Adam Coates was a mere tenant farmer when he left England for the British Colony of Nova Scotia, but now he is a prosperous and influential landowner. What Madeline doesn’t know is that her father has hoodwinked them both—for the bride Adam truly wanted was her beautiful, older sister, Diana—his first love. When Madeline steps off the ship with romantic dreams of her long-awaited happily-ever-after, she is shocked and dismayed to discover the truth. Madeline is furious with her father for his treachery, but she has sailed across an ocean to an unfamiliar land and must remain, at least temporarily, under the protection of the man she still loves—the man who still intends to wed her sister.
Over the coming weeks, as their friendship deepens and grows, will Adam come to realize that he’d set his heart on the wrong sister all along? Or will it be too late to find the happiness they both desire?
Adam’s Promise was a Romance Writers of America RITA Finalist – nominated for best short historical romance of 2003. It is a sweet historical romance.
Release date: September 19, 2016
Publisher: Julianne MacLean Publishing Inc.
Print pages: 243
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By Julianne MacLean
Yorkshire, England, 1775
Madeline Oxley gathered her cloak about her and picked her way over the damp, foggy moor toward home. She peered through the mist shrouding her little stone house, nestled in the valley alongside the stone piggery and the other buildings, then came to a halt.
Oh, she wished she did not see what she thought she saw. She blinked slowly and looked again. Yes, it was still there. Her father’s carriage. He had returned.
A nervous little breath puffed out of her lungs. She did not like surprises. The past few days, with her father gone, she had tasted freedom. Not freedom to come and go, mind you—she was always free to do that as she pleased—but freedom in a more mindful sense. She did not have to look upon that expression of disappointment and disapproval, the look that never failed to sit like a wet stone in her belly at every meal.
With a resigned sigh, she walked down the hill and across the cobbled yard, past the chicken coop and stable and around the empty carriage to the front door. She unhooked the clasp on her cloak and stepped inside. Warmth from a strong fire crackling in the parlor touched her chilly, red cheeks.
The door clicked shut behind her. She removed her cloak and carried it into the room where her father sat in a chair in front of the flames. “Good evening, Papa. How was Thirsk?”
He folded a letter, slipped it into the breast pocket of his waistcoat and gazed up at her over the rims of his gold spectacles. “Thirsk was most pleasant, indeed. More gainful than I expected.”
Madeline tried to keep her tone light and cheerful. “How so?”
“It seems a burden has been lifted. I received a most generous offer from a gentleman I have not seen in a number of years.”
Madeline swallowed uneasily. “What sort of offer?”
Her father raised his chin as if contemplating how best to phrase whatever he was about to tell her. “Sit down, Madeline. We must have a word.”
A word? She experienced a constricting sensation around her ribs—the feeling she always got whenever her father wanted to have “a word” with her.
Still holding her cloak over her arms, Madeline sat down in the chair opposite him.
“It is good news for both of us.” He leaned back and crossed his legs. “It seems you will be married after all.”
Madeline’s body went stiff. She wet her lips and tried to speak in a steady voice. “May I ask—to whom?”
Her father cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. “Well, he is a bit older than you, and you probably won’t remember him. It has been a number of years since he was last here.”
“I’ve met him?”
“It’s not Mr. Siddall, is it?” she asked, unable to conceal a fiery sense of panic. But how could she help it? Mr. Siddall was three times her age, and the last time she’d seen him, his teeth were black and rotting, and it was all she could do now to hope that, for the love of God, they’d fallen out....
“No, it is not Mr. Siddall,” her father replied. “Mr. Siddall is a local gentleman. He would never offer for you—not after what happened at Stanley Hall, and how you behaved so impertinently afterward.”
The words struck Madeline like a slap, for her father had not defended her in the scandal that had ruined any chance she’d ever had at marriage with a decent man. Her father had even made it worse, by turning against her and blaming her publicly.
Determined not to let her father see that her wounds still burned, she raised her chin to speak with as much dignity as she could muster. “Who, then? If I am not good enough for Mr. Siddall, what manner of man have you agreed to ship me off to?”
He sighed deeply, as if he could not understand why he had been cursed with such a brazen disgrace of a daughter. “As I said, you probably won’t remember him. It’s been almost fifteen years since his last visit. You couldn’t have been more than an infant.”
“Fifteen years ago, I was eleven, Papa.”
He waved a hand at her. “Yes, yes, whatever.” Madeline felt the familiar sting of her father’s antipathy toward her, and squeezed her hands together on her lap to harden herself against it.
Her father tugged at his linen cuffs. “It seems he is not aware of your scandal, which is a miracle in itself, wouldn’t you say?”
Madeline simply gazed indifferently upon her father, who continued his account.
“The gentleman I speak of left Yorkshire four years ago for the British Colony of Nova Scotia. According to his description of things, there are very few women there. He would like to be married again, and it appears that he remembers you fondly. Though why, I cannot imagine. You never sat still long enough for any man to get a look at you.” He turned his gaze toward the fireplace. “Regardless of that, he has asked for your hand in marriage.”
Madeline steeled herself. “And you said yes?”
“Of course. I already sent my reply. You will be leaving on the next ship out of Scarborough in five days. I have arranged for you to travel with a Mr. and Mrs. Ripley from Helmsley.”
Nausea welled up inside Madeline. Five days? She would be leaving Yorkshire forever and crossing an ocean in five days?
She tried to focus on the shock of that and only that, rather than the fact that her father could be so cavalier about never seeing her again.
She swallowed hard and sat up straighter. “You still haven’t told me his name.”
“His name?” Her father cleared his throat, as if he were nervous about revealing it. She wished he would just spit it out and end this debilitating dread. “His name is Adam Coates.”
Madeline’s heart stumbled and took a high-flying leap. Was this real?
“But as I said,” her father continued, “you probably will not remember him.”
Remember him? How could she not? She had been awestruck by the sight of him the first moment he rode into their yard fifteen years ago on his big black horse, to call on her older sister, Diana. Diana had been eighteen and incredibly beautiful, while Madeline had been a rather willful child of eleven who refused to go to her room when her sister’s suitor came calling.
It was the first time Madeline had ever seen a man so handsome that he’d sent the clouds dashing right out of the sky. He’d hopped down from his horse, made a great sweeping bow in front of her and said, “Who is this beautiful young lass? A princess, surely!”
Years later, when she began to think about men in a romantic way, her dream suitor always seemed to have Adam Coates’s handsome features. For he had been the prince charming of her dreams, the gallant hero who had come to rescue a little princess locked in a tower.
All the sounds in the room retreated into some kind of garbled bubble while Madeline sat there in disbelief, staring blankly at her mumbling father.
She interrupted him. “But what about Diana? Why didn’t Mr. Coates ask for her hand? He loved her once, and she is a widow now.” Good God, her voice was shaking.
Her father removed his spectacles and set them on his lap. “He did not mention Diana. I suspect he doesn’t know of her fate, that she has been widowed. Besides, Diana is better off here with me.”
You mean her inheritance is better off here with you.
Madeline’s foot began to tap beneath her skirts as if it had a will of its own. Adam Coates?
“I thought he was married,” she said as casually as possible. “He had children, if I recall.”
“Ah, so you do remember him.”
Vividly, she thought.
“Only vaguely,” she replied.
Her father put his spectacles back on. “Well, yes, he did marry someone, quite soon after Diana married Lord Thurston. Too soon, I think. A woman from York who already had a son. I do not believe she gave Mr. Coates an easy time, but that is all in the past now. She passed away before Coates left for Nova Scotia.”
“I am sorry to hear that,” Madeline replied softly.
Her father stood and gestured for her to stand also. “I know, my dear, that since what happened at Stanley Hall, you have resigned yourself to spinsterhood, but you cannot afford to pass up on this offer. The man has made a success of himself. He is as wealthy now as any aristocrat and he knows nothing about the scandal. With any luck, he won’t find out until after he has wed you. Lord knows you will never get such an offer from anyone here in Yorkshire, so mind what I say and go without kicking up a fuss, and try to make the best of it, will you? From what I hear, it is a different world over there. Perhaps you can make a fresh start and live a respectable life.”
She nodded politely. “Yes, Papa.”
He took a step back. “Yes, Papa? That is all you have to say to me? Heavens above, I expected a full-blown battle over this. I do not believe you have ever said yes, Papa to me about anything in your entire life!”
She lowered her gaze, careful not to give away any of what she truly felt. “If I am to leave here in five days, I would very much like our time together to be affable.”
His shoulders slumped visibly. “Well, that is long overdue. Now off you go, and think carefully about what you wish to take with you. I can only spare two trunks.” He sat down again, waving her off. “And Mr. Coates has requested that you bring a bushel of wheat for seed—yellow Kent and Hampshire brown—and that you lay it under your head like a pillow during the crossing, to prevent it from getting wet.”
That last request sailed over her head, pushed aside by all the other thoughts and dreams that were circling around her like a hurricane.
Adam Coates. He had written to her father from another continent, across the ocean, and he had asked for her hand in marriage.
He had promised to make her his wife. His wife!
It hardly seemed possible. It was beyond all doubt a wonderful dream come true.
After Madeline left the room, her father rested his head against the high back of the chair and drummed his fingers upon the armrest. What should he do with the letter still in his waistcoat pocket?
Promptly he decided to lock it away in the secret compartment in his desk drawer. Knowing Madeline’s inquisitive nature, she might wish to read it for herself, and that was out of the question. She would never agree to leave Yorkshire if she knew the truth—that the woman Coates had requested to marry was not Madeline, but her older and more beautiful sister, Diana.
The British Colony of Nova Scotia
Seven weeks later
Charlie Coates nearly skidded sideways into the large cherry oak table in the dining room. “The ship’s in the basin!”
His father, Adam, seated at the table, looked up from his book and calmly removed his spectacles. He set them down beside the sterling silver candelabra.
“Calm down, son, and catch your breath. It’s just a ship.”
“But it’s her ship, Papa!”
“Yes, that it is.” Adam couldn’t deny the tremor of anticipation that moved through him at his son’s reminder. “I suppose I should go and greet her, shouldn’t I?”
He gave his youngest son a smile and rose to his feet.
“I’ll hitch up the buggy!” Charlie offered. The boy spun on his heel and dashed out of the house.
Adam stood at the dining room table for a moment and listened to the mantel clock ticking.
How many years had it been? Twenty? No, not twenty. Fifteen. He couldn’t pretend, not even to himself, not to remember the exact day Diana had jilted him to marry another.
Nor could he forget how long he had been married to Jane, God rest her soul, for her violent outbursts had taken their toll on him, to be sure. He was not the carefree, idealistic man he once was....
Glancing down at his simple clothing—his plain white shirt and tawny breeches—Adam wondered what Diana would think when she first saw him. Would she even recognize him?
His appearance hadn’t changed that much over the years, except for perhaps a few gray patches in his hair and the lines around his eyes. He was forty-three now, but he was as strong and vigorous as any man half his age. Stronger, even.
He held out his rough, callused hands and looked them over. Most of the changes, he supposed, she would not be able to see. At least not right away.
He decided then and there that he would quickly change his clothes and don his Sunday best.
Good Lord, what would she look like? How had the years treated her? Had they darkened her exquisite golden hair or tarnished the clean, pale complexion he remembered?
Not that it mattered, he decided. She would still be Diana—his Diana—and he would adore the changes, whatever they were.
With a mingling of euphoria and nervous anticipation, he walked out of the dining room and went upstairs to quickly change his clothes.
Madeline stood with her hands tight on the rail, her feet braced apart on the rolling deck of the Liberty.
The glorious wind whipped her skirts and cloak, and a salty spray cooled her cheeks. She closed her eyes to breathe in the moist, clean scent of the sea and listen to the schooner’s heavy keel slice through the frothy waves below.
It wouldn’t be long now, she thought dreamily. Then there would be no more waiting, no more imagining what it would be like to see Adam Coates again after all these years.
Adam. Should she call him that when she first saw him? How strange to use his Christian name, when he’d always been Mr. Coates to her. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to force the word past her lips with any measure of casual dignity and sound like a wife.
Well, she wasn’t his wife yet, but she would be soon. Very soon.
Her heart did a little dance inside her chest at the thought of marrying her prince charming, even though she had been just a child when she had last seen him.
Anxious gulls squawked against the blue sky overhead, swooping over the billowing sails as the boat neared the dock at the mouth of Cumberland Creek. The schooner docked smoothly and surely. Soon Madeline was stepping down the gangplank to the wharf below and gazing eagerly up at Fort Cumberland on the hill in the distance.
Madeline paused a moment to take in her surroundings while the crewmen unloaded her trunks. The salty tang of the sea whisked by on a fast wind, whipping her skirts around her ankles and tugging at her hat. She reached a hand up to keep it from flying off, while the ribbons flew wildly about her chin. She squinted toward the rolling, windswept expanse of grass that stretched for acres and acres into the distance, flanked on either side by ridges of wooded upland.
This land—this magnificent land—would be her home. It hardly seemed possible!
“Come along! This way!” Mr. Ripley called out, waving toward his family. He and his wife had been Madeline’s guardians and companions during the crossing. Madeline hoped the kind family, who knew nothing of her scandal, would find land nearby and become her neighbors here.
“You, too, Madeline!” Mr. Ripley called to her. “Follow us this way to the fort. We had your trunks put in the wagon with ours.” Madeline picked up her skirts and began the long trek up the cart road, stepping carefully over the loose stones. They reached the top of the hill and made their way to the fort’s entrance.
While Mr. Ripley located an empty room for his family in one of the barracks, Madeline glanced around the courtyard. Wondering if Adam was already there waiting, she searched the faces of the tradesmen and farmers.
Good heavens, her heart was beating like a wild thing in her chest. It had been a lifetime since she had last seen Adam, but there was no way on God’s green earth that she would not recognize him. She would know his eyes the moment she caught them in her eager gaze. They were the bluest eyes she’d ever seen in her life. Unforgettable.
Doris Ripley appeared beside her. “Is he here yet?”
“I do not see him,” Madeline said. “Perhaps he doesn’t know the schooner has arrived. I should send a message to him.”
“I’ll find someone,” Mrs. Ripley quickly offered. She looked around, anxious to help.
At that moment, a tall man walked into the courtyard. He wore a finely made black coat, the ruffles of a clean white shirt visible at his collar, and a black tricorn hat. He carried himself with a grace and confidence that made most heads in the yard turn and stare.
Even from a distance, Madeline knew. It was him.
Her blood rushed to her head, and her knees came dangerously close to buckling beneath her skirts.
She grabbed blindly for Mrs. Ripley’s sleeve before the woman walked away. “Wait. He’s here.”
Mrs. Ripley glanced toward the fort’s entrance. “My word, Madeline…” she said, in a breathy voice.
Fighting the crippling sensation that had taken over her legs, Madeline watched him pause just inside the main gate. Dear God, he was a magnificent man, even more handsome than she remembered, if that were possible. The years had been good to him. There was a confident manliness in him now. A maturity that filled her with elation.
Madeline quickly straightened her cream-colored fichu, ran her hands over her tight, boned bodice and down her striped cotton skirt.
Adam approached a man inside the entrance, and spoke to him. The man pointed a powder horn toward Madeline and the other passengers from the Liberty, who all stood in a crowd outside the barracks. The next moment, Adam was walking toward them, his long strides full of purpose, his gaze searching over everyone. There was anticipation in his eyes.
Could it be that he was as ardent in his yearning as she?
Mrs. Ripley nudged Madeline a few times in the arm, and she heard someone behind her whisper with interest, “Is that Miss Oxley’s fellow? My word...”
What was said after that, she had no idea. It was all Madeline could do to keep a calm, composed expression on her face and prepare herself to say hello.
Adam stopped in front of Mrs. Ripley, removed his hat and slid it under his arm. His shoulder-length dark hair—lightened with a hint of gray here and there—was tied back with a ribbon. His eyes were still as blue as an autumn sky, framed with black brows and black lashes, and he wore a polite yet confident expression.
Madeline’s heart warmed at the sight of him. Though she knew he was a stranger to her now, she felt as if she had known him all her life, which, in a way, she had. The idea of him was a part of who she was, a part of her identity.
He glanced once at Madeline—rather indifferently—then turned his attention back to Mrs. Ripley again. “Good afternoon, madam. I have come to meet someone, and I wonder if you could tell me—”
Before he had a chance to finish, Mrs. Ripley put her arm around Madeline’s waist, pushed her forward and said with a warm smile, “Yes, Mr. Coates, she is right here, eager to make your acquaintance.”
Adam’s gaze fell upon Madeline again, a little more attentively this time. For a long moment, he studied her face.
Madeline felt suddenly self-conscious in front of all these interested spectators.
She cleared her throat to say, “How do you do, Mr. Coates,” but before she had the chance, his dark brows pulled together with concern.
“No, it is someone else I have come to meet. We are to be married. She sailed from Scarborough weeks ago. Her name is Lady Thurston.”
For a long, awkward moment, no one said a word. The other passengers looked about in confusion, while all Madeline could do was swallow over the shock, confusion, and heartbreak that was quickly rising up within her.
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