerwoman reads. Your aunt from England too?"
"Yes, of course. The whole family hails from London. From what I can gather, the women have an insatiable desire to travel."
"That spill over on you too?" The waiter's brows arched as he posed the question.
Abby paused to think through her response. "It's the strangest thing. I don't mind visiting new places, but getting there dampens the experience. I suppose you could say I'm not one for sitting still." She fought the desire to rub her aching backside to emphasize the point. "Up and doing, that's my motto."
"Ah, I see. Well, this job has me beat half the time. I'd rather be being, not doing." He paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Better get back to work before the head waiter has my head on a platter." He nudged the tray a bit higher and chuckled. Then his gaze darted to the window and he very nearly lost his grip on the tray. The dishes clattered as they struck one another. "Oh, did you see that? Buffalo."
"Gracious." Abby turned her attention to the window. "No, I didn't. Not sure I care to."
"Don't get many buffalo up in Philadelphia, I guess."
"Hardly. And never in England."
"Saw 'em all the time in California. Guessin' you will too, in Oregon Territory. Better get used to it." The brazen fellow gave her a wink, then turned on his heel to wait on another passenger. Abby felt her cheeks grow hot. Were all the fellows west of the Mississippi so forward?
Neville returned to the dining car moments later wearing a clean jacket. He took a seat with an exaggerated sigh. "Miss Abigail, are you sure I can't convince you to eat a sandwich or biscuit? Coffee will not sustain you for the journey."
"It will give me the incentive to stay awake until we arrive." She reached for the cup. "Besides, we're not far from St. Louis now. Wouldn't you prefer to eat at a nice restaurant once we get there?"
"I'll be far too busy determining the logistics of the rest of our trip."
"Then eat if you must. I will satisfy myself with a good book." She reached into her purse and pulled out her book by an author named Emily Brontë.
"Wuthering Heights?" Neville observed as he glanced at the book's spine. "Whatever is that about?"
"It's a compelling work of fiction that challenges our very strict British ideals." Abby thumbed through the pages, finally landing on the spot where she'd left off. "The story addresses many modern societal issues, including inequality between the sexes."
Neville's eyes widened. "Doesn't sound like a story your father would approve of at all."
"I dare say, Father could learn a great deal from this book. I'm finding it rather fascinating, myself. Enlightening, really, though there are some rather shocking characters. And the story runs a bit on the dramatic side at times."
He gave her a knowing look. "Read it on the train, but leave it behind once we head home from Oregon. That's my suggestion, anyway. Best not to get your father in a dither."
"If leaving home and traveling halfway across the world isn't enough to get him in a dither, I rather think a book won't do the trick." Abby gave Neville a little wink then settled against the seat, ready to get back to her story.
* * *
The sound of gunfire split the air. Sam made a run for the kitchen. "Quick, Cookie!" His voice rang out above the noise from outside The Gold Rush Inn. "Take cover. Those fools are at it again."
The rotund older woman swatted the air with her dishcloth, as if unaffected by the commotion outside. "I'm not afraid of a few bullets whizzing by, Sammy-boy. You know that. Used to it by now. And you know those fellas, killing the hours with a gun in hand."
"Killing the hours or killing each other?" Jin, bottle washer at The Gold Rush Inn, spoke up. "Remember what happened last Thursday."
"Yes, poor Mr. Branson, may he rest in peace." Cookie placed her hand over her heart and appeared to lose herself in her ponderings. "'Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.' Proverbs chapter twenty, verse one." She shifted her attention back to Sam. "But I'm not afraid of the prospectors, fellas. I'm the best cook in town. They wouldn't dare let a bullet come near me. These men need me too much to kill me off."
"True." Sam relaxed his stance as he thought through her words.
"So, are we opening for lunch today or just standing in the kitchen gabbing?" Cookie reached for a spoon and gave the large pot a good stir. "'Cause I've got a mess of chicken and dumplings here that someone needs to eat. Don't think I could manage all of 'em on my own." She laughed and ran her hands over her rounded belly. "Though it might be fun to try."
"Just give me a few minutes before unbarring the door, Cookie. Let the dust settle from the brawl outside and we'll ring the lunch bell."
"If you want these dumplings hot, you'll open that door sooner rather than later. Can't keep this fire stoked all day. Too stifling in this kitchen."
Sam made his way back into the dining room and eased his way toward the front door. From behind him, his father's voice sounded.
"The boys are having a little fun again, I see."
Sam turned to face his father, surprised to find him dressed in dungarees and a button-up shirt, quite a change from his usual suit and tie.
"If that's what you want to call it." Sam fought the temptation to roll his eyes.
"Take it easy, son. You'll get acclimated ... with time." His father fussed with his belt, a rustic number he must've picked up at the general store.
"That's what I'm afraid of." Sam would just as soon not, thank you very much. In fact, he'd much rather load up their belongings and head back to Independence. Back home, folks didn't shoot at one another in the street. They didn't whoop and holler when they needed or wanted something. They asked politely. And they certainly didn't come barreling into his family's restaurant, sauced and ready for a fight.
"You headed somewhere, Father?" Sam asked, as his father reached for his hat.
"Mm-hmm. Have an appointment."
Excerpted from "My Heart Belongs in San Francisco, California"
Copyright © 2018 Janice Thompson.
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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