Despite years on the run, Sophie Neumann is determined to care for two young children. She won't abandon them the way she thinks her older sisters abandoned her. But times are growing desperate, and when she falls in with the wrong crowd and witnesses a crime, she realizes fleeing 1850s New York is her only option.Disappearing with her two young charges into a group of orphans heading west by train, Sophie hopes to find safety and a happy life. When the train stops in Illinois for the first placement of orphans, Sophie faces the most difficult choice of her life.Reinhold Weiss has finally purchased his own small farm. With mounting debts, a harvest to bring in, and past scars that haunt him, he's in no position to give his heart away . . . but can he say no when his long-lost friend shows up on a nearby train pleading for his help?
About the Author
Jody Hedlund is the author of over a dozen novels, including Love Unexpected, Captured by Love, Unending Devotion, The Preacher's Bride, and A Noble Groom, and winner of the 2014 Carol Award for historical romance. She received a bachelor's degree from Taylor University and a master's from the University of Wisconsin, both in social work. She lives in Michigan with her husband and five children. She loves hearing from readers on Facebook and on her blog at www.jodyhedlund.com.
Read an Excerpt
New York City September 1859
Sophie Neumann nuzzled her nose against Danny's chest.
His arms tightened around her possessively. "You're my girl now. A Bowery Girl."
Bowery Girl. The coveted name should have sent shivers of delight through Sophie. Instead, the mention of it made her tremble with trepidation.
Danny lowered his head and pressed his mouth against her neck. His lips were slick and hot, especially in the September heat and humidity that lingered in the city air even though it was well past midnight. The dampness brought out the heavy scent of beer on his breath, as well as the acridness of bear grease in the pomade he used to slick back his hair.
She arched her neck to avoid the odor, telling herself she was only giving him more access. At the same time, she squeezed her eyes closed and tried to conjure pleasure at his touch. She'd enjoyed Danny's kisses and his caresses on previous nights.
Tonight would be no different. She just needed to be patient and the affection would follow.
After all, he was Danny Sullivan, the head of the Dry Bones and one of the leaders of the Bowery Boys. He wore the usual gang attire — a long black frock, red shirt, dark trousers, polished boots, and a stovepipe hat. And he styled his hair similar to the other Bowery Boys, cut short in the back with ringlets of hair pasted down over his ears.
Although his clothing and hair blended in with the other gang members, he was easily the handsomest and strongest one in the Bowery neighborhood. She still marveled that of all the women who vied for Danny's attention, he'd decided he wanted her. He'd fought against two other Bowery Boys in bare-knuckle fistfights in order to claim her.
Of course, she hadn't really been interested in the other men. In fact, she hadn't been interested in getting involved with anyone — she never had. For the past two years, she'd always been on the move, running away from one asylum to the next, never having the time to invest in relationships other than taking care of Olivia and Nicholas.
But all that had changed a month ago when one of the mistresses at the Juvenile Asylum had informed Anna that she was too old to stay there any longer. Anna had been Sophie's only friend at the asylum. As Anna had packed her ragged bag of belongings, she'd pleaded with Sophie to leave too, assuring her that her sister Mollie would let them stay with her. After having a baby, Mollie had moved from the brothel where she'd been living and now had an apartment.
"We're old enough to get jobs," Anna had said. "We can be domestics in one of those fancy rich houses on Fifth Avenue."
"But we don't have any experience," Sophie argued.
"Then we can work in a factory or a sewing shop."
Sophie remembered all too vividly the sewing sweatshop her mother and sisters had worked in, one of many located in the crowded tenements on the East Side. Although Sophie hadn't been old enough to work alongside her family, she still recalled her mother and sisters coming home after twelve-hour workdays hot and exhausted, their fingers blue from the dye that colored the precut material they'd sewn to form men's vests.
In all those months, Sophie had never learned how to sew, not even a button. Besides, even if she and Anna found work as seamstresses, the pay was abysmally low. How would they be able to afford to live on it even if they stayed with Anna's sister? More specifically, how would she be able to clothe, feed, and take care of Olivia and Nicholas?
In spite of her reservations, Sophie had agreed to take up residence with Anna's sister in a tiny tenement on Mulberry Bend. The two rooms they shared with Mollie, three other women, and their children weren't nearly big enough for all of them. Still, the place was safe.
Now that she was Danny Sullivan's Bowery Girl, he would take care of her and wouldn't let any harm come to her.
"You're so beautiful," he whispered huskily.
With her long blond hair and bright blue eyes, she'd always drawn attention from boys. But in the past she'd been petite and thin, able to pass for a much younger child. Over the previous six months, she'd grown and filled out so that she'd had a much harder time deceiving the orphanage workers into believing she was ten or twelve years old.
At the Juvenile Asylum, she'd told the staff she was fifteen, even though she was drawing nigh to eighteen. They'd believed her, yet she knew her days of being able to stay with Olivia and Nicholas in the asylums was fast coming to an end, that soon enough the workers would get wise to her lies about her age and they'd force her out just as they had Anna. That knowledge was another reason she'd decided to live with Anna and her sister.
Danny's lips traced a path to her collarbone, and his hand on her back crept lower — too low.
"Danny, stop." She pushed at his chest, trying to keep her voice light and playful.
"You're mine now," he said breathlessly. "And I want you."
I want you. The words reverberated in her head and made a warm trail to her heart. When was the last time someone had wanted her?
Sure, Olivia and Nicholas wanted and needed her. But at five and three years old, that was to be expected.
But want — really want her? She couldn't remember a time in her life when anyone had valued her. She'd mostly just been a burden — to her overworked father after they'd emigrated from Germany, to her ailing mother before she'd died, and to her older sisters when they'd had no work and no place to live. Even during the past two years living in Boston and more recently in New York City, she'd always felt like a burden in the overcrowded and understaffed orphanages.
Having someone finally want her was a new experience.
She relaxed within Danny's hold. Surely there was nothing wrong with letting him touch her more intimately tonight?
After all, he'd made a public declaration that she was his girl and forbidden to anyone else.
She shoved aside the guilt that slithered through the cracks of her closed conscience. She'd become an expert at locking guilt away into a closet at the back of her mind. Even so, Danny's too-personal touch embarrassed her. With the harsh yellow light spilling out of the Green Dragon, the other gang members who'd gathered in the narrow alleyway behind the dance hall would be able to see Danny's fondling.
Just a short distance away, Anna was locked into the embrace of Mugs, and they were kissing passionately. There were other couples hiding in the shadows taking pleasure in one another. It was normal and natural here among this crowd, even expected.
Better out in the dark than inside the saloon with its cigar-smoke-blackened walls, sticky floors, and broken chairs, with the scent of salted pigs' knuckles making her gag. Even worse were the girls dancing on the stage, twirling and flipping up their skirts to reveal their silk petticoats, and more. She hadn't wanted any of the other men to assume she was a dancing girl. Even though she'd sat on Danny's lap while he drank and played cards, she'd gotten too many bawdy comments and looks.
Danny's breathing and kisses turned heavy.
Sophie's mind flashed with the image of Mollie and her infant and the other two women who lived in the tenement with their children. None of them were married. None of them had set out to be single mothers. And none of them had dreamed they'd become prostitutes. But that was what they were.
"Danny, no." Sophie wiggled against him.
He didn't relinquish his grip, but instead tightened his hold.
She squirmed harder. "I told you I want to wait until I'm married."
"You're just teasing me," he growled in her ear.
Irritation rose up to replace the tender feelings of belonging she'd had only moments ago. "I've always believed I'd save myself for marriage."
Even if her memories of her mother and father had begun to fade, their teachings were still deeply ingrained. And even if her faith had fled and gotten lost long ago, there was still a part of her that resisted giving up the search for it altogether.
As if finally sensing the seriousness of her resistance, Danny stopped groping and swore under his breath. He pulled back slightly, slackening his hold, but he didn't let go of her entirely.
For a second she waited for him to say more, to get angry or perhaps to belittle her for her stand. He was, after all, a Bowery Boy — tough and dangerous and determined. As a leader, he had a reputation to uphold, and he was accustomed to getting what he wanted. She hadn't known him long, and yet she'd already witnessed his violence when provoked.
Instead of lashing out, however, he pressed his forehead against hers and was silent.
The off-tune plunking of a piano came from inside the dance hall. The music blended with the distant wail of a baby from a nearby open tenement window, along with the shouts of an escalating argument. Such noises were so commonplace that she almost didn't hear them anymore. And she almost didn't notice the stench of the overflowing garbage bins at the end of the alley. After being homeless too many times to count, it was easy to become immune to the realities of street life.
Danny dropped a kiss onto the tip of her nose. "Fine, angel. We'll wait."
"You're not too disappointed in me?" she asked.
"I knew you were as innocent as a babe from the first second I laid eyes on you." He drew her closer again. "Beautiful and innocent."
"I'm not that innocent." She wasn't sure why his statement irked her, except that as the youngest of her sisters, she'd always been viewed as the baby of the family. Everyone had tried to shelter her from the problems, had thought she was too young to understand what was going on, had ceased their worried whispers whenever she came into the room.
But she wasn't a baby anymore. Not in the least. She'd had to grow up or give up. She'd had to do things to survive that would disappoint her sisters, things she didn't like to think about, things that threatened to loosen her carefully concealed guilt.
Danny brushed a kiss against her cheek. "You're an angel. My beautiful angel. And if you want, we can do things proper-like. We'll get married."
Married? She pulled back enough that she could see his face. Was he serious?
A sliver of light from the saloon crossed his face, illuminating his lopsided grin. "What? Don't you believe me?"
"Maybe. Maybe not." They'd only known each other for a couple of weeks, since the night Anna had dragged her out of the tenement to celebrate their freedom. At first, Sophie hadn't wanted to leave Olivia and Nicholas alone. But Anna had assured her the children would be safe, that they'd sleep and wouldn't even notice their absence. After all, Mollie and the other women left their children alone all night while they worked the corners and brothels all along the Bowery.
Was two weeks long enough to know if she wanted to marry Danny?
"My ma keeps telling me I need to find a nice girl and get married," he continued. "She said I ain't getting any younger."
Marriage to him would certainly take care of her housing problems. Thankfully, Mollie was kind enough and hadn't kicked her or Anna out for their inability to pay for their lodging. However, Sophie knew the kindness wouldn't last forever. Mollie needed to survive just like the rest of them. Sooner or later the young prostitute would need to find someone who could contribute to the tenement rent, and when she did, Sophie would find herself homeless once again.
Unless she married Danny. Then she'd finally have a home of her own.
How long had it been since she'd lived in a place she could truly call home? She supposed the tiny apartment above Father's bakery after they'd moved to Kleindeutschland from Germany had been a sort of home, although they hadn't lived there long before Father's heart attack and death.
"So, what do you say?" Danny asked. "Let's get married."
Sophie hesitated. What about Olivia and Nicholas? Would he be willing to take them in too? She doubted most men would. "It's a really nice offer," she started.
"Nice?" His voice rose with incredulity. The muscles in his jaw flexed, and his shoulders stiffened. He started to take a step away from her, clearly offended by what he assumed was her rejection, but she grabbed on to his arm.
"I have to take care of my little brother and sister," she said quickly, trying to soothe his wounded pride. "I can't abandon them."
"I heard those kids ain't even yours."
She shoved Danny's chest, willingly pushing him away, her temper flaring as it usually did whenever anyone insinuated that Olivia and Nicholas weren't hers. "They're mine. And if you want me, then you get them too." She jutted her chin and gave him her fiercest glower.
He glared back. Then his lips began to curl into a grin. "You're one sassy girl."
She shrugged. She supposed she was.
Before she knew what he was doing, he grabbed her arm and jerked her against him almost painfully. He locked one arm around her and at the same moment brought his mouth down upon hers. The kiss — if it could even be called that — was bruising, almost punitive. And when he released her mouth, his grip on her arm remained taut. "I like some sass in a woman," he whispered against her ear. "But don't ever forget who's in charge."
She didn't respond, didn't like his attitude, didn't like how he was hurting her. But she was smart enough to know when to keep her mouth shut.
He loosened his hold and then brushed a hand gently across her cheek. "Don't you worry now, angel. Two little kids don't matter to me so long as they stay out of my way."
His fingers on her cheek were clammy. She wanted to bat his hand away but sensed she'd pushed him far enough for one night. When he lowered his mouth to hers again, this time his kiss was gentle. She tried to make herself feel something for him, tried to ignore the warning clanging in her head, tried to tell herself she liked him and wanted to marry him. But the only emotion that seeped into her chest was hopelessness. It was a familiar visitor, yet unlike guilt, she couldn't lock it away. Whenever it came, it took up residence and was difficult to dislodge.
"What do you say we get married next week?" Danny whispered.
So soon? The words almost escaped, but she bit them back. The truth was, she needed him. Maybe he wasn't the perfect man. Maybe he wasn't the kind of man she'd dreamed of marrying, but he was good enough. After all, he cared about her, wanted her, and thought she was beautiful. He had a steady job as a butcher. He'd give her a home and had offered to shelter Olivia and Nicholas. What more did she need?
"All right," she said. "Let's do it. Let's get married next week."
He grinned and picked her up in a hug so that her feet no longer touched the ground. He'd started to swing her around when the ringing of a distant bell stopped him short.
It was a fire alarm, the call to all volunteer firefighters to hurry to action.
Danny's expression hardened. He set her down and jogged away, all thoughts of marriage clearly forgotten.
"Mugs and me'll guard the plug," he shouted to the Bowery Boys, who came out of the alley's shadows. "The rest of you get the fire engine and round up the gang."
The others rushed off to obey Danny's orders while Mugs helped him dump over a garbage barrel and empty the contents onto the street. Carrying the barrel between them, they raced out of the alley.
Sophie had observed Danny's brigade, the Dry Bones, put out a fire last weekend. The flames had engulfed an alley shack containing the overflow of people too poor to afford a tenement home. The shack had been a flimsy structure patched together with loose boards and hunks of metal, and it hadn't been worth saving. But the volunteer firefighters had attempted to stop the spread to the tenements and businesses nearby.
"Let's go watch," Anna said excitedly, her dark hair and eyes gypsy-like compared to Sophie's fair coloring. She grabbed Sophie's hand and dragged her along after Danny and Mugs.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Searching For You"
Copyright © 2018 Jody Hedlund.
Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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