Mariah is on a mission.
Unlike thousands of homesteaders who arrived in the Dakota Territory full of hope for a new life, Mariah Rose has come in search of her nephew. . .and hoping to head back East as soon as she finds him. Now out of her element in the vast expanse of frontier, and with only a scrap of paper to guide her, she’s not sure where to look next.
Ben Harris longs to know the story behind lovely Mariah Rose’s arrival in the Dakota Territory. But he’s not one to pry. She’ll explain in her own time. . . . Until then he has his own worries to wrestle.
But as Mariah continues her search, she never guesses that Ben might hold the answer to her quest—and might break her heart with the answer.
About the Author
In first grade, Janet Spaeth was asked to write a summary of a story about a family making maple syrup. She wrote all during class, through morning recess, lunch, and afternoon recess, and asked to stay after school. When the teacher pointed out that a summary was supposed to be shorter than the original story, Janet explained that she didn’t feel the readers knew the characters well enough, so she was expanding on what was in the first-grade reader. Thus a writer was born. She lives in the Midwest and loves to travel, but to her, the happiest word in the English language is home.
Read an Excerpt
June 16, 1887
New York City
"My nephew," Mariah explained again to the man at the desk. "Joshua Brighton."
The man shook his head, and his tiny wire-rimmed glasses bobbled on his nose. "I'm sorry, miss. We can't give you that information. Let me assure you, the boy has been placed in a fine home."
"But he has a home, with me." Mariah drew a deep breath. "Look, I've come all the way from Massachusetts to see my sister and her son, only to find out that she's dead and he's disappeared into your hands. He's only five years old! This day has been excruciatingly difficult already. Please, just tell me this one thing. Tell me where he is!"
"Again, my apologies for your distress. But the young man has been adopted into a good household."
"He's my nephew." Mariah's temper flared as red as her hair. "Doesn't that count for anything with you? Why won't you tell me where he is?"
None of this day seemed real. Any moment, she'd wake up and discover it had all been a horrible, horrible dream.
Lorna. Dead. It was unimaginable.
As if that weren't bad enough, she'd also discovered that her nephew, Lorna's son, had been taken by this organization, Orphans and Foundlings. She had walked for miles and asked countless passersby how to get to the agency in the hope of finding Joshua. Now this manthis pompous toad of a clerkseemed determined to block her way.
He lifted his shoulders and dropped them helplessly. "As I said before, once a placement is made, those records are sealed. Perhaps I could interest you in taking another child?"
"I don't want another child! I want my nephew!" Anger and frustration rose in her throat like hot bile. She leaned over the counter and swept the papers off the man's desk, grabbing one and crumpling it in his face. "Why won't you listen to me?"
"Is there a problem?" A large man emerged from the back of the room, where he had been bent over a heavy wooden desk littered with files, and walked around the counter to Mariah. "I'm Jack Stone," he said, extending a fleshy hand toward her.
Mariah ignored it with a steely glance. "I'm here to find out what you've done with my nephew, and this man"she turned and gave the unfortunate clerk a biting glare"says I'm not to be told."
The clerk tried unsuccessfully to fade into the carpet.
"What's the boy's name?"
Mr. Stone's face lit up. "Oh, Joshua! What a splendid young man!"
Mariah sagged in relief. "Thank God. Now where can I find him?"
"That's a problem. He was on the orphan train"
"Orphan train? " Mariah exploded.
"We take some children west to be adopted by farm families. It's good for them; nice clean air, honest work, and they're wanted out there."
"For slave labor!"
Mr. Stone swung his head slowly. "Oh no, miss. There you're wrong. These children are wanted and loved."
"Where is Joshua? I'll go out there and get him back."
"I'm sorry. I can't tell you that."
"Can't tell me that, or won't tell me that?" She glared contemptuously at the clerk cowering behind the counter. "I'll go get him and bring him back to civilization. I won't have him living in the middle of nowhere."
Mr. Stone leaned one elbow on the counter. "If an adoption has already taken place, we don't intervene unless there's some sort of difficulty within the family."
"There's difficulty within this family!"
"I mean the child and his adoptive family." He led her to the window. "Look out there."
Along the rain-splattered street, bits of paper littered the gutters and walkways. Mr. Stone pointed to a group of boys, no older than twelve, huddled with false braggadocio in a doorway, sharing a single cigarette.
"Chances are those boys are home right now."
"For many children, the street is the only home they know. We're trying to rectify that by sending as many of them as we can to good, solid farm families in the Midwest where they can grow up in a healthy environment."
Mariah watched one boy pull his collar up in a futile attempt to keep the rain off his neck. "I understand that, and I think it's commendable, but don't you see? Joshua doesn't need one of those homes. He already has onewith me."
"I'm sorry," he repeated. "We have our rules."
"Rules? I'll tell you what your rules are worth." She snapped her fingers. "This."
Angrily, Mariah spun on her heel and marched out of the room and onto the narrow walk that bordered the street. She paused outside the agency's door, oblivious to the droplets of rain that splattered her dress. Part of her wanted to burst into tears of defeat and disappointment, and the other part wanted to put her fist through the lettered window.
Fighting back the sobs that tightened her throat, she realized she still gripped the piece of paper in her hand that she had seized from the desk in Orphans and Foundlings.
It was torn, but enough remained to make her stop midstride. "Joshu" The name sprang out at her. Below it were parts of letters that made no sense to her.
Except for a single word that stood alone at the bottom corner of the paper: Fargo.
Fargo? She'd heard the word before. Her breath caught as she remembered. Fargo was a place in the Dakota Territory, one of those towns that had sprung up during the Homestead Act years.
Her knees nearly buckled beneath her as she took in the implications. She had just discovered where to find Joshua, and it was the middle of nowhere.
Mariah had heard about the Dakota Territory. It was wild and untamed, precisely not the environment she wanted Joshua to grow up in. How could there be good homes out there in the absolute wilderness? Joshua was undoubtedly in danger.
Mariah didn't give it a second thought.
She turned in the direction of the train station. Wherever Joshua was out there in the Dakota Territory, she was going to go get him and bring him home from the nightmare called Fargo.
The choo-ka-choo-ka-choo-ka of the train wheels was hypnotic, but Mariah was too tense to fall under its spell. She pulled her bag closer to her feet and looked out the window as the fields sped by in a blur.
She was bound for the Dakota Territory. Her hand strayed to her skirt pocket and felt the reassuring outline of the crinkled paper with the cryptic clue. It wasn't much, but it was all she had.
It had been a long two days, the longest of her life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Lilac Year is a sweet Christian romance. It painted pictures in my mind as I was reading the story. This story is clean (even a young teenager could read it). I'll be looking for more by this author. I received a free ARC copy from netgalley.