A Tangled Gilded Age Love Story Unfolds.
Although the Winds of Mackinac Inn has been in her mother’s family for generations, Maude Welling’s father refuses to let her run it without the guidance of a husband. So she seeks to prove her worth and independence by working incognito as a maid at the Grand Hotel.
Undercover journalist Ben Steffans, posing as a wealthy industrialist, pursues a story about impoverished men chasing heiresses at the famed hotel. While undercover, he becomes attracted to an intriguing maid. By an act of heroism Ben endears himself to the closed-mouthed islanders—including Maude—and he digs deep for his story.
But when scandal threatens, will the growing love between Maude and Ben be scuttled when truths are revealed?
More from My Heart Belongs in Series...
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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 in the Shenandoah Valley: Lily's Dilemma by Andrea Boeshaar (September 2017)
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My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island
By Carrie Fancett Pagels
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Carrie Fancett Pagels
All rights reserved.
Mackinac Island, Michigan Monday, June 3, 1895
Maude Welling's twelve-year-old brother, Jack, raced across the waxed wood floor of the soda shop, straight toward her, then skidded to a halt.
"Greyson's back!" His loud pronouncement caused several people seated at nearby tables, to cease their conversation and look up.
Perched atop an oak stool at the counter, Maude choked in surprise on her cherry phosphate and struggled to maintain her balance. Finally, he was home — and she would see him face-to-face. She pushed the frosted glass away and grabbed the napkin from her lap and wiped her mouth, dread and excitement comingling in her gut. She looked down to inspect her white cotton pin-tucked bodice.
Finding a tiny spot above her waist, she frantically dabbed at the crimson dots. "I need some seltzer water, quick."
Al spritzed some seltzer on a clean white cloth and passed it to her.
"Thanks." Luckily the red stain began to blot up. "There. That's better."
Hands shaking, Maude slid her uncle's reconciled account records across the marble counter to him. Soon Father would allow her to resume handling the Winds of Mackinac record keeping, once she was married to her childhood sweetheart. "Your books are all in order now, Uncle Al."
He winked at her. "You need to get to the dock."
Beside her, Jack shifted from foot to foot, his jaw muscles twitching. She realized that he hadn't said another word since coming into the shop.
Something was wrong. Maude's sweetheart had returned to Mackinac Island. Everyone should be smiling, happy for her. Even Maude's own hands perspired, as they did when she was afraid, not when she was excited.
Jack drew closer and tugged at her muttonleg sleeve. "Sis, he's got someone with him — real pretty redhead."
Maude stiffened from the top of her pinned-up hair, down to her tailbone. No word from Greyson in over a month. She glanced at her bare left hand. Snapping her mossy-colored short capelet up from the coatrack, she draped it across her arm.
"What would you know, Jack? He was probably just being polite to someone."
Jack scowled. "Yeah, right. Thought he was gonna marry you — not some old carrot top." Her brother ran out into the street, the bell ringing as the glass-paned door slammed shut.
Maude exited the soda shop, lifted her skirts, and crossed the busy street to the wharf, dodging carriages and piles of manure the horses had left and the street sweepers had yet to clean up. Her phosphate fizzed inside her gut. She pressed a hand over her mouth, feeling the cherry-red liquid churning. Removing her hand, she pressed her lips together and strode toward the docks. When a chill, stiff breeze greeted her, she wrapped her capelet over her shoulders and tried to button it as she walked, but the large buttons wouldn't cooperate. She pulled the garment close, overlapping the front and hugging herself tight.
Maude gasped for breath as she wove among the passengers at the dock. She spied Jack as he ducked behind one of the narrow whitewashed wood buildings that trailed onto the waterfront.
Arrivals chattered happily as they clustered around their luggage in the center wood platform on the boardwalk that surrounded the dock. Liveried men, all in various colors denoting their particular inn, toted the boxes off and hoisted them into the baggage drays bound for the hotels.
Maude moistened her lips as she spotted her old beau, so handsome in a suit she'd never seen before. Greyson stood beside a huge black-leather trunk, which was banded by contrasting brown straps. Adjacent to him stood a slim woman with red hair — just as Jack had said. Sucking in a breath, Maude waited for the tightness in her chest to ease. Relax. Breathe slowly. Inhale in, then exhale out.
As the porter pushed the luggage toward one of the island's cabs, Greyson turned and looked directly at Maude. Then flinched. He said something to his companion and pulled the young woman in Maude's direction. Maude froze; her feet glued to the boardwalk like the green-flocked wallpaper newly hung in their parlor.
Jack popped out from behind the dockmaster's building. He squinted at the red-haired woman as he often did insects he was about to secure inside a mason jar. The woman snapped her fan against Greyson's arm, and he ceased dragging her.
Now the young lady floated along the wide wooden planks of the walkway, her gauzy confection of a dress billowing in the light lilac-scented breeze. Lace, embroidery, and glistening tiny beads seemed to cover the entire fitted bodice. A House of Worth gown — one advertised in the latest edition of Harper's Bazaar. Maude glanced down at her simple blouse and skirt — a country bumpkin's clothing compared to this woman's elaborate attire. Maude had ceased wearing mourning and had been so happy to wear something with color again. But now, she wanted to run home and don her black frocks to hide.
Everything within her urged Maude to flee, even as the duo edged closer to her.
"Maude?" Greyson raised his tall hat, golden hair glistening beneath the midday sun.
When they were children, she and Greyson had enacted a play about the French Revolution. Why did she suddenly feel as though he was about to take her hand and haul her off to the executioner?
A tremor twitched the young woman's full lips as she linked her arm through Greyson's.
Standing several feet back from the couple, Jack pointed at the stranger then turned to address Maude. "See, I told ya so!" Heat seared Maude's cheeks as her brother raced away toward the park across the street. She turned and watched him go, wishing she could chase after him.
When she turned around, Greyson's companion narrowed her eyes and scanned Maude from her scuffed boots to her white blouse tucked into her wide-banded skirt, lingering on her waistline, which was, thankfully, very slim. "Greyson, aren't you going to make introductions?"
When he responded, wind from the lake rushed past Maude's ears, obscuring what he said, except for " ... Anna."
Once again, the young woman withdrew her arm from Greyson's grasp. As the young woman minced toward Maude, swirls of titian hair dipped beneath her wide-brimmed hat.
Extending a lace-gloved hand, a glittering bulge visible on her left ring finger, the woman offered a tight smile and a challenging stare. "I'm Anna Luce — Greyson's wife."
Heartbeats hammering in Maude's chest escalated, reminiscent of the months of incessant noise from the construction of the Grand Hotel eight years earlier — when Mother had wondered if their inn would survive with such competition.
"I ... I see. ..." But she didn't, as her vision faded slightly.
Surely even Mrs. Luce, Greyson's mother, didn't know, for she would have told Maude. What would the poor woman think when she discovered her son was now married to someone other than Maude?
Greyson extended a hand, but she recoiled.
Maude forced a breath and exhaled as slowly as she could, waiting to calm her nerves. Betrayal knifed her gut, and she clasped her hand to her stomach.
She strode from the dock, her heel catching on an uneven board. She yanked her heel free. Two angry tears spilled, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
"Maude!" Greyson's voice trailed her.
"Let her go, darling," his wife urged.
And against the backdrop of island breezes, birdsong, and carriage wheels, Maude heard Greyson walking out of her life, with Anna.
* * *
Ben Steffan pulled at his starched linen collar, anxious to leave the White Star Line steamship behind. Painful memories of a different voyage rushed over him. Yet this time, he stood aboveboard, not in steerage. Ahead, Mackinac Island, an emerald jewel, lay nestled within Lake Michigan's azure velvet. Even from miles out he spotted the clifftop outline of the Grand Hotel, his destination. Pristine beauty. No wonder the wealthy flocked here each summer. Perhaps even Roosevelt, who had urged Mackinac's National Park status, might be spotted. But Ben wasn't here for a political or social column, despite being the society columnist for the Detroit Post.
Soon they moored. Two other gentlemen, who'd appeared as nervous as Ben was trying to not be, moved alongside two young ladies and offered assistance disembarking the ship. Was their aim on the island to find a wealthy wife? Ben would have to draw upon all his observational skills to spot the targets for his article. Despite his qualms about this charade, if he hit pay dirt with this story, Banyon may finally make him assistant editor. And he could finally afford to support a wife, should he ever have time to court someone.
The scent of engine smoke dissipated as Ben merged into the crowd heading off the dock. A winsome brunette bumped into him, wafting the scent of musky flowers. As Ben met the woman's gaze of open appreciation, his cheeks warmed. Apparently well-dressed "Friedrich König" was worthy of appreciation. His boss had outfitted him at a gentleman's store in Detroit, and Ben's transformation was quite complete.
No. How well he knew that one's character — one's heart and soul — wasn't altered simply by donning fine attire. If only the young women who read his exposé might realize the same.
Around him, the crowd separated into jagged queues that edged toward a line of carriages stretched seven deep. Gold embroidered letters "GH" glistened in the sunlight on one surrey's red topper.
He strode forward, not wanting to miss his conveyance. Almost there, a bronze-haired beauty with wet rosy cheeks, whirled toward him and ran smack into his chest. When he grabbed her shoulders to steady her, he looked over her shoulder and caught the glimpse of familiar faces behind her. Greyson Luce and Anna. What were they doing here? The couple moved away toward a small one-horse carriage.
Shoulders stiffening, Ben took one step back from the woman in his arms.
"I'm very sorry, miss. Ich habe dich nicht gesehen." Obviously, something had distressed her, and from the looks Anna and Greyson cast her way, they had something to do with it.
The young lady before him stood erect as a queen, her tiny cape fluttering in the breeze, hands now fisted. Corkscrew curls trailed her long neck, which was streaked with angry red. Despite her angst, here was a woman of fortitude. Or had she thought he'd insulted her in German? He lapsed into his native tongue when stressed.
"Of course you couldn't see me. I plowed right into you."
"You speak German?"
"A little." She sniffed, and Ben offered her his handkerchief. She accepted the linen square. She kept her head lowered, shame etched on what little he could see of her features.
Dressed in plain but well-made clothes, she appeared to be an islander. Something about her called to his heart. He didn't trust in emotions — he was a journalist, and facts were what mattered. But right now, he longed to understand how she felt. Must be the island air and the boat trip unsettling him.
"Miss, is there anything I can do to help you?"
A deep blast from the ship's horn startled him. His shoulders jerked against the constraints of the tailored jacket, but she appeared unaffected by the intrusion.
For a split second she raised her pretty amber eyes, tears spilling down her flushed cheeks. Just as quickly she lowered and shook her head.
Focus, Ben. Pay attention to your job. He needed to get to his carriage.
"Excuse me, miss, but I must get to my lodgings." Ben drew his straw boater low over his eyes.
"Yes, please don't let me keep you." With that, she lifted her skirts and moved swiftly away from him.
He'd not even introduced himself. He was Friedrich König now, wealthy industrialist, and headed for the Grand Hotel. He recollected his conversation with his editor, and could almost smell the man's pipe smoke and the scent of paper fresh from the press. His editor, Banyon, hadn't mentioned Anna and Greyson would be on Mackinac, yet he knew of Ben's "friendship" with Anna.
A slow sizzle, like tinder catching in the fireplace, began to burn. Was Banyon setting him up? He rubbed his chin then headed toward the line of carriages, now thinning, as one after another of the drivers directed the horses to pull their conveyances away from the curb.
Ben moved on to the loading area.
A strongly built black man dressed in full livery, his wide gait steady, approached. "Grand Hotel, sir?" "Ja."
"Name, sir? I'll get your baggage." He pulled out a pad of paper and a short pencil.
"Friedrich König." If he kept saying it, maybe he'd even believe it himself.
* * *
The stranger's compassion unnerved Maude, as had that glimpse of admiration she'd caught in his eyes — even though her face had to have been red with humiliation. It was as though God had allowed her that tiny moment of kindness to assuage the pain Greyson's betrayal had delivered.
Even early lilacs couldn't entice her attention as she strode on the curving wood walkway toward the Winds of Mackinac. Woodsmoke from chimneys nearby tickled her nose. She didn't bother to wipe her cheeks, for more tears would follow. Angry, rage-filled tears. When Father found out about Greyson's marriage, he'd sell the inn, and then ...
Seagulls swooped overhead and squawked. She longed to screech along with them — to throw back her head and rail at the injustice of having Greyson marry another. Oh God, why me?
You refused him.
She sniffed. She'd not really refused him — she'd asked for clarification. And then his letters dropped off. He'd never sent word that he was courting another woman, much less about to marry her. Two-timing scoundrel.
Maude continued walking alongside Lake Michigan. Sunlight dappled the azure water as sailboats' canvases unfurled. She belonged here with a sense of connectedness that was in her blood. She and Greyson were Mackinac Islanders: year-round residents, not some tourist or seasonal visitor. Not a stranger — like Anna.
Not a stranger like the man who'd held her at the wharf. The best marriages were those formed by long-term relationships and mutual respect and friendship, Father had insisted.
How had Greyson managed to woo and win a wife in such a short time?
Greyson's accusation from their last private encounter, at Christmas, echoed in her mind. "You never loved me. Not as a woman loves a man she wants for a husband." He'd certainly pressed that point enough for her to know it was true — she'd always pulled back from his rather frantic kisses and embraces.
Sadie Duvall's warnings — were they true? "He's after one thing, Maudie — and it isn't what you think." And what did that mean?
After she arrived home, Maude went to their private parlor, seated herself at the Baldwin piano, and poured herself into a favorite Tchaikovsky piece, her fingers pounding the instrument as though she could overpower the discordant melody in her heart. But to no avail. She ceased the melancholy piece. Tentatively, she began to play the strains of her own composition, this song full of crescendos more hopeful — of finding one's own true love. She pulled her tingling fingers from the piano, as though the inanimate object discerned her ambivalence. Why did her thoughts continue to drift off to the stranger rather than to her childhood sweetheart?
She rose and arranged her skirts before moving toward the fireplace. Soft footfalls announced their new maid — her friend Sadie's sister. Although it sometimes seemed awkward to have her friend's sister in their employ, Maude was happy the girl received steady pay and was safe, fed, and warm every night.
Bea Duvall set down a box of cleaning supplies and rags near the hearth. "She fired her, Miss Maude."
"What?" She'd not yet grown accustomed to Bea's cryptic messages. "Who fired whom?"
"Sadie's been fired. She's looking for a job."
Maude reached an unsteady hand out to the back of the nearby divan. "Mrs. Luce can't ..."
"You go tell her that, then." Bea huffed and commenced polishing the revolving mahogany bookcase near the wall. "Greyson's wife, the new Mrs. Luce, fired her. Too bad you weren't her."
* * *
The Grand Hotel's porch stretched several football fields long. Ben forced himself to not gawk. He affected a blasé air as he approached the building. Gleaming alabaster white, it nestled high on the hill overlooking woods and verdant fields. Pavilions punctuated the lush grounds here and there like Bavarian Easter eggs nestled in rye baskets. A folly built at one end of the lower park was meant to entice sweethearts, no doubt. Would he find himself entangled there with someone who believed he was the wealthy Friedrich König?
Excerpted from My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island by Carrie Fancett Pagels. Copyright © 2017 Carrie Fancett Pagels. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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