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As a San Francisco firefighter, Michael Mahoney has never seen anything burn more brightly than the determination in socialite Tess Clark's eyes. Her fiery green gaze and the persuasive curve of her smile convince him to support her involvement in the women's suffrage movement. His unspoken, forbidden love for the privileged young woman drives him to be her only protector as the earth begins to quake and the city catches fire. Now, in the midst of panic, corruption and disaster, Michael's survival is uncertain, yet his faith in God and love for Tess are stronger than ever. Will he have the chance to show Tess that love can't be contained by social binds?
About the Author
Valerie Hansen resides in the rural Ozarks where she writes the books of her heart for Love Inspired Romance and Suspense. She'll soon add LI Historicals, too! She is married to her childhood sweetheart and has worked as a teacher's-aide, EMT, fire dept. dispatcher, dog breeder, commercial artist, dulcimer builder, Veterinarian's asst., 4-H leader, Sunday School teacher, antique restorer and certified Storm Spotter, etc. See ValerieHansen.com for more!
Read an Excerpt
1906, San Francisco
"We can't ask Michael to do it. What would your father say if he found out?"
Tess Clark squared her shoulders, lifted her chin and smiled at the personal maid who had also become her friend and confidante. "Of course we can, Annie dear. Father would much rather we be escorted to the meeting by a gentleman than venture out unaccompanied, especially after dark. Besides, your mother's planning to attend, isn't she?"
"She said she might. But she lives down by the pavilion. She's used to being out and about in that neighborhood after dark." The slim young woman shivered. "It's no place for a society girl like you."
"Humph." Tess shook her head, making her dainty pearl earbobs swing. "Just because my family lives on Nob Hill doesn't mean I'm that different from other people. I want to support the cause of women's rights as much as you do." She pressed her lips into a thin line. "Maybe more so."
Adamant, Tess stood firm. "No arguments. We're going to the meeting. I intend to hear Maud Younger speak before she goes back to New York, and we may never have a better opportunity."
"You're not afraid of what your father will do when he finds out?"
"I didn't say that," Tess admitted wryly. "Father can be very forceful at times. He'd certainly be irate if we made the journey alone. That's why we need a strapping escort like Michael Mahoney."
Annie covered her mouth with her hand and snickered. "And handsome, too."
Tess couldn't argue. She'd have had to be wearing blinders to have missed noticing how the family cook's son had matured, especially since he'd reached his mid-twenties. Truth to tell, Tess had done more than notice. She had dreamed of what her life might be like if she were a mere domestic like Annie rather than the daughter of wealthy banker Gerald Bell Clark. She might sometimes choose to view herself as a middle-class resident of the City by the Bay but that didn't mean she would be accepted as such by anyone who knew who she really was.
"I just had a thought," Tess said, eyeing her boon companion and beginning to smile. "I think it would be wise if we both attend the lecture incognito. I still have a few of my mother's old hats and wraps. It'll be like playing dress-up when we were children."
Annie rolled her blue eyes, eyes that matched Tess's as if they were trueborn sisters. "To listen to your papa talk, you'd think we were still babes instead of eighteen. Why, we're nearly old maids."
That made Tess laugh. "Hardly, dear. But I do see your point. Papa probably sees us as children because he's so prone to dwell on the past. He never talks about it but I don't think he's ever truly recovered from Mama's passing."
"I miss her, too," Annie said. "She was a lovely lady."
"And one who would want to march right along with us, arm in arm, if she were still alive," Tess said with conviction.
"March? Oh, dear. We aren't going to have to do that, are we? I mean, what will people say if we're seen as part of an unruly mob? Susan B. Anthony was arrested!"
"And she stood up for her rights just the same," Tess said with a lift of her chin. "According to the literature I've read, she never has paid the fines the courts levied."
"That's all well and good for a crusader like her. What about me? If your father finds out I went with you, he might fire me. You know my mother can't do enough sewing and mending to support me and herself. She barely gets by with what I manage to add to her income. If I lost this job."
"You won't," Tess assured her.
"You can't be sure of that."
"I know that my father is a fair man. And he does love mein his own wayso he'll listen if I find it necessary to defend you. I think sometimes that he's afraid to show much affection, perhaps because of Mama."
"You do resemble her. Same dark red hair, same sky-blue eyes, fair skin and sweet smile."
Tess began to blush. "Thank you. I always thought she was beautiful."
"So are you," Annie insisted. "The only real difference I can see is that you're so terribly stubborn and willful."
"That I get from my father," Tess said with a quiet chuckle, "and glad of it. Otherwise, how could I possibly hope to stand up to him, express my wishes and actually prevail?"
"When have you done that?"
"Well." Tess's cheeks warmed even more. "I shall. Someday. When I have a cause, a reason that I feel warrants such boldness."
"Like woman suffrage, you mean?"
Tess sobered. "Yes. That's exactly what I mean. Now, go find Michael and tell him what we need. Look in the kitchen. It's Friday so he should be visiting his mother."
"You keep track of his schedule?"
"Of course not. I just happened to remember that he has every other Friday afternoon free, that's all, and I don't believe I noticed him being here last week." She looked away, taking a moment to compose herself and hoping Annie wouldn't press her for a better explanation. "Come with me?"
Tess arched a slim eyebrow. "You're not afraid of him, are you?"
"No, I just get this funny, fluttery feeling in my stomach when I see him and I can hardly speak, let alone be convincing. It's as if my tongue is tied."
Unfortunately, Tess knew exactly what Annie meant. Between the mischievous twinkle in the man's dark eyes and his hint of an Irish brogue, he was truly captivating. "All right. We'll both go. He might be more likely to agree to accompany us if I asked him."
"Of course. He won't want to jeopardize his mother's job by refusing."
It bothered Tess to hear that rationale. She had hoped to persuade the attractive, twenty-four-year-old fireman to do her bidding by simply appealing to his gallantry. The suggestion that her family's importance, both at home on the Clark estate and in the city proper, might be a stronger influence was disheartening.
It was also true.
Michael Mahoney had come straight from work, shedding his brass-buttoned, dark wool uniform jacket and leather-beaked cap as soon as he entered the overly warm kitchen of the Clark estate.
He gave his mother a peck on the cheek, took a deep breath and sighed loudly for her benefit. "Mmm, something smells heavenly."
Clearly pleased, Mary grinned and chuckled. "Of course it does."
"Will you be wanting more apples peeled?" he asked, starting to turn back his shirt cuffs while eyeing a sugar-and-cinnamon-topped bowl of already prepared fruit. "I'll be glad to help, especially if I get to taste one of those pies you're making." He pulled a stool up to the table and sat down.
Hands dusted with flour, Mary was rolling circles of crust at the opposite end of the work-worn oak surface. "That's no job for an important man like you, Michael." She used the back of her wrist to brush a wispy curl away from her damp forehead. "You have a career now. You don't need to be helpin' me."
"Clark should have hired you a kitchen maid long ago," Michael said flatly. "With all his money you'd think he'd be glad to lighten your burdens."
"I've had a few girls here. None lasted. They were too lazy. 'Twas easier for me to just jump in and do their chores than to wait."
"Still, I think I should have a talk with him."
"Don't you dare. I'd be mortified."
"Because Mr. Clark is a good man and a fine boss. I wouldn't want him thinkin' I wasn't grateful. He gave me a raise in salary you know."
"Over a year ago or longer. If Mrs. Clark was still in the household you'd have gotten more than just the one."
"I know. She was such a darling girl, poor thing.
The mister's not been the same since she passed." Mary sighed deeply, noisily. "I know how he feels. Sometimes it seems like your da will walk in the door one day and greet me the way he did for so many wonderful years."
Michael chose not to respond. His father had been lost at sea while working as a seaman almost ten years ago, and before that had only come home on rare occasions. If they hadn't had a fading photograph of the man, Michael wondered if he'd have been able to picture him at all.
"It's been a long time," he said. "You're still a comely woman. Why not set your cap for a man who can take care of you?"
"Now, why would I be wantin' to do that when my lovin' son is goin' to look after me in me old age?"
Chuckling, Michael nodded. "All right. You've made your point. And I will, you know. I just have to work my way up in the department until I'm making enough money to feed us both and qualify for family housing." He laughed more. "I don't suppose you'd be wantin' to live in the station house with all those rowdy boys and me."
"Might remind me of my brothers back in Eire, but, no, I have a nice room here. I'll wait till you're better set before I make my home with you."
He reached to steal a slice of cinnamon-flecked apple from the bowl and was rewarded by her "Tsk-tsk" and a playful swat in his direction.
"I always knew you were a wise woman," he said, popping the tangy bit into his mouth.
"And don't you be forgettin' it," Mary warned. From the doorway came a softly spoken, "Forget what?"
Michael's head snapped around and he jumped to his feet. He knew that voice well, yet hearing it never ceased to give him a jolt. Whether it was a sense of joy or of tension, he had not been able to decide.
Licking his lips and dusting sugar granules off his hands, he nodded politely. "Miss Tess. Miss Annie. Good afternoon."
Annie giggled and followed Tess into the warm kitchen.
"Umm. That bread baking smells wonderful. I can hardly wait to butter a slab," Tess said.
Mary gave a slight curtsy and wiped her floury hands on her apron as she eyed the imposing gas stove. "Thank you, miss. It should be ready soon."
"Then perhaps we'll wait." Tess looked to Michael and gave him a slight smile. "How have you been?"
"Fine, thank you. I just dropped in to pay a call on my mother."
"As you should. Your employment is progressing satisfactorily, I presume?"
"Yes. I'm next in line to be promoted to captain of my fire company."
"How impressive. I wish you well."
He'd been studying Tess as she spoke and sensed that there was more on her mind than mere polite formalities. She and Annie had both been acting unduly uneasy, paying him close attention and fidgeting more than was normal for either of them.
"Thank you," Michael said with a lopsided, knowing smile. "Why am I getting the impression that you ladies have something else to say?"
"Perhaps because we do," Tess said. He saw her tighten the clasp of her hands at her waist and noticed that she was worrying a lace-edged handkerchief in her slim fingers.
"And what would that be?"
"Iweare in sore need of an escort this evening and we were wondering if you would be so kind."
"An escort?" Michael's brow knit. "Don't you have a beau who can provide that service?"
Tess's cheeks flamed but she held her ground. "At the moment, sadly, no. However, Annie and I would be honored if you could find the time to accompany us. We can use one of father's carriages if you like."
His dark eyebrows arched. "Oh? And where would we be going?"
"Mechanics' Pavilion. There's going to be"
"Whoa. I know what's going on there tonight. I won't be a party to your participation in such a folly."
"I beg your pardon?"
Well, now I've ruffled her feathers, Michael concluded, seeing her eyes widen and hearing the rancor in her tone. Nevertheless, he knew he was right. "The pardon you should be beggin' is your father's," he said flatly. "Mr. Clark has a reputation to maintain, for himself and for his bank. You can't be keepin' company with the likes of those crazy women."
"I can and I will," Tess insisted. "If you won't escort us, then we'll go alone."
His jaw gaped for a moment before he snapped it shut. "I almost believe you."
"You'd best do so, sir, because I mean every word."
Looking to his mother, Michael saw her struggling to subdue a smirk. That was a fine kettle of fish. His own ma was evidently siding with the younger women. What was this world coming to? Didn't they know their place? Hadn't men been taking good care of women like them for untold generations?
Sure there was the problem of widows and orphans, but there were benevolent societies to provide for those needs. The last thing San Franciscoor the entire nationneeded was to give women a say in politics. No telling where a mistake like that would eventually lead.
"I can't understand why you feel so strongly about this, Miss Tess. I've known you ever since my mother came to work here and I've never noticed such unreasonableness."
"It isn't unreasonable to want to hear the facts explained by one of the movement's leaders," Tess said.
Seeing the jut of her chin and the rigidity of her spine, he was convinced that she was serious so he tried another approach. "It could be dangerous. There have been riots as a result of such rabble-rousing."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Valerie Hansen has long been one of my favorite authors and this story doesn't disappoint! Set in the days leading up to and including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Mike and Tess are a couple worth cheering--Tess with her strong views of women's rights in the early days of suffage and Mike, working his way up through the ranks of the fire department to make a better life for his Irish mother and the woman he realizes he loves. Tenderly touching, I read it in one seemlessly short setting.