You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and her book:
A Passion Most Pure
Revell (January 1, 2008)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. Her first book in the Daughters of Boston series, A Passion Most Pure, was released January 2008, to be followed by the second in September 2008, A Passion Redeemed, and the third in May 2009, A Passion Denied (working title).
You can visit Julie at her Web site.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Revell (January 1, 2008)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“To the man who pleases him,
God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,
but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to
hand it over to the one who pleases God.
This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
– Ecclesiastes 2:26
God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,
but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to
hand it over to the one who pleases God.
This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
– Ecclesiastes 2:26
Boston, Massachusetts, Late Summer, 1916
Sisters are overrated, she decided. Not all of them, of course, only the beautiful ones who never let you forget it. Faith O’Connor stood on tiptoe behind the side porch, squinting through her mother’s prized lilac bush. The sound of summer locusts vibrated in her ears as she gasped, inches from where her sister, Charity, stood in the arms of––
“Collin, someone might hear us,” Charity whispered.
“Not if we don’t talk.” Collin’s index finger stroked the cleft of her sister’s chin.
Faith’s body went numb. The locusts crescendoed to a frenzy in her brain. She wanted to sink into the fresh-mown lawn, but her feet rooted to the ground as firmly as the bush that hid her from view.
Three years had done nothing to diminish his effect on her. He was grinning, studying her sister through heavy lids, obviously relaxed as he leaned against the wall of their wraparound porch. His serge morning coat was draped casually over the railing. The rolled sleeves of his starched, white shirt displayed muscled arms snug around Charity’s waist. Faith knew all too well his clear, gray eyes held a maddening twinkle, and she heard the low rumble of his laughter when he pulled her sister close.
“Collin, nooooo …” Charity’s voice seemed to ripple with pleasure as her finger traced a suspender cinched to his striped trousers.
“Charity, yes,” he whispered, closing his eyes as he bent to kiss her.
Faith stopped breathing while his lips wandered the nape of her sister’s neck.
Charity attempted a token struggle before appearing to melt against his broad chest. She closed her eyes and lifted her mouth to his, her head dropping back with the ease of oiled hinges.
Faith rolled her eyes.
Without warning, Collin straightened. A strand from his slicked-back hair tumbled across his forehead while he held her sister at arm’s length. His expression was stern, but there was mischief in his eyes. "You know, Charity, your ploy doesn’t work.” His brows lifted in playful reprimand, making him appear far older than his twenty-one years. He adjusted the wide, pleated collar of her pink gabardine blouse. “You are a beautiful girl, Charity O’Connor. And I’m quite sure your doe-eyed teasing is most effective with the schoolboys that buzz around.” His fingers gently tugged at a strand of her honey-colored hair before tucking it behind her ear. “But not with me.” He lifted her chin to look up at him. The corners of his lips twitched. “I suggest you save your protest for them and this for me …"
His dimples deepened when his lips eased into that dangerous smile that always made Faith go weak in the knees. In one fluid turn, he backed her sister against the wall, hands firm on her shoulders as his mouth took hers. Then, in a flutter of Faith’s heart, he released her.
On cue, Charity produced a perfect pout, stamping her foot so hard it caused her black hobble skirt to flair at her ankles. Collin laughed out loud. He kissed her on the nose, grabbed his coat and started down the steps.
"Collin McGuire, you are so arrogant!" Charity whispered, her voice hissing as if through clenched teeth.
"And you, Charity O'Connor, are so vain––a perfect match, wouldn't you say?" He headed for the gate, whistling. Charity stormed inside and slammed the door. Collin chuckled and strolled toward the sidewalk.
Faith crept to the lilac hedge at the front of the house and peeked through its foliage. A stray ball from a rowdy game of kickball rolled into the street. Collin darted after it just as a black Model T puttered by, blaring its horn. He jumped from its path, palming the ball with one hand. In a blink of an eye, he was swarmed by little boys, their laughter pealing through the air as Collin wrestled with one after another.
All at once he turned and loped to a massive oak where tiny, towheaded Theodore Schmidt sat propped against the gnarled tree, crutches by his side. Raucous cheers pierced the air when Collin tossed his coat on the ground and bent to carefully hoist Theo astride his broad shoulders. The little boy squealed with delight. A grin split Collin’s handsome face. He gripped Theo’s frail legs against his chest and sauntered toward home plate. Scrubbing his palms on Theo’s faded, brown knickers, Collin dug his heels in the dirt and positioned himself. The pitcher grinned and rolled the ball. The air was thick with silence. Even the locusts seemed to hush as the ball wheeled in slow motion. Faith held her breath.
Collin’s first kick sailed the ball five houses away. Champion and child went flying, the back tail of Theo’s white shirt flapping in the breeze as Collin rounded the bases. They crossed home plate to a roar of cheers and whistles and all colors of beanies fluttering in the air like confetti. Theo’s scrawny arms flapped about, his tiny face as flushed as Collin’s when the two finally huffed to a stop.
Faith exhaled. Everybody’s hero, then and now.
Collin set the child back against the tree. He squatted to speak to him briefly before tousling his hair. Rising, he snatched his coat from the ground and slung it over his shoulder. The boys groaned and begged for more, but Collin only waved and continued down the street, finally disappearing from view.
Faith pressed a shaky palm to her stomach. She closed her eyes and leaned against the
porch trellis. A perfectly wonderful Saturday gone to the dogs! All she had wanted when she slipped out the back door was to escape to her favorite hideaway in the park. To write poetry and prayers to her heart’s content in the warm, September sun. But no! Once again, her sister had managed to strike, foiling her plans for a blissful afternoon of writing and reverie. Her eyes popped open and she kicked at a hickory nut, sending it pinging off her mother’s copper watering can.
It was bad enough Charity attracted the attention of every male within a ten-mile radius. Did she also have to be the younger sister? It was nothing short of humiliating! Faith plunked her hands on her hips and looked up. “Really, Lord, she’s sixteen to my eighteen and fends off men like a mare swishing flies. Was that really necessary?” She waved her hand, palm up, toward the infamous porch. “And now this? Now him?”
Faith jerked her blanket from the ground and slapped it over her shoulder. Retrieving her journal and prayer book, she thrashed through the bushes. She glanced at the side porch, leering at the very spot he held her sister only moments before. The impact hit and tears pricked her eyes. She swatted at something caught in her hair. A twig with a heart-shaped leaf plummeted to the ground, in perfect synchronization with her mood.
Her sister had it all––beauty, beaus and now the affections of Collin McGuire. Where was the justice? In Faith’s world of daydreams, he had been hers first, smitten on the very day Margaret Mary O’Leary had shoved her against the schoolyard fence. Helplessly she had hung, the crippled runt of the fifth-grade class, pinned by bulbous arms for the crime of refusing to turn over her mother’s fresh-baked pumpkin bread.
“Drop her, Margaret Mary,” the young Collin had said with authority.
The pudgy hands released their grip. “Cripple!” Margaret Mary’s hateful slur had hissed in Faith’s ears as she plopped to the ground, the steel braces on her thin legs clanking as she fell. The girl’s sneer dissolved into a smile when she gazed up at Collin, her ample cheeks puffing into small, pink balloons. “Sorry!” she said in a shy voice. With a duck of her head, she wobbled off, leaving Faith in a heap. Bits of bread, now dusted with dirt, clumped through Faith’s fingers as she stared up in awe. It had been the first time she ever laid eyes on him. Never again would her little-girl heart beat the same. He was tall and languid with an easy smile—Robin Hood, defending the weak.
“D’she hurt you?” he had asked, extending his arm.
The gentleness in his eyes stilled her. Shaking her head, she opened her hand to reveal a mangled piece of bread. Without thinking, she tried to blow off the dirt, misting it with saliva. “I don’t suppose you want some?”
The grin would be branded in her brain forever.
“That’s okay, Little Bit,” he said with a sparkle in his eye, “I’ll just help myself to some of Margaret Mary’s.”
Her mind jolted back to the present. Faith blinked at the lonely porch and sniffed. Jutting her chin in the air, she flipped a russet strand of hair from her eyes. “I refuse to entertain notions of Collin McGuire,” she vowed. Her lips pressed into a tight line. It’s just a crying shame Mother hadn’t found them first!
As if shocked at her thought, the sun crept behind a billow of clouds, washing her in cool shadows. She crossed her arms and glowered at the sky. “Yes, I know, I’m supposed to be taking every thought captive. But it’s not all that easy, you know.”
A curl from her half-hearted chignon fluttered into her face. She reached to yank the comb from her hair, shaking her head until the wild mane tumbled down her back. Hiking her brown gingham skirt to her knees, she ignored the curious stares of children and raced down Donovan Street.
She was almost oblivious to the faint limp in her stride, the only mark of her childhood bout with polio. Some of the children still laughed at the halting way she walked and ran, but Faith didn’t care. If anything, it only made her chin lift higher and her smile brighter. That slight hitch in her gait––that precious, wonderful gimp––was daily proof she had escaped paralysis or worse. She needed no reminding that countless children had perished in the Massachusetts polio epidemic of 1907, her own twin sister among them. She shuddered at the memory while her pace slowed. God had heard the prayers of her parents––or at least half. She alone had survived. And more than survived––she’d never need braces again.
Masking her somber mood with a smile, she waved and called to neighbors, flitting by the perfectly groomed three-decker homes that so typified the Southie neighborhood of Boston. She hurried beneath a canopy of trees where mothers chatted and toddlers played peek-a-boo around their petticoats. A tiny terrier yipped and danced in circles, coaxing a grin to her lips, while little girls played hopscotch on cobblestone streets dappled with sunlight.
In the tranquil scene, Faith saw no hint of impending troubles, no telltale evidence of “The Great War” raging in a far-off land across the sea. But the qualms of concern were there all the same. Insidious, filtering into their lives like a patchy gloom descending at will––in hushed conversations over back fences or in distracted stares and wrinkled brows. The question was always the same: Would America go to war? One by one, the neutrality of European countries toppled like dominoes. Romania, who had entered the war with the Allies, was quickly overrun by German forces. Now, within mere days, Italy had declared war on Germany as well, sucked into the vortex of hate. Would America be next to enter World War I? Faith shivered at the thought and then gasped when she nearly collided with a freckled boy darting out of Hammond’s confectionary.
“Sorry, miss,” he muttered, clutching a box of Cracker Jacks against plaid knickers.
“No, it’s my fault.” She rumpled his hair. He smiled shyly, breaking through her somber mood. Flashing a gap-toothed grin, he flew off to join his friends. Faith laughed and rounded the corner, sprinting into O’Reilly Park. She breathed in the clean, crisp air thick with the scent of honeysuckle. Exhaling, she felt the tension drift from her body.
Oh, how she loved this neighborhood! This was home, her haven, her own little place of belonging. She loved everything about it, from the dirty-faced urchins lost in their games of stickball, to the revelry of neighborhood pubs whose music floated on the night breeze into the wee hours of the morning. This was the soul of Irish Boston, this south end of the city, a glorious piece of St. Patrick's Isle in the very heart of America. And to Faith, not unlike a large Irish family––brash, bustling and brimming with life.
Out of breath, she choked to a stop at a wall of overgrown forsythia bushes that sheltered her from view. Emptying her arms, she snapped the blanket in the air and positioned it perfectly, smoothing the wrinkles before tossing her journal and prayer book to the edge. She kicked off her shoes and flopped belly down, popping a pencil between her teeth. Thoughts of Collin McGuire suddenly blinked in her brain like a dozen fireflies on a summer night. Her teeth sank into the soft wood of the pencil. She tasted lead and spit.
No! I don’t want to think of him. Not anymore. And especially not with her. Out of the corner of her eye, she glimpsed the fluttering pages of her prayer book, conspicuous as it lay open at the edge of the blanket. Her chest heaved a sigh. “I’ve gone and done it again, haven’t I?” She glanced up, her lips quirking into a shaky smile. “People always seem so taken with my green eyes, but I don’t suppose ‘green with envy’ is too appealing, is it? I’ll get this right, I promise. In the meantime, please forgive me?” She breathed in deeply, taking air like a parched person gulping cool water. Her final prayer drifted out on a quiet sigh. “And yes, Lord, please bless my sister.”
She reached for her journal and flipped it open, staring hard at a page she’d penned months ago. Her vision suddenly blurred and she blinked, a tear plunking on the paper. Collin. She traced his name with her finger. It swam before her in a pool of ink.
Dreams. Silly, adolescent dreams, that’s all they were. She had no patience for dreamers. Not anymore. After years of pining over something she could never have, she chose to embrace the cold comfort of reality instead. No more daydreams of his smile, no more journal entries with his name, no more prayers for the impossible. She would not allow it.
She flipped the page over and closed her eyes, but it only produced a flood of memories. Memories of a gangly high school freshman, notebook in hand and heat in her cheeks, trembling on the threshold of the St. Mary’s Gazette. She could still see him looking up from the table, pencil in hand and another wedged behind his ear. He had stared, assessing her over a stack of books.
“Uh, Mm … Mrs. Mallory said … well, I … I m-mean she said that I was to be on the p-paper so I—”
Recognition dawned. His eyes softened and crinkled at the corners just a smitch before that slow smile eased across his lips. “Little Bit! So, you’re the young Emily Dickinson Mrs. Mallory’s been going on about. Well, I am impressed—we’ve never had a freshman on the staff before. Mrs. Mallory told me to take you under my wing.” He pushed pencil and paper across the table and grinned. “Better take notes.”
And, oh … she had! In the year they’d been friends, she’d taken note of that perilous smile whenever he was teasing or the fire in his eyes when somebody missed a deadline. She adored that obstinate strand of dark hair that tumbled over his forehead when he argued a point. And she loved the way his voice turned thick at the mere mention of his father. His love for his father had been fierce. He’d often spoken of the day they would finally work side by side in his father’s tiny printing business. McGuire & Son––just the sound of the words had caused Collin to tear up.
The death of his father a week before graduation had been a shock. Collin never showed up to claim his diploma. Someone said he’d found a job at the steel mill on the east side of town. Occasionally rumors would surface. About how much he’d changed. How wild he’d become. The endless string of hearts he always managed to break. Almost as if his passion and kindness had calcified. Hard and cold, like the steel he forged by day.
Faith dropped back on the blanket, her body still. She squeezed her eyes shut. Despite the warmth of the sun, her day was completely and utterly overcast. How dare her sister be so familiar with the likes of Collin McGuire? How dare he be so forward with her, in broad daylight, and right under their mother's nose? Faith was disgusted, angry and embarrassed, all at the same time. And never more jealous in all her life.
With coat slung over his shoulder and a stride in his step, Collin whistled his way to the corner of Baker and Brae. Slowing, he turned onto his street, keenly aware his whistling had faded. The bounce in his gait slowed to sludge as he neared the ramshackle flat he shared with his mother. At the base of the steps, he glanced up, his stomach muscles tensing as they usually did when he came home.
Home. The very word had become an obscenity. This house hadn’t been a home since his father’s last breath over three years ago. She’d made certain of that. Collin sighed, mounting the steep, cracked steps littered with flowering weeds. Sidestepping scattered pieces from a child’s erector set, his eyes flitted to his mother’s window. The crooked, yellowed shade was still down. Good. Maybe he could slip in and out.
He turned the knob quietly and eased himself into the front room, holding his breath as he closed the door. The click of the lock reverberated in his ears.
“It’s a real shame you don’t bother to dress that nicely for the good Lord.”
Collin spun around, his heart pounding. He forced a smile to his lips. “Mother! I thought you might be in bed with one of your headaches. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“I’m sure you didn’t.” Katherine McGuire stood in the doorway of her bedroom with arms folded across her chest, a faded blue dressing gown wrapped tightly around her regal frame. Her lips pressed into a thin line, as if a smile would violate the cool anger emanating from her steel-gray eyes.
When his mother did smile at him, an uncommon thing in itself, it was easy to see why his father had fallen hopelessly in love with her. At forty-one, she was still a striking woman. Rich, dark hair with a hint of gray only served to heighten the impact of the penetrating eyes now focused on him. Before she had married his father, she had been a belle of society. The air of refinement bred in her was evident as she stood straight and tall. She lifted her chin to assess him through disapproving eyes.
“She’s too good for the likes of you, you know.”
He stared back at her, a tic jerking in his cheek. Every muscle and sinew were poised to strike. He clamped his jaw, biting back the bitter retort that weighted his tongue. No, he would not allow her to win. Ever. He tossed his coat on the hook by the door and turned, a stiff smile on his face. “She doesn’t care, Mother. She’s in love.”
“Her father will. It’s not likely he’ll want a pauper courting his daughter.”
Collin shook his head and laughed, the sound of it hollow. He avoided her eyes as he headed to his room at the back of the flat. “I won’t be a pauper forever,” he called over his shoulder. “I’ve got plans.”
“So did your father. And you saw where they took him.”
Collin stopped, his back rigid and his eyes stinging with pent-up fury. He clenched and unclenched his fists. How had a man as good and kind as his father allowed her to control him? His mouth hardened. It didn’t matter. She would never control him. Not in his emotions, nor in his life. He exhaled slowly, continuing down the shadowy hall. “Have a good day, Mother,” he said. And closing his bedroom door behind him, he shut her out with a quiet click of the lock.
“But, Mother, it’s not fair! Why can’t Faith do it?” Charity demanded, wielding a stalk of celery in one hand and a paring knife in the other.
Marcy O’Connor didn’t have to look up from the cake she was frosting to know she had a fight on her hands. Usually she enjoyed this time of day, when the coolness of evening settled in and her children huddled in the warmth of the kitchen near the wood-burning stove. Tonight, five-year-old Katie sat Indian-style, force-feeding her bear from an imaginary teacup while her brother, Steven, a mature eight years old, practiced writing vocabulary words on a slate. On the rug in front of the fire sprawled twelve-year-old Elizabeth, a faraway look in her eyes as she lost herself in a favorite book. Marcy set the finished cake aside and reached for the warm milk and yeast. She poured it into a bowl of flour and began rolling up the sleeves of her blouse.
"I don't understand why Faith can't do it. She doesn't have anything else to do." Charity turned back to the sink to assault the celery with the knife.
"But, Mother, you know I'm reading to Mrs. Gerson Saturday evening or I’d be happy to stay with the children." Faith's tone sounded cautious as she appeared to devote full attention to chopping carrots for the stew. In unison, both girls looked up at their mother.
Marcy couldn't remember when she had felt so tired. Her eyes burned with fatigue as she kneaded the dough for the bread she was preparing. With the back of her hand, she pushed at a wisp of hair, a stray from the chignon twisted at the nape of her neck, feeling every bit of her forty years. She eyed her daughters with a tenuous smile, her mind flitting to a time when she’d been as young. A girl with golden hair and summer-blue eyes who’d won the heart of Patrick Brendan O'Connor and become his “Irish rose.” Marcy sighed. Well, tonight, the “rose” was pale, wilted, and definitely not up to a thorny confrontation between her two daughters.
She paused, her hands crusted with dough. "Tell me, Charity, why is it so important you’re free on this Saturday night, in particular?" Marcy didn’t miss the slight blush that crept into Charity's cheeks, nor the look on Faith’s face as she stopped to watch her sister’s response, cutlery poised mid-air.
"Well, there's a dance social at St. Agatha's. I was hoping to go, that's all."
Marcy resumed kneading the dough with considerably more vigor than before. “And with whom will you be going, may I ask?"
"Well … there's a group of us, you see …"
"Mmmm. Would a certain Collin McGuire be among them?" Marcy's fingers were flying.
Charity’s blush was full hue, blotching her face with a lovely shade of rose. "Well, yes … I think so … perhaps … of course, I'm not definitely sure …"
A thin cloud of flour escaped into the air as Marcy slapped the dough from her hands. "Charity, we've been over this before. Neither your father nor I are comfortable with you seeing that McGuire boy. He's too old."
"But he's only three years older than Faith,” Charity pleaded.
"Yes, and that's too old for you. And too old for your sister when it comes to the likes of him. Absolutely not. Your father will never allow it."
"But why, Mother? Mrs. McGuire is a good woman—"
"Yes, she's a good woman, who, I'm afraid, has let her son get the best of her. Ever since his father died, that boy has been nothing but trouble. He's fast, Charity, out for himself and willing to hurt anyone in the bargain. You can't possibly see or understand that now because you're only sixteen. But mark my words, your father and I are saving you a lot of heartbreak."
Marcy dabbed her forehead with the side of her sleeve while Faith scooped up carrots and plopped them into the boiling cauldron of stew. The kitchen was heating up, both from the fire of the stove and Charity’s seething glare.
"It's because of Faith, isn't it?" Charity demanded, slamming her fist on the table.
"Charity Katherine O'Connor!" Marcy whirled around, her tone scathing.
"It's true! You don't want me entertaining beaus because poor, little Faith sits home like a bump on a log and couldn't get a suitor if she advertised in The Boston Herald!"
Faith’s mouth gaped open and color seeped from her face. Her knuckles clenched white on the carrot she stabbed in the air. "I could have more beaus, too, if I flirted like one of the cheap girls at Brannigan’s!”
"Faith Mary O'Connor!” Marcy’s tone suggested sacrilege, her fingers twitching in the dough. The kitchen was deathly quiet except for the rolling boil of the stew. Katie began to whine, and Elizabeth bundled her in her arms, calming her with a gentle shush.
Charity leaned forward. Her lips curled in contempt. "You couldn't get beaus if you lined ‘em up and paid ‘em!"
"At least I wouldn't pay them with favors on the side porch …"
Marcy flinched as if slapped. "What?” she breathed. She turned toward Faith whose hand flew to her mouth in a gasp at the shock of her own words. Charity’s face was as white as the flour on Marcy’s hands. “With whom?” Marcy whispered.
“Collin McGuire,” Faith said, her voice barely audible.
It might as well have been an explosion. Marcy gasped. “Is this true, Charity? Look at me! Is this true?"
Charity's watery gaze met her mother's and she nodded, tears trickling her cheeks.
Marcy barely moved a muscle. "Faith, take the children upstairs."
Faith was silent as she picked Katie up to carry her from the room. Elizabeth followed with Steven behind. Charity was sobbing. Without a word, Marcy walked to the sink to wash the dough from her hands, then returned to her daughter's side, wrapping her arms around her. At her touch, Charity crumpled into her embrace like a wounded child. Marcy stroked her hair, waiting for the sobs to subside. When they did, she lifted Charity's quivering chin and looked in the eyes of the daughter-child who so wanted to be a woman.
"Charity, I love you. But that love charges me with responsibility for your well-being and happiness. I know you can’t understand this now, nor do you want to, but you must trust us. Collin McGuire is not the boy for you. He’s trouble, Charity. Behind that rakish smile and Irish charm is a young man whose only thought is for himself. I've seen you smile and flirt with a number of young lads, and I suppose with most young men, that's innocent enough. But not with him. It's stoking a fire that could seriously burn you. Now tell me what happened on the porch."
Charity sniffed, wiped her nose with her sleeve and straightened her shoulders. "He … he wants me to go to the social and he … Mother, it was only a kiss!"
"Yes, and I'm only your mother. Charity, I love you very much, but you’ll not be going to the social this Saturday nor anywhere else for the next month. You will come straight home after school each day and complete your studies. And you will have the chore of doing the supper dishes for four weeks." Marcy's tone softened. "But only because I love you."
Charity’s eyes glinted as she spun on her heel and headed for the door. "I could certainly do with a little less love, Mother," she hissed.
Marcy couldn't help but smile to herself. She had been sixteen once.
The door flew open and a blast of cool air surged in. Faith braced herself. Charity stood, wild-eyed, hands fisted at her sides. “I hate you!” she screamed. She slammed the door hard and leaned against it, her chest heaving from the effort. "I will never forgive you for what you did. You are a wicked, evil person, and I hope you die an old maid!" She lunged and knocked Faith flat on the bed, yanking a fistful of hair.
“Ow!” Faith hollered, pain unleashing her fury. She kneed Charity in the stomach and
rolled her over, pinning her to the bed. "Stop it, Charity––I mean it! I never meant to tell Mother anything, and you know it. But you were so mean and hateful, it just popped out.” Her breath came in ragged gasps. “Look, I don't want to fight with you."
Charity scowled. "Fine way to prove it. I still don't know if I'm going to forgive you. You've gone and ruined everything with Collin. It’s going to be twice as difficult to see him now." She tugged her arms free and pushed her away.
In slow motion, Faith sat on the bed, incredulous her sister would even entertain the thought of defying their mother. "But you're not supposed to. Not now, not ever––that's the whole point Mother's been making. Don't you understand that?"
"Yes, I understand that," Charity mimicked. "My head knows it, but I’m afraid my heart’s having a bit of a problem." She stood up from the bed and smiled. "But you don’t quite get it either, do you, Faith? I love him. It's as simple as that. Mother may forbid me from seeing him, but she can't forbid me from loving him." Charity posed in the mirror, then hugged herself and whirled around, her golden hair spinning about her like a fallen halo.
Faith’s jaw dropped. "You can't love him! You’re sixteen, and he’s twenty-one. You don't even know him!"
"Oh, yes, I do,” she breathed, “and he’s wonderful!” She gave Faith a sly smile. “You know the studying I've been doing at the library? Well, I've been studying all right––my favorite subject in the whole world."
Faith’s facial muscles slacked into shock, prompting a peal of laughter from her sister. Charity plopped on the bed and grabbed her hand. "Oh, Faith, he's amazing! He's funny and bright, and all I know is I'm happier than I've ever been.”
"You didn't look so happy on the porch this afternoon." Faith snatched her hand away.
A flicker of annoyance flashed on Charity's face and then disappeared into a sheepish grin. "Yes, I know, he can be maddening at times. It’s part of his charm, I suppose. But I can handle him." Charity stood and reached for the hairbrush. She began stroking her hair in a trancelike motion.
"You didn't appear to be the one doing the handling …"
The brushing stopped. Slowly Charity turned, all smiles diminished. "I know what I'm doing, and I'll thank you to stay out of it. I love him. That's all there is to it." Charity tossed the brush on the bed and turned to leave, but not before bestowing one final smile. "I trust you, Faith. We’re sisters. And sisters love each other, right?"
Faith gritted her teeth. The Bible she read to Mrs. Gerson every Saturday night claimed "love never fails." She certainly hoped not.