A leap of faith.
Together, they propel two young women to chase a new life—one that’s reimagined from what they might have become.
In turn-of-the-century America, a young girl dreams of a world that stretches beyond the confi nes of a quiet life on the family farm. With little more than her wit and a cigar box of treasures, Mable steps away from all she knows, seeking the limitless marvels of the Chicago World’s Fair. There, a chance encounter triggers her destiny—a life with a famed showman by the name of John Ringling.
A quarter of a century later, Lady Rosamund Easling boards a ship to America as a last adventure before her arranged marriage. There, the twenties are roaring, and the rich and famous gather at opulent, Gatsby-esque parties. The Jazz Age has arrived, and with it, the golden era of the American circus, whose queen is none other than the enigmatic Mable Ringling.
When Rosamund’s path crosses with Mable’s and the Ringlings’ glittering world, she makes the life-altering decision to leave behind a comfortable future of estates and propriety, choosing instead the nomadic life of a trick rider in the Ringling Brothers’ circus.
A novel that is at once captivating, deeply poignant, and swirling with exquisite historical details of a bygone world, The Ringmaster’s Wife will escort readers into the center ring, with its bright lights, exotic animals, and a dazzling performance that can only be described as the Greatest Show on Earth!
“Vibrant with the glamour and awe that flourished under the Big Top in the 1920s, The Ringmaster’s Wife invites the reader [into] the Greatest Show on Earth.” —Joanne Bischof, award-winning author of The Lady and the Lionheart
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
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The Ringmaster's Wife
By Kristy Cambron
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Kristy Cambron
All rights reserved.
Three years earlier
North Yorkshire, England
Air turned to water.
It rushed over Rosamund's head in a torrent, curling and mocking as it dragged her with the current. She flailed her legs in a bevy of kicks as it rolled, fighting to keep her head above water.
Hers was a foe of muddy brown, a once peaceful brook that flowed under the old cobblestone bridge on the road to Linton. But it had swollen to a near raging river with the last heavy rain, engulfing her the instant her motor had veered off the country road and tumbled down the embankment with a great splash.
How fortunate it was that she still wore men's riding trousers. At least it afforded her some movement of her legs in the water, though not enough that she believed she could reach safety.
The current surged, plunging Rosamund into its depths again. It continued surging. Tugging at her legs first and then pulling her along like a rag doll tossed in the open sea. Her back went deeper. Then her shoulders. Her head. She felt her hair billowing around her neck like thick twines of seaweed.
The rush of water, then fear.
Her thoughts were urgent, her mind signaling the deepest sense of danger. Was this it, she wondered, the blackness of one's thoughts at death?
Exhaustion in body, mind, even her soul, threatening to be called away.
The brown murkiness deadened the burning pain in her legs, fighting to muddle her mind and body into submission.
"Hello — you there!"
The shout rocked her senses.
Though still bobbing about like a cork in a bucket, Rosamund felt renewed strength to nudge her chin up out of the water. She scanned the banks on either side, frantically looking for anything that stood out beyond roiling water and dense thickets of autumn- painted trees.
Another shout. This one was closer. Bold. Echoing from up ahead.
Thank You, God ...
She'd heard the voice clearly this time and met a man's fixed stare from the bank on her right.
He'd braced himself against a felled tree, one arm hooked around the trunk and the other reaching toward her, tense and ready to grasp her as she was swept by.
He shouted again. "Take hold of my hand, all right?"
Rosamund tried to nod as a rush of the current splashed in her face. She shook her head out of it, coughing as her hair splayed across the bridge of her nose. She brushed it back with the swipe of a hand.
He seemed to pause for a second when his eyes fell upon her face up close. Yet he responded with determination, willing her hand to connect with his. Though her energy stores were all but tapped clean, Rosamund reached out and locked hands with his at the wrist. His grip was iron.
"Good. Now swim to me," he shouted, willing her to accept his word. "I'll not let go of you."
Rosamund lunged forward, falling into his grip.
The felled tree extended from a mossy bank, with water that grew shallower as it edged to shore. The man carefully maneuvered the pair of them back, trekking his free hand along the trunk.
When Rosamund felt the familiar sensation of stones beneath the soles of her boots, she lurched forward, drifting with the softening current until they were out of the water. She fell upon the bank on all fours, coughing against the ground as if mud and scrubby brush were her long-lost friends.
She untangled the long ropes of hair from one of her suspenders and swept them over her shoulder, then collapsed on the ground, relishing the glorious feel of earth beneath her.
"Miss? Are you all right?"
Rosamund felt a hand just graze her shoulder. Even over the sound of the rushing water behind them, she heard a notable Irish brogue in the man's voice. She turned to meet it, finally able to take a look at her rescuer.
The man knelt in a patch of fallen leaves at her side, his blue eyes fixed upon her. He remained calm. Quiet. Soaked to the skin himself but concerned, it seemed, only with her welfare.
"I'm fine," she answered, though fighting the ever-present burn of water in her throat. "Or I will be —" She coughed, then shook her head. "In a moment."
"Think you're keen to stand?" he asked. He offered his arm and Rosamund accepted it gratefully so he could help her rise up on shaky legs.
"Stars above ... You got him!"
Rosamund glanced up as a second man appeared on the ridge.
This man was young — perhaps not yet twenty, with round wire-rimmed glasses and sandy hair that flopped down over his forehead. He held a bundle of clothing under his elbow, but dropped it straightaway and bounded down the hill. His work boots scuffled over protruding roots and fallen leaves, sending stray trails of dirt to roll down the hill with him.
"Is he all right?" he asked, winded as he stopped in front of them.
"He is a she —" The man who'd rescued her corrected the assumption with a controlled whisper. "But yes. She's going to be fine."
"Miss." The young man addressed her with a quick nod in her direction, but wasted no time in continuing. "You're as crackers as they say, Colin. Jumping into the water like that!"
"You saw the motor go down the bank. What other option did we have?" He paused, softening his tone. "And please mind your choice of words in front of the woman who mightn't have been saved otherwise."
The man named Colin still stood anchored at her side, though his gaze was fixed upon the twists and turns of the water before them. With a gentle warning squeeze that he was releasing her elbow, he drew back and took several steps toward the water's edge.
"Ward, you'll have to stay with her."
"Where are you going?" The young man shook his head. "The auto's a lost cause. We'll have to hire men from the village to get it out."
Her rescuer continued scanning the surface of the water. "Not the auto." He dropped his voice. "I'm going back for the driver. Even though he hasn't surfaced, we can't leave the poor soul behind."
Rosamund had been wringing water from the tips of her hair, but snapped her head up at his words. "My driver?"
"This must all be very distressing for you," the younger of the two added, looking like he might have been able to summon just enough gumption to frown at the other gentleman for mentioning the ill-fated driver with such indelicacy. He turned to Rosamund. "Don't fret, miss. We'll see you to the safety of the village first."
Rosamund swallowed hard over the growing lump in her throat as an all-new rush of anxiety enveloped her. "Sir, I ..."
How could she possibly explain the circumstances without giving herself away? If her parents learned what she'd been up to, she'd be locked up in the manor for the rest of her days.
She cleared her throat. "There's no one else there," she said, tipping her chin a fraction higher. "I'm the driver."
"You? Well, this English plot of ours just thickened," the younger man said, looking on with eyes wide and a charm-filled grin that washed down over his face as the truth sank in.
The man named Colin, however, gave little away.
His dark hair lay just tipping over his eyes, with which he now studied her in a most open manner. Rosamund detected the tiniest shred of hesitation as he watched her, doubt that was confirmed when he braced his arms across his chest, as if working things out in his mind.
"Miss." Colin inclined his head. "You're shivering."
The rush of an autumn wind flooded around them then.
It carried the reminder that winter wasn't far off from their October sky. The distant rumble of thunder sent another shiver to tend the length of her spine, and Rosamund remembered all at once that she was wet, cold, and quite in need of a way out of her present mess before a storm muddled the situation still further.
"I hadn't realized ..." She wrapped her arms round her middle, trying to calm the thoughts bouncing off every corner in her mind.
"Ward. Can you fetch my coat? I dropped it along the bank somewhere back there."
The young man nodded, then trekked up the rise to retrieve it.
He tossed the garment down to Colin, who caught it, then took a step forward.
"It'll be too big, but at least it's dry."
She accepted the coat with trembling fingers. From the events that had taken place. Or the cold. Likely both.
"Thank you." Rosamund pulled the coat up round her shoulders, trying her best to hide her hands beneath the lapels, lest her rescuer see the evidence of how shaken she truly was. "It's kind of you."
"We should see you back to the village," Colin began, his tone even. In control.
She tried not to notice his ongoing inspection of her, even with the coat having swallowed her down to the knees.
"Of course," Ward chimed in. "We can drop you off on the way to our business meeting."
"What he means to say is that after the accident you've just been through, it wouldn't be gentlemanly of us to go on without introduction and the offer of assistance home. I'm Colin Keary." He inclined his head in the other gentleman's direction. "And this is my associate, Mr. Ward Butler. And now that we know there's no one else lost in the wreckage of the motor, we'd like to offer what help we can."
"No thank you," Rosamund said. "I'm fine."
The men exchanged glances, the coy declaration serving only to pique their interest further.
"And you are ..." Ward tipped his eyebrows in question.
"Rose," she said very simply. She wasn't sure why she'd said it, except that the pet name from childhood was the first one to come to mind.
"Well then ... Rose." Colin paused. "We ought to be off." He held out his hand, offering to guide her to the top of the steep ridge.
"We can walk you back to the bridge, then we'll take our car to the village. We should see about getting you to a doctor first, then arrange to retrieve your auto later once the weather's cleared."
"No," Rosamund shot back on instinct, leaving his hand extended on air. Her refusal must have been shocking for a tiny slip of a woman to effectively halt two grown men in their tracks.
Ward's eyes grew large. He darted a glance to Colin before asking, with a tone of amusement, "No ...? To which part?"
Rosamund backtracked with a forced smile, hoping to cover her misgivings.
"What I mean to say is that you don't have to go to the trouble of summoning a doctor. I assure you, I'm fine. Just a bit shaken, that's all."
"Of course you are. Understandably." Colin pursed his lips as if noting something he'd chosen not to comment on.
Something told Rosamund that Colin Keary should be worthy of trusting. There was an earnestness in him that couldn't be mistaken, even if he was a stranger. He was older than his companion, Ward — maybe by ten years — and clearly in command. He had rescued her and now was steering the lot of them to calm despite the circumstances.
For that, she knew some explanation was warranted.
"I left an all-day riding party later than I should have. It set me late for an evening engagement, so I stretched the Talbot's engine in hopes that I'd arrive on time. But I misjudged a bend in the road and tumbled down the embankment instead." She squared her shoulders, trying to appear confident and proper instead of entirely aloof. "I didn't wish to bother our driver with such an all-day trip, and now I'm quite relieved he stayed behind. I know it's very untoward, but I ask for your discretion in this matter."
"You've been 'riding all day,' Miss Rose?" Colin asked, scanning the landscape around them. "And yet you have no horse?"
"Heavens. Don't tell me someone has to dive into that river after a horse now." Ward shuddered, as if the thought were too gruesome to entertain.
"My horse has been quite taken care of. I'd already hired a man to see her back to my home," she answered. "And it's not against propriety for a woman to drive through town on her own, horse in tow or not. If that is your meaning."
"On the contrary, it's impressive. It seems almost ... How do you say it over here — revolutionary?" Ward broke in with an easy smile.
Truth be, he was too forward to be anything but American.
"I didn't know English women drove automobiles themselves."
"They don't. Not as a rule," Colin added.
"Are you from Linton, to know how such things are received here, sir?" she asked, hoping to keep the inquisition light while challenging his knowing tone.
"No. We're a little farther off from the English countryside, I'd say."
"Ireland then?" Rosamund responded before she could stop herself, then bit her lip.
"See?" Ward cocked a grin and tipped up an eyebrow in Colin's direction. "She noticed it. I told you the accent comes out when you're riled up."
"I meant nothing by it," she said.
"Ignore Mr. Butler and his lack of tact," Colin responded. "My family is Irish, but not in that way. The Kearys hail from New York. You're in the presence of a couple of Yanks, I'm afraid, in case you couldn't surmise that from this pup's rather loose-lipped manner. First trip out of the country, and he's a bit too eager."
So she was right — about the younger of the two anyway.
Rosamund nodded as the sky once again rumbled with the threat of imminent rain. She edged forward a few steps. "My home is not far from here and my family is expecting me. I really must be going."
"Wait — you can't just march through the woods. It's going to storm," Ward blurted out, directing her to the gray-tinged sky with an accusatory finger. "And we're miles away from anything. Even Linton's a mighty long jaunt from here on foot."
Rosamund shifted her glance from him to Colin.
"Well, I'm already soaked through. A few raindrops and a walk can't possibly hurt me now."
"All right, Miss Rose. No doctor. Will that suit you?" He'd acquiesced, though something still flickered in Colin's eyes. Thunder cracked the sky closer this time, echoing behind his words. He glanced up to the canopy of trees overhead, adding, "But something tells me that despite appearances, you don't live in the village. And since that thunder sounds as though a bit more than a light shower is headed this way, you just might wish to take us up on our offer of assistance. So can I order a car to take you wherever your home is?"
"While I'm sure your offer is well intended —"
"No, it's not," Colin interrupted.
Often. And as it suited him, apparently. As brash as any Irishman she'd have expected.
"My inquisition is to ensure I'm not entangled in something sinister when I have your auto pulled from the creek bed back there. And I'd much prefer not to have an angry husband or father chasing us for compromising your reputation — on these innocent grounds or not. But if you tell me there's nothing to concern ourselves about, then I'll let the matter drop. I'm here on business, and I don't want my employer's name associated with any sort of trouble."
"Is your employer known in Yorkshire then?"
He leaned in, a twinkle flashing in his eyes, and whispered, "My employer is known everywhere, Miss Rose. Even as far off the path as the village of Linton."
"Then I'll pay you for a new suit," she offered, before thinking better of it.
He tipped up his brows, as if to ask, Is it that bad?
"I meant I'll pay for the damage to your suit. And for the obvious trouble to pull the motor from the water. I'll have a man come and meet you to retrieve it this night."
"No payment is necessary, even for a new suit." He paused, a marked lightness now lacing his tone. "Because despite my appearance, the employer I represent very likely has more money than the King of England himself. And I assure you — he likes to manage his own affairs."
He approached her with ease, looking with a direct gaze. She edged a step back.
"I'll see that the motor is put back in order — free of charge."
And with that he nodded and started trekking up the route that led back to the bridge.
He wouldn't have heard it as a compliment, if Rosamund had said what she was thinking in that instant: Colin Keary was certainly an American and an Irishman wrapped into one.CHAPTER 2
Ten-year-old Armilda Burton had never heard the sweet sound of a piano before.
How different it was compared to the deep-chested organ that filled the ceiling vault of their country church every Sunday. This sound was enchanting — with crisp notes that echoed through the spacious rooms and greeted her young ears the moment she stepped through the front door of the ladies' tea parlor.
Armilda had come to Cincinnati with her mother and the ladies in their parish to attend the annual Temperance League meeting outside of their small farming community of Moons, Ohio. She'd never before seen such modern brick buildings and shop after shop teeming with fashionable wares. Why, she'd only ever seen a mere handful of store-bought dresses, outside of drawings in the catalog at the Moons General Store. Stepping into the world of the ladies' tearoom, she felt small and uncultured.
And completely awestruck.
Floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains of crimson were fashioned with gold cords, pulled back like stage curtains hanging against the back-drop of white wainscoting on the parlor walls. Chandeliers twinkled overhead. The arched floor-to-ceiling windows let in an abundance of natural light. A smattering of settees — marvelous in their gold and cream brocade — adorned the front room, and clothed tables with glassware and shining china settings bedecked the garden room beyond. Both rooms carried the light scent of vanilla and lavender mixed with the sharper notes of black tea and citrusy lemon.
Excerpted from The Ringmaster's Wife by Kristy Cambron. Copyright © 2016 Kristy Cambron. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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