Her Safe Harbor: Prairie Romance
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denying their familial dysfunction, hesitant to traverse the volatile economics banks are facing at the turn of the twentieth century. But danger threatens when she discovers the crimes of an abusive man determined to make Jennifer his own.
Zebidiah Moran, chief of staff for a new senator in Washington, is determined to uncover the lovely Jennifer's secrets and guard her from danger. But will his sacrifices be enough to keep her safe? Will he be “Her Safe Harbor”? Find out in Book Four of the Crawford Family Series!
Some scenes of violence and potential abuse.
The Crawford Family Series
Book #1 Train Station Bride
Book #2 Contract to Wed
Companion Novella to Book #2 The Maid's Quarters
Book #3 Her Safe Harbor
Release date: March 10, 2016
Publisher: Holly Bush Books
Print pages: 219
Content advisory: Some abusive situations
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Her Safe Harbor: Prairie Romance
“What do you mean you are planning to travel again? You have just returned,” Jane Crawford said to her daughter. “No more traveling. Mr. Rothchild won’t like it. Will you, Jeffrey?”
Jennifer Crawford watched as her mother leaned forward from her place at the table in the family dining room at Willow Tree to cover Jeffrey’s hand with her own, purse her lips, and wink at him. It made Jennifer ill to think that if she were to spend her life with Jeffrey, as he and her mother had already planned, she would be subject to her mother’s ridiculous flirting and fawning over her husband, and in turn his obsequious and affected gratitude and flattery toward her mother.
“Jolene has asked me to come and help her in her new home in Washington when Max takes his seat in the U.S. Senate. She will be very busy, and Melinda will need attention. I have already told her I will come,” Jennifer said.
Jeffrey took a sip of his wine and looked at her over the rim of the cut crystal glass. “The Morgans are expecting us at their gala. I’m sure you don’t want to disappoint them.”
“I do not,” she said. “But you will have to make my excuses. Certainly, they understand what a momentous occasion this is for our family.”
“There is nothing momentous about the occasion at all! This person your sister has married is nothing! His family barely touches any good Boston society. And anyway, politicians are inevitably lowborn and crass,” Jane declared. “He is nothing to us and your sisters are dead to me.”
“Jane,” her father, William Crawford, said to his wife in a plaintive voice Jennifer was accustomed to hearing.
“It is true!” Jane said. “After everything I have done for Jolene and Julia? For them to turn their backs on their own mother?”
“Mother, please. Mr. Rothchild does not want to hear any of this.”
Jane demurred with a shrug. “He is nearly family.”
Jennifer continued to eat, staring down at her plate so she did not have to view her mother’s smug smile. When she looked up, Jeffrey’s eyes were on her.
“I have already replied to the Morgans for both of us,” he said.
“I’m sure they will not miss one lone person from the hundreds they invite.”
“This is business, Jennifer,” he said. “They are longtime customers of the bank, and if not for Harry Morgan’s introductions we would have missed out on having some very important clients. I’m sure you understand that.”
“Wouldn’t having a family member who is a U.S. senator be good for gaining new clients?” she asked.
Her mother harrumphed.
“Jennifer,” Jeffrey admonished. “It has already been decided. We are going to the Morgans’.”
Jeffrey’s lips were a hard line, and his eyes cold as he spoke. She recognized that look and didn’t challenge him or say more. In fact, no one at the table conversed, and she was feeling embarrassed by the set-down. She continued to eat and sipped her wine, willing herself to be patient until it was time to make her escape to her rooms. But what would she do if they were married? How would she escape him?
Dessert had just been served when her father cleared his throat, and every head turned to him. “If Jolene has asked for your help, then you should attend her. I will make your excuses to Harry Morgan.”
Jennifer was shocked and stared at her father, not daring to witness Jeffrey’s or her mother’s reaction, as her father rarely exerted himself on her or her sisters’ behalf. Jennifer didn’t believe he didn’t care, in fact, she felt he cared very deeply about all of them, and was mortally depressed when Jillian went to live with Julia. But he’d always stayed clear of the family machinations, believing that was his wife’s purview, Jennifer thought. And, if truth be told, she felt Julia was correct when she said in her letters that Father wanted to avoid the living hell that his wife would make of his life if he interfered. She also thought that her father was a bit frightened of Jane and her moods and maneuvers, just like everyone else in the household.
Jeffrey waved away the servant offering him a cordial. “I’m sorry I’ll be unable to stay longer this evening. There is somewhere I must be.”
“I’m so sorry, Jeffrey,” her mother said. “Must you go now before we adjourn to the music room?”
A servant hurried forward to pull back Jeffrey’s chair as he stood. “It is rarely wise to put off an important task, especially as current circumstances are not as friendly as I would like,” he said, and stared at Jennifer.
“Escort Mr. Rothchild to the door, Jennifer. It is the least you can do,” her mother said.
Jennifer walked beside him down the long hallway of Willow Tree, the sound of her slippers tapping on the marble floors breaking the silence. She watched Jeffrey as Bellings came from his position at the door to help him on with his coat and hand him his top hat and walking cane. Jeffrey was tall—taller than her by a good number of inches, and she was a tall woman. He had a handsome face, but his eyes never matched any gaiety he showed with laughter or smiles; in fact, his dark eyes were disconcerting. Frightening even, on some occasions. She’d thought him very attractive when she first met him, but with each encounter, mostly arranged by her mother, she’d felt a cold chill pass across her shoulders when he spoke to her in the way he had at the dinner table. Let alone when . . . well, she would not think of that.
Jeffrey glared at Bellings and the servant retreated toward the grand staircase that wrapped around the edge of the foyer. Jeffrey turned his stare on her.
“Do you believe I enjoy being contradicted by my future wife in front of her parents?”
Jennifer swallowed. “I did not mean to contradict you.”
“However, you did. I would have expected you to have more respect for your betrothed as I do for your mother and father.”
“I do appreciate how kind you are to my family. Especially to my mother,” she said purposefully and looked at him.
Jeffrey tapped his cane on the floor. “She is dreadful to you. I won’t allow her interference after our marriage. She is an altogether unpleasant woman in my estimation.”
Jennifer felt her heart skip a beat as he defended her and promised her protection, but she wondered if she would be exchanging one unpleasant master for another.
“I am most surprised your father chose to interfere between you and me.” Jeffrey leaned forward and spoke softly. “Let me be very clear. I will expect complete loyalty in a wife.”
Then, as if for Bellings’s benefit, he pulled her hands to his lips for a kiss and stared into her eyes with intensity and passion, speaking loudly enough that the servant would hear. “I will count the days until I see you again, my dear.”
Jeffrey went out the door and Jennifer drew a deep breath and turned, intending to go to her rooms. Jane stood at the bottom of the staircase. She dismissed Bellings.
“How clumsy you are, Jennifer. Pitting your father against your fiancé over something as inconsequential as Jolene’s imagined needs. You will stay here and you will attend the Morgan gala. I will not see you squander this opportunity that I have made available to you from the goodness of my heart.”
“He is not my fiancé. I have never said yes to his proposal and may never do so.”
“You are ridiculous! Your engagement has been discussed at parties and in boardrooms. Do not pretend to threaten me. I will not stand for it.”
Jennifer thought about her sister Jolene’s offer to have Jennifer live with them indefinitely in Washington. Perhaps that thought was enough to give her the courage necessary to be clear to her mother. “I have not accepted his proposal, Mother. I do not care what Boston society thinks of me so it will make little difference to me what is said. You had best be very careful who you announce this to, as you alone will be embarrassed in the end.” Jennifer turned and climbed the steps as her mother bellowed from the foyer.
“You are the one who took one look at Jeffrey Rothchild, had one dance with him, and promoted him in such a way that he was hired at the Crawford Bank by your father. Do not pretend now that you want nothing to do with him after you have pursued him. Your father hired him to please you, thinking to begin to prepare his soon to be son-in-law. Don’t pretend now that he is nothing to you!”
Jennifer’s hands were shaking as she approached her room. She could still hear her mother shouting below her. He maid, Eliza, opened her door.
“Good evening, miss,” Eliza said.
“Help me out of this corset. I will not be going downstairs any more this evening.”
“Please unhook it. I cannot breathe. And the necklace. Remove my necklace. Quickly!”
Jennifer dropped down onto the chair in front of her vanity where Eliza had guided her. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and hear its beat in her ears. She fumbled with the clasp of her bracelet and could not open it. She tried to pull it off over her hand, digging the gems and metalwork into her skin. Eliza stilled her hands with her own and worked the clasp until the bracelet slipped off.
“There, miss, it is off,” Eliza said. “Take slow breaths. I will have a tray sent up. A nice steamy cup of tea will be just the thing.”
Eliza pulled Jennifer’s dress over her head, undid her corset, and led her to the screen in her room. She handed her a dressing gown of thick fabric and Jennifer pulled it on over her silk chemise and drawers. Her fingers shook as she knotted the belt, and she took long, even breaths to calm the heartbeat that she could still hear in her ears. She came out from behind the screen as Eliza stoked the fire in her room.
“Your tray is on the way, and I’ve asked Cook to send some of those delicious wafers she’s been making with the icing that is so sweet. I had two myself this morning. And did I tell you about the new man working in the stables and garages? Oh my,” she said.
Jennifer relaxed listening to the lilt of Eliza’s voice and the rhythm of her words telling stories about the staff belowstairs. She was seated at her dressing table now and sipping tea while Eliza unpinned her hair and brushed it until the curls were shining. Jennifer closed her eyes and laid her hand on Eliza’s.
“Thank you,” she said. “I am fine now.”
“Of course you are,” Eliza said briskly. “Have you had any word about how your sister is faring in the Capital?”
“She has written again to ask me to live with them permanently.”
“Has your answer changed, miss?”
“No. It has not. Although I will travel there soon for my brother-in-law’s swearing in. I’d like you to come with me, Eliza. We will stay for two weeks or more.”
“Yes, miss. Do you know—”
Jennifer and Eliza both turned as they heard shouting from the hallway. Eliza hurried to the door and opened it a few inches to peer outside the room.
“Is that Mother shouting?” Jennifer asked.
Eliza nodded. “It is.”
Jennifer went to the door and listened from within her room. She could hear her father begging for restraint and her mother shouting back. It was about her, she knew, and no doubt, her father was bearing the brunt of his defense of her at the dinner table against Jeffrey. She pulled open the door.
“Mother!” she said as she walked to her parents where they stood at the end of the massive hallway where the family quarters were. “The servants will hear you. Please.”
“I will not be made a fool of by you or anyone else in this family. I will not!” Jane shouted, and suddenly bent over at the waist in obvious pain.
“Jane?” her father said with concern, and took his wife’s elbow. “Are you unwell? Shall I call the doctor?”
“Get me to my rooms, William,” a white-faced Jane said. “Call for Mildred.”
“I think you should see a doctor,” he said. “This is the second time . . .”
“I will not be badgered!” she said, and then faltered farther into her husband’s arms.
“Fetch Mildred,” Jennifer said to Eliza, and then turned to her mother. “I will help you change and get settled.”
Her mother shook her head. “I want nothing to do with you. Where is Mildred? William! Get me to my rooms!”
Jennifer folded her hands at her waist and watched as her father helped her mother down the hallway. Mildred hurried by, giving instructions to a young woman for what was to be brought to her mistress’s room. She eyed Jennifer with barely concealed contempt.
* * *
“How is Mother this morning?” Jennifer asked her father as they rode in the family carriage into the heart of Boston the following day.
“I do not know. She would not allow me into her rooms and Mildred had nothing to say.”
“Nothing to say or wouldn’t say?”
Her father smiled at her just as if she’d never asked the question. “What are your plans for today, Jennifer? If you’re not too busy, I have another packet for you.”
She nodded. “Of course. Send Wickers with the details.”
The carriage rolled to a stop at a discreet side door on the massive stone building that was the Crawford Bank, and her father stepped out. “Take Miss Crawford to the lobby.”
Jennifer pulled her gloves tight as they rounded the corner and then accepted the doorman’s help down the two carriage steps. She drew herself up as she’d seen Jolene and her mother do on so many occasions, straightening her back, and slowly turning her head from side to side. Gentlemen stopped on either side of the dark carpet that went the entire way to the bank’s marble foundation.
The doorman nodded and opened the door for her to enter. “Good morning, Miss Crawford.”
Snow had begun to swirl around her, sprinkling white on her dark blue walking coat and velvet hat, the pheasant feather dipping with each step. The men who had stopped to let her pass were tipping their hats or removing them.
“Good morning, McAtee! It is a lovely morning, even with this wretched snow.”
“Let me hold my umbrella over you so you don’t get wet,” a young man shouted, and received laughter in reply from the men around him.
“Thank you, but I’m almost inside,” she said, and tossed her dark blond curls over her shoulder as she smiled brightly at the man holding his umbrella out to her like an offering.
Jennifer entered the bank with a nod to the doorman.
“She smiled at you, boyo,” another man said to the man holding the umbrella. “Lucky dog, you.”
“She did,” he replied, still staring at the now closed bank door. “She did.”
“I time my mornings to be just here when she arrives,” the man said. “’Twas a dreadful stretch when she was away. I thought I’d right died when she come back.”
* * *
“I’ll take your wrap, miss,” O’Brien said.
“Thank you,” Jennifer replied to the young red-haired woman her father had assigned to her as a companion while she was at the bank. He could hardly have designated a secretary, since he would not have liked having a man so close to her and the secretary most certainly would not like working for or with a woman. So a compromise was reached for when Jennifer was at the bank, ostensively as a bright, lovely decoration meant to greet and converse with important customers of her family’s bank.
“Who is scheduled for today, O’Brien?” she asked when she was seated behind the desk in the small anteroom off of the parlor lobby, as it was known. A private side entrance for important customers, near the one her father had entered, led directly to this room. Jennifer would serve tea and coffee and inquire after the customer’s and his family’s health, much like any lady would do when entertaining in her own home, before her father or one of her father’s employees took the customer to their office.
Jennifer knew that her sister Jolene had done her share of this sort of thing during the time she was married, while her first husband, Turner, worked just two floors above, near his father-in-law’s offices. Her father was not enamored of the idea of her continuing on with what Jolene had started, however, as she was unmarried. Jennifer argued that O’Brien was always with her and that her assistant was the daughter of Thomas O’Brien, who managed their family stables, whom her father had known since his youth, when the then young, fabled horseman from Ireland had landed in the States, and whom he had trusted and employed for all of their adult lives. But her father was won over when Jennifer confessed she could not abide being at Willow Tree for days on end with only Jane Crawford as a companion.
“Just a Mr. Carter, Miss Crawford,” O’Brien replied as she glanced at the list she held in her hand. “Your sister’s notes indicate he had a sickly child the last time he was here, almost three years ago. But I cannot tell if the child was sick with a passing fever or cold or sickly with some long-term ailment.”
“I will have to see how the conversation goes,” Jennifer said. “What other information did Jolene leave us? Wife’s name? Where exactly is Mr. Carter from?”
“Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Miss Crawford,” O’Brien replied. “But he does have business interests here in Boston.”
“I understand that our new Burroughs adding machines have been delivered,” Jennifer said as she set about sending messages to the small kitchen for cakes, coffee, and hot water for brewing her tea.
“Yes, miss, they have,” O’Brien said with a sparkle in her eye. “I am hoping we will be able to test them out today.”
“I imagine we will. My father is sending another packet for us to examine.”
“Have you solved any of the mysteries of the Dorchester portfolio?”
“No, I have not, but I’ve got some ideas. Perhaps there’ll be time later today for us to discuss them,” O’Brien said.
Jennifer nodded and went to the sideboard, now being filled with trays of cakes and biscuits by a uniformed man, while O’Brien read aloud from a summary of Mr. Carter’s holdings in the Crawford Bank and other notes that someone had written about his business ventures. Mr. Carter himself arrived shortly after, and O’Brien answered the knock on the door. Jennifer poured tea and commiserated with Mr. Carter over his fragile health. Wickers came a few scant minutes later and escorted Mr. Carter to her father’s office.
“Well,” Jennifer said as she rose. “That was quite simple today, wasn’t it, O’Brien?”
“And quick, miss. Just as Mr. Carter was ready to explain every one of his ailments to you, Wickers came for him. A narrow escape,” she said with a smile.
“I imagine you’re right. Let’s take a look at our new arithmetic machine, shall we?”
“Oh, yes,” O’Brien said as she followed Jennifer into the office area. “But before we start with the new machine, I’d like to talk to you about the Dorchester portfolio while it’s fresh in my brain.”
“Yes. Let’s begin with that. If my memory serves, Mr. Dorchester has a few outstanding loans against deposits held here at the bank and properties in the city,” Jennifer said.
“That is correct. He has also bought a significant amount of stock certificates over the years, and as I looked at the purchases as recorded, I did some calculations and found that the percentage of the sales that the bank took was six percent, not five as we’ve seen on other occasions. Perhaps it means nothing,” O’Brien said.
Jennifer took the green felt packet from O’Brien and untied the ribbon. She sat down at her desk and pulled out the contents. Individual packets of light yellow paper separated account tallies from stock certificates. Jennifer barely heard the click of the keys as O’Brien began testing the new adding machine as she was focused on the long column of numbers before her, and pulled out her tablet and pencil to make some calculations.
Thank heavens, the Ramsey School for Young Ladies curriculum included extensive mathematics classes. Jennifer had excelled in those classes and had been named the top student. Her father had allowed her access to his office when he was home in the evening and she remembered many nights standing by his side as a young girl, or sitting on his lap even, and tallying long lists of numbers, learning division and multiplication. He’d declared she had “a head for numbers” even better than his own and that it was such a pity she was a girl rather than a boy. But he’d said it with a smile and a hug and Jennifer didn’t feel quite as bad as she might at what he’d said, because there was little doubt she was his favorite, even when Jillian still lived with them and was a perfect vision of beauty at a very young age.
A school friend from Ramsey was going to attend Mount Holyoke Female Seminary to pursue a degree in literature after her years at Ramsey were completed. Jennifer had asked her father and mother at the dinner table one evening if she would be allowed to attend with her classmate to further study mathematics. Her mother had scolded her beyond anything she could have imagined. Jennifer had been humiliated, and her father had reprimanded her for even bringing such a subject up to her mother and for making the whole family subject to Jane’s tirades because of it. And indeed her mother continued to bring up the subject for years afterwards to relatives and friends, describing her daughter as having aspirations to be a spinster bluestocking to anyone who would listen.
Jennifer’s cheeks colored with the remembrance of those grim days and what felt like constant embarrassment. But more than that, her relationship with her father, her stalwart champion and confidante, was damaged. They were no longer easy with each other in conversation and there was a coldness from him toward her after that. Jennifer was devastated. Then the influenza changed all their lives. Jolene’s son, little William, dead from the disease and her first husband Turner gone as well, and Jolene no longer interested or able to go to the bank and entertain Crawford Bank clients in the parlor lobby.
Last year, an olive branch had been extended when her father agreed after some persuasion that she be allowed to accompany him to the bank a few days a week and continue what Jolene had begun. Then one day he’d arrived in the parlor lobby with a packet and a rather sheepish look on his face. She remembered the moment as if it were just occurring.
“I wonder if you’d take a look at this, Jennifer,” he had said. “The bookkeepers have pored over this and none can find the errors, but it is a very complicated account.” He looked up at her and smiled. “And then I recalled you were here in the building, and if anyone can unravel a mathematical mystery it is you. You’ve always been remarkably clever with numbers, even when you were a young girl. How proud I’ve always been of you.”
Jennifer choked back a sob at the time and anytime since that she’d let herself repeat her father’s words in her head. What a fine day that had been! She’d looked up at him and stretched out her hands to take the packet with a wide smile and glistening eyes. He’d hugged her in a loose embrace with a final pat on her back before releasing her. She’d reviewed the paperwork and saw within the first hour or so exactly what had happened and where the error had been made.
From that day onward, her father had brought her the most complicated of the account reviews that his staff of clerks and bookkeepers were unable to balance. She was fairly certain that no one else at the bank knew she and O’Brien were doing this sort of work. Jennifer did not care, not one little bit, that she was not to receive the credit for her discoveries, and more than that, she could never describe the elation she felt when facing hundreds of pages of entries, many so small that it was difficult to read them and some sloppily written, and the challenge of untangling those rows of digits.
Then occasionally, she would allow gloom to descend on her when faced with the reality that Jeffrey would be mortified if he ever knew she did this sort of thing, as it appeared that she actually worked for the bank, and he would never allow it if they married. This passion she felt for numbers would always transcend any passion he would elicit, even if intimate, she suspected. How lowering to feel less for the man she was intended to marry than for crinkled documents with an occasional tea stain.
Jennifer stopped her reminiscing as she scanned the final document and began a meticulous accounting of every stock certificate transaction listed. “Just as you said, not every stock sale garnered the bank six percent. Some were five percent. How odd. Wouldn’t it make sense for the bank to charge the same percentage each time?”
“I don’t really know,” O’Brien said. “Is there someone we can ask?”
“My father, I suppose,” Jennifer said. She pulled the stock certificates that the bank held in collateral from the folder and compared the hand-stamped serial numbers to the ones on the lists. “These ten were charged six percent and the remaining twenty-four were charged five percent. How odd. The dates are random, as well.”
“Who signed off on the column entry?”
“Two of the six by two different clerks and four of them by the same clerk,” Jennifer replied. “But the initials themselves are difficult to decipher.”
“So three different clerks. If we can match the initials to a name, could we ask them why they charged six percent? Could your father?”
“I hesitate to ask my father before we can say something definitive. Perhaps there is a way to determine whose initials are whose,” Jennifer said. “Let us think of way, O’Brien, without revealing why.”
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