Henry Stockton, heir to the Stockton fortune, returns home from three years at war seeking refuge from his haunting memories. Determined to bury the past, he embraces his grandfather’s plans to modernize the family’s wool mill, ignoring the grumblings from local weavers. When tragedy strikes shortly after his arrival, Henry will have to sort truth from suspicion if he is to protect his family’s livelihood and legacy.
Loyalty has been at the heart of the Dearborne family for as long as Kate can remember, but a war is brewing in their small village, one that has the power to rip families asunder—including her own. As misguided actions are brought to light, she learns how deep her father’s pride and bitterness run, and she begins to wonder if her loyalty is well-placed.
As unlikely adversaries, Henry and Kate must come together to find a way to create peace for their families, their village, and their souls—even if it means risking their hearts in the process.
Praise for The Weaver’s Daughter
“A gently unfolding love story set amidst the turmoil of the early industrial revolution. It’s a story of betrayal, love, and redemption, all beautifully rendered in rural England.” —Elizabeth Camden, RITA award-winning author
- A stand-alone, clean Regency romance
- Full-length novel at 90,000 words
- Romeo and Juliet set-up but with a happily ever after
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
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January 1812 Amberdale, West Riding Yorkshire, England
Henry Stockton pulled his mare to a stop at the crest of the stone bridge and tipped his wide-brimmed hat low over his forehead to guard against winter's icy blasts.
The small village of Amberdale spread out before him, slumbering in frozen stillness. Biting gusts swept down from the moorland and peppered the landscape with wet snowflakes, simultaneously obscuring the view and emphasizing its beauty.
While fighting on the Iberian Peninsula, he'd had days — months — when he wondered if he would ever again see Amberdale's rows of stone cottages or hear the resonant call of its hallowed church bells. But he was here now. And it was no dream.
Had it really been three years since he'd last set foot on Amberdale soil? Three years, two months, and one week, to be exact. And now, at least for him, the days of war and uncertainty were in the past. Surely the horrific memories would dissipate now that he'd returned to England's shores. His future stretched before him, fresh and unblemished as new-fallen snow, and he could forget the nightmare and focus on his family's wool mill.
He tapped his heels to the horse's sides and they ambled down the bridge. Perhaps he should have sent word of his impending arrival, but there had not been time. Impatience to return to his grandfather and sister had pushed him forward, and pausing to pen a missive would only result in delay.
He was about to turn off the bridge when a strange cry followed by a thud caught his attention. Before him, just to the left of the road, a woman clad in a cloak of deep red was climbing down from a donkey cart. A large bundle had fallen from the rickety vehicle onto the snowy ground behind her.
She bent and struggled to lift the wide parcel, only to have it fall forward again. The wind caught her hood and blew it backward as she leaned down a second time, sending chestnut curls whipping around her face. When the bundle slipped a third time, she gave her foot a little stomp and propped her hands on her hips.
A smile tweaked Henry's lip at the sight. Once at the road's edge, he dismounted, secured his horse to a tree trunk, and crossed to within a few feet of her. "May I be of assistance?"
She jumped and whirled around, her brilliant light-brown — no, hazel — eyes wide with surprise.
Henry drew a sharp breath as their gazes locked. Something was strangely familiar about the set of her full lips and her suspicious expression. The sight struck him like a long-forgotten memory struggling for recognition.
He extended his gloved hand to demonstrate that he was no threat. "I saw you were struggling, and ..."
Silence hung heavy between them. Was she going to respond?
Her dark eyebrow arched and her chin lifted. "Thank you, sir, but I am quite capable."
He leaned closer. "I don't doubt your capability, but the weather is relentless, and I couldn't return home and be at peace if I thought you were still in this disdainful weather, wrestling this pack. So, if you'd allow me to help you, I'd consider it a great favor of easing my conscience."
Finally a grin curved her lips, leaving a small dimple at the corner of her mouth. Her gloved finger hooked a curl and tucked it behind her ear before she motioned to the canvas-wrapped package. "Very well then."
He crouched and wrapped his arms around the thick bundle, then stood. The wooden cart groaned and shifted when he dropped it onto the bed. "That should do it. If you hand me that rope there, I'll secure it."
This time she did not protest. She retrieved a length of rope and extended it toward him.
He threaded the cord through the rusted guides, tightened the slack, and knotted it in place. "There. That won't go anywhere." He pulled his hands back, and as he did, white and gray fibers clung to his dark gloves. He plucked them off, and the damp wind caught the airy strands and carried them away. He frowned. "Is this wool?"
She nodded. "It is."
He tilted his head and looked at her again, more closely this time. He had met many of the local weavers in the years before he left for war, and the longer he beheld her narrow face and slender nose, the more familiar they became. "Are you by chance taking it to Stockton Mill?"
She gave a little laugh, as if entertained by the idea, and shook her head. "No, no. I'm retrieving the wool on my father's behalf. He is a clothier."
"Oh. I've only recently returned to Amberdale, and I feel as if we've met at some point, but I can't place when."
After a sharp intake of breath, her words flew strong and sure, almost like an accusation. Her eyes narrowed. "I know who you are."
"You are Henry Stockton."
He was almost amused by the authority in her voice. "Guilty as charged. But you see, now I'm at a disadvantage. I don't know your name."
Instead of offering a smile of welcome, she glanced away, her nostrils flared. She wiped her hands on her cloak and turned. "I thank you for your assistance, sir."
Puzzled by her sudden change in demeanor, he trailed her as she rounded the cart. "But you didn't tell me your name."
She climbed into the seat, gathered the reins, and released the brake, ignoring him.
He thought she was going to drive down the path and vanish, like a vaporous dream, but then she paused and pivoted. The sharpness of her gaze pinned him to his spot. "I am Miss Dearborne. Perhaps you recall my papa, Silas Dearborne."
Henry stiffened, and the imaginary thread of curiosity ensnaring him snapped.
He knew the name all too well.
She slapped the reins attached to the donkey, which started forward. The cart lurched and creaked as it crossed the bridge and disappeared down the lane edging the faded forest.
Henry released his clenched fist and once again secured his hat against the wind. The Stocktons and the Dearbornes had been enemies for as long as he could remember. He could only assume by her cold countenance that they still were.
Henry drew a deep breath, walked over to his horse, and mounted it, hoping his first interaction in Amberdale was not a harbinger of things to come.
* * *
Could her eyes be trusted?
Henry Stockton was alive.
Kate forced her gaze to remain on the narrow, frost-laden road ahead. Oh, this was news indeed.
Everyone — weavers and millworkers alike — had been surprised when Henry Stockton joined the army, and when news of his death arrived a couple of years later, a tremor shook the village.
That was several months past.
Clearly there had been some mistake.
At first she had not recognized him. Why would she? He'd not crossed her mind since she'd learned of his death, and she hadn't laid eyes on him in over three years. Even prior to that, they'd rarely spoken. Of course she'd seen him at church or the occasional village festival, but beyond that, Papa had shielded her from the Stockton clan at all costs.
Everything within Kate yearned to cast one more glance at the tall man who unknowingly exerted such a powerful hold over her family. She resisted and clutched her cape as the wind whipped through the woodland lining the road.
His presence was not to be taken lightly. As the heir to Stockton Mill, Henry Stockton had the power to affect commerce in the area.
If he was as ruthless and determined as his grandfather, it could be disastrous for them all.
She tugged the reins to the right to avoid a snowdrift. The drive to Meadowvale Cottage was not a long one. Normally she would have taken the main road through the village, but that path would have taken her past Stockton Mill and then Stockton House, and assuming Mr. Stockton would travel that route, Kate had changed her direction. She wanted to put as much distance between herself and the newcomer as possible until she knew more.
But as she approached Meadowvale, she frowned. Night had not yet fully fallen, and Papa was not expected back from the Leeds cloth hall for hours. Despite this fact, several saddled horses were clustered next to the stable, including her papa's dappled mare. Three wagons stood unattended, and heaps of covered cloth rested in the beds.
Kate urged the tired donkey to move faster.
No sounds came from the nearby weaving house, and none of the journeymen were visible through the dye house windows. Joseph, their young, freckle-faced stable hand, appeared in the courtyard, pitchfork in hand.
"Why are all these horses here?" she called.
She glanced heavenward. Pewter clouds churned in a colorless sky, and snowflakes drifted on icy gusts. The men never returned from the cloth house this time of day, let alone in weather such as this. Normally they would find a room at the public house and wait until dawn's light. "I assumed they'd still be in Leeds."
"No, miss." He shrugged with a sniff. "Been here almost an hour."
After instructing the youth to unload the wool and tend to the donkey, Kate turned her attention to the snow-covered thatched cottage. Yellow light spilled out the windowpanes, and through the wavy glass she spied masculine silhouettes.
Something significant had happened to assemble such a large crowd. Had they learned of Mr. Stockton's return, as she just had?
Kate tightened her cloak around her and rounded the cottage to the kitchen entrance, keeping clear of the windows to avoid notice.
The door squeaked on its ancient hinges as she entered. Betsy, their maid, and Delilah, the wife of one of her papa's journeymen, huddled next to the door frame, listening.
Kate shrugged her crimson cloak from her shoulders, shook off the snow, and hung it on a nearby peg. "What's happening?"
Betsy held a slender finger to her lips for silence, fixed dark eyes on Kate, and leaned close. "Burnes and Dolten sent word with a messenger that they'd no longer conduct business in the cloth halls and that all cloth would be purchased directly from the mills."
"What?" Dread sank like a stone in the pit of Kate's stomach. This rumor had been swirling for weeks, and now it seemed to have come to pass. Competing with the mills' volume and pricing was already difficult, and the cloth halls had been their only opportunity to display the quality of their product. No wonder the tones projecting from the drawing room were so terse. "Did they say which mill owners they would be working with?"
"Not specifically, but I think we can all guess who they are referring to."
Kate bit her lower lip.
Not only did he own Stockton Mill, but he was part owner of at least half a dozen more.
Kate tugged the string behind her back and released her work apron from her waist. She tossed the garment on a nearby chair and smoothed a few clinging woolen fibers from the faded blue linen of her gown. She would not stand here in the kitchen eavesdropping. She was a weaver, just like the men in the drawing room, was she not?
She eased the door open and slid into the crowded space. The scents of cold and the outdoors clung to the crowd and mingled with the wood smoke puffing from the hearth. Silas Dearborne stood atop an overturned crate at the chamber's front. Despite winter's ever-present chill, he'd discarded his coat. His striped cotton waistcoat hugged his thick, barrel chest, and his sleeves were rolled to his elbows, displaying his sinewy forearms.
Papa's full, whiskered cheeks were flushed, moisture dotted his wide brow. "We must come to terms with Burnes and Dolten's defection. Whitby just received confirmation from a reliable source that they signed an agreement to purchase broadcloth directly from Stockton, Pennington, and Appleton Mills."
Kate slid against the back wall near the stone mantelpiece and scanned the men's faces. Most she knew. A few she did not. But what she did know was that these men made their living by wool — and they all detested the Stockton name.
Her father's gritty voice intensified. "I speak for all of us when I say this has gone on long enough. William Stockton must be stopped. I'll not stand by and see the life we've all toiled for dissolve into meaningless bedlam."
All around her, weavers, shearmen, and carders nodded in agreement. Her papa raised his hands, silencing the whispers racing around the room. "If Burnes and Dolten have made this deal public, we'd all be fools to think other buyers will not follow suit. The cloth hall has been a sacred place for generations. But now buyers are dwindling. They've been seduced by the mill owners and their promise of cheap prices for poorly crafted material. Men, they are stealing food from your tables and work from your hands. Are you going to allow them to plunder your livelihood? Your heritage?"
"But what can be done?" shouted a raspy voice from the far side of the room.
"Plenty." Papa pointed a thick finger at Thomas Crater. "And something must be done. We are stronger, louder, and more effective if we band together."
A deeper voice echoed from the corner near the door. "Word is Stockton's going to install gig mills at his factories. This true?" A fresh rush of chatter rippled through the room.
"I heard the same." Mr. Wooden, a short, stocky man, stepped forward, his floppy hat in his hands, his shabby gray coat hanging askew on his shoulders. "I heard tell that one man and one lad can do in a single day what it takes twenty-eight shearmen to do. Twenty-eight! Recall the agreement we struck with Stockton two years ago? He said he'd not deny the local shearmen work as long as we didn't demand a wage increase. We've honored the bargain, yet he goes against his word time and time again. He values money over his neighbor, refusing to aid the men whose blood and sweat built the very village over which he lords."
The growing fervor incited alarm within Kate's chest. She'd witnessed several heated weavers' meetings, but the men's frenzied state was unlike any she'd seen. She swallowed hard. As of yet they didn't seem to be aware of Henry Stockton's return, otherwise that topic would certainly dominate the conversation.
As usual, her father's authoritative tone commanded attention amid chaos. "Gentlemen. We must remember, the law is no longer on our side. Mr. Stockton is well within his rights to employ any machine he chooses to make his cloth."
The grumbling softened, but Mr. Wooden persisted. "It's morally wrong, and every man drawing breath here knows it. The men he employs to run the looms are barely qualified to card wool, and then he pays honest, trained weavers who have dedicated their waking hours to the betterment of the field next to naught. It's disgusting how he forces young people from their homes, when they should be learning alongside their parents, and puts them to work in such degradation. He encourages men to fraternize with unmarried women. It's not decent. Pity the man who must sell his soul! I'd sooner die than see my son or daughter work in such a den of iniquity."
The muttering rose, but then her papa raised his hand yet again and the room fell silent. "I don't agree with it, gentlemen. I don't know many upstanding men who would. Let the Stocktons and Penningtons of the county bring in their gig mills. Let them see what will happen when they turn their backs on their communities. Ah yes. Let them come. We'll be waiting for them. Are the shearmen not our brothers?" Papa balled his fist and thrust it into the air. "As long as there is breath in my lungs and strength in my arms, I'll fight for what's mine and the future of all we hold dear.
"You have my pledge," Papa continued, his face shaking, "I will not rest until every weaver, shearman, and carder alike is given due respect. The mill owners and merchants may be winning this battle, but the war is still undecided."
Without warning the main cottage door flung wide and its heavy, wooden bulk slammed against the plaster wall. Jimmy Taylor, a weaver's son, filled the door frame. Black eyes wide, he swiped his slouched felt hat from his dark head and gasped for the air to support his words. "He's back! Henry Stockton's back from the grave!"
Papa pushed his way through the crowd until he towered over the youth. "Henry Stockton is dead. Killed in the war."
"No, he's not. He's not! I saw 'im with me own eyes. He rode right up to Stockton House, pushed open the gate, and headed inside. He walked with a limp, but he was as real as any man standing here." Pandemonium exploded. Voices, anger, and frustration echoed from the ceiling's low beams.
Papa jumped back on the crate. "Men, calm yourselves. Time will reveal all, but for now, let's not forget what needs to be done."
Kate's breath seized when her papa caught sight of her.
His thick eyebrows rose and he pointed at her. "Katie girl, go now, fetch the ale. Let this be the night we remember as one when we toasted to unity. To craftsmanship. To tradition. To the future."
Excerpted from "The Weaver's Daughter"
Copyright © 2018 Sarah Ladd.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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