The Captain's Woman
Meet the Thompsons of Locust Street, an unconventional family taking Philadelphia high society by storm…
1870 ~ Muireall Thompson has taken her duties seriously since her parents died on the family’s crossing from Scotland to America in 1854. As the eldest sibling, their death made her responsible for her family and left little time for a life of her own. But now her brothers and sisters are adults; even the youngest is nearly ready to face the world on his own. What will she do when she is alone, other than care for an elderly aunt and volunteer at the Sisters of Charity orphanage? Has the chance for a husband and children of her own passed her by?
Widower Anthony Marcus, formerly a captain in the Union Army, is a man scraping the bottom of his dignity and hanging on to his honor by the barest thread. Reduced to doing odd jobs to keep a roof over his dear daughter Ann’s head, he often leaves her with the Sisters of Charity while he is out seeking steady work with a decent salary that will allow him to move from their single-room living quarters.
After an initial meeting that finds Muireall and Anthony at odds, a tentative friendship forms as they bond over their mutual affection for Ann. As friendship leads to passion, can a wealthy spinster and a poor soldier overcome their differences in station to forge a future together? Just as Muireall finds the courage to reach for her own happiness, Anthony’s past rises up between them and an old enemy reemerges to bring the Thompson family down once and for all. Will the divide between them be insurmountable, or can they put aside pride and doubt for a love worth fighting for?
Release date: January 10, 2023
Publisher: Holly Bush Books
Print pages: 203
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The Captain's Woman
Muireall Thompson rose from her dining room chair in the Thompson family home on Locust Street in Philadelphia. She’d sat at the head of that table since they’d lost their beloved parents on their family’s escape across the Atlantic Ocean in 1855. She was nearly fourteen at the time, and she’d governed the family since then. She’d had help finding a home in a foreign city, furnishing it, raising her siblings, including a babe in arms—her youngest brother, Payden Thompson—from Aunt Murdoch, who was now slowing down in her old age. But her aunt was still lively, and more importantly, she was Muireall’s last connection to the prior generations of Thompsons. To Scotland. To their family’s place in society and the world of the nobility.
Aunt Murdoch sat at the other end of their large dining table, surrounded by Muireall’s siblings and the spouses of those who were married. There was even a wee nephew napping in a crib upstairs and a child on the way for her brother James and his wife. But now there was a commotion in the hallway, where their housekeeper’s son had gone to answer the door. Muireall heard shouting and a masculine voice calling the name of the young child sitting at their table, now scrambling to get down from her chair.
“Ann! Ann! Are you here?” the man shouted. “Ann!”
“Papa! I am here, Papa!” the girl said as she wiggled out of her chair. She flew into the man’s arms as he came through the dining room doorway, dropping his cane as he bent towards her.
“My girl! The nuns said you’d gone with someone, and I didn’t know who that person was. You must never do that again,” he said, holding her tight and kissing her face and hair.
Muireall looked at the man, clearly the child’s father. “The Sisters of Charity would have never allowed a child to be taken by a stranger, sir. They’ve known me for years.”
“But I don’t know you, and my Ann is most precious. I can’t countenance her wandering off with strangers.”
“I have just explained to you that I am well-known at the orphanage. Ann had not eaten all day, thinking you were to return for her and that you would eat together. Should I have let this dear child starve because you were late returning? I think not,” Muireall said, her voice rising. “Instead, I brought her home to dine with my family.”
The man looked away, turning his hat in his hand. “I was to be back from this appointment by midafternoon, but the man I was to speak to did not return until an hour ago.”
“What appointment could possibly be so important that you would worry a hungry child?” Muireall replied. She could feel anger welling up in her throat. The nerve of this person to come into her home and accuse her!
“I was seeing this man about work, ma’am. Work I need to make sure Ann has food on the table and clothes on her back,” he said, his voice rising with each word.
“Papa! The stew is delicious, and there is butter for the rolls! You may have mine, for I’m sure you have not eaten.”
Muireall’s brother stood, glancing from her to the stranger, smiled, and put out his hand. “James Thompson. Won’t you join us for a meal?”
“Captain Anthony Marcus of the Forty-Second. Excuse me. No longer captain. Just Anthony Marcus now. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“That’s my sister you’re arguing with, Miss Muireall Thompson.”
Muireall glanced at James. What was he about? she wondered. He scooted Ann’s chair closer to him and instructed Robbie to bring a chair for the captain. No, not the captain. Just plain old Anthony Marcus. What a way to introduce yourself to a room full of strangers whom you’ve just interrupted during their evening meal!
The housekeeper hurried to Mr. Marcus with a plate, silverware, and a napkin. He pulled his chair in and looked up at Mrs. McClintok. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said as he took the glass of water from her hand.
“Captain? We’re having beef stew. Allow me to dip you some,” her middle sister, Elspeth, said.
“Pass the rolls to the captain,” her youngest sister, Kirsty, said to her husband.
They were all smiling at the man as if he had not disturbed them and insinuated himself into their own family meal. Although, she would admit that was hardly fair. James had been the one to ask him to stay—and with that mischievous glint in his eye that Muireall did not trust.
“Thank you, ladies,” he said, nodded to her sisters, and spread his napkin on his lap.
“There is butter for the rolls, Papa,” Ann whispered. “Mr. Thompson will help you butter it. He helped me.”
“That was very kind of him,” Mr. Marcus said. But Muireall could tell Ann’s excitement over buttered rolls was embarrassing to him even as he watched bite her roll and lick the extra butter from her lips.
“There is wine, Captain, or whiskey, if you’d prefer,” Elspeth’s husband, Alexander Pendergast, said and lifted the bottle.
“Whiskey would be welcome, sir.”
“What s-sort of work was the man offering?” Dr. Albert Watson, Kirsty’s husband, asked.
Muireall watched as her family prodded him with more gentle questions. Soon he was comfortable and responding to everyone, even eliciting a laugh from Aunt Murdoch. Muireall was so angry she was having difficulty eating her meal. She’d smashed her fork into the potatoes with exaggerated strength, making her stew into a mashed mess with a few pieces of beef dotting it.
And what, after all, was she so angry about? A lonely child? A hungry one? The implication that she’d somehow spirited Ann away for some terrible purpose? Instead, she’d just brought the child here to enjoy the warmth of her home—her dress and stockings were thin—and to have a filling meal. She looked up when she heard her name.
“Are you finished?” Elspeth asked softly, holding several empty bowls in front of her.
Muireall realized she’d missed several minutes of the conversation and that she was no longer hungry. She handed her dish to her sister at the same time Mr. Marcus stood.
“I thank you for your hospitality,” he said and turned to Muireall. “And for your kindness to Ann. She has enjoyed herself immensely.”
“Won’t you stay for dessert?”
“I’ve made bread pudding,” Mrs. McClintok said from the doorway to the kitchen.
He shook his head, stubborn man. “Come along, Ann.”
“I’ve never had bread pudding, Papa. What does it taste like?”
“We will try it another time. Where is your coat?”
“But, Papa . . .”
“Ann. Please thank Miss Thompson. We do not want to overstay our welcome.”
Ann Marcus daintily wiped her mouth and climbed down from her chair. She squeezed past her father, stopped at Muireall, and put her hands up. Muireall shoved back her chair, her vision swimming before her. She swiftly picked up the girl and hugged her tightly. Little arms wrapped around her neck.
Ann whispered in Muireall’s ear, “I am so glad you brought me here and that my Papa got a full meal. He is always hungry, I think.”
“It was wonderful having you here, Ann. Perhaps we will see each other again at the orphanage.”
“Oh, I hope so. I do hope so,” she said and slid down to stand. She turned to her father. “I’m ready, Papa.”
They walked to the foyer, and Muireall helped Ann put on her coat, pulling the collar tight and buttoning it to the top. He stood at the door still as a stone, staring at her as she straightened.
“I’m afraid I owe you an apology, Miss Thompson. I was worried about Ann but should have never implied that you or the sisters would have anything but her best interest in mind.”
Muireall looked up at him. He was a handsome man, if a bit gaunt, with firm lips and a straight nose. She could see the shadow of his beard just beginning. He was leaning heavily on his cane. “I can understand your panic, sir. Ann is a dear girl, and the two of you are clearly very close. I could have left a note for you with the sisters.”
Mrs. McClintok bustled into the foyer and handed Mr. Marcus a bag. “There is some bread pudding and syrup for on top in a tin for Ann.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Muireall continued to stare at him as he watched Mrs. McClintok hurry back down the hallway. He was a compelling figure in addition to being attractive in his looks. There was a command about him, even as she sensed he was skimming very close to the bottom of desperate circumstances. The nuns had said he was a widower and that he brought Ann to them often while he searched for work. It surprised her that she’d not seen the girl before today. Muireall opened the door behind her to a rush of cold air and whirling snow.
“Oh my goodness,” she said and quickly closed the door. “I didn’t realize it was snowing. Have you a horse or a carriage?”
He shook his head and bent down. “We will be fine. Ann, climb on my back and hold tight.”
“Oh no. Oh, please don’t take her out in this weather, sir.” Muireall busied herself pulling the child’s dress and coat around her legs, which had ridden up when she climbed on her father’s back. “How far must you go?”
“Devlin Street, ma’am. We are accustomed to harsh weather, aren’t we, Ann? We will sing our songs and make the time hurry by.”
“Devlin Street?” James said as he came into the hallway. “That’s ten blocks away at least. My carriage will be here any moment. Let me take you both home.”
“I won’t put you to the trouble, Mr. Thompson,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have offered if I minded. My wife would have my hide if I let you walk in this weather,” James said and turned to Muireall. “I didn’t even realize it was snowing.”
“There’s no coal left in our room, Papa. Remember, I told you this morning.”
“I will go back out and fetch coal once we are there. Mrs. Phillips will let you sit with her while I’m gone.”
Muireall looked from Mr. Marcus to Ann, who’s eyes were filled with tears. “Mr. Marcus, may I speak to you a moment?”
Elspeth materialized in the entranceway and plucked Ann from her father’s back. “Let me show you something in the sitting room, dear.”
Muireall waited until the door closed behind Elspeth and James wandered down the hallway. She looked up at Mr. Marcus, seeing he was quickly losing patience or dignity or whatever caused proud men to fume. “Please allow Ann to stay the night. I will bring her to the orphanage tomorrow morning first thing. My brother or one of my brothers-in-law will see that I have a carriage to do so. I don’t believe Devlin Street is far from the orphanage. Please, Mr. Marcus. I just don’t want that child to be cold.”
“And you think I wish her to be cold?” he growled.
“Of course not. But sometimes circumstances require us to accept assistance. James’s carriage will be here any moment to take you to your room, but Ann said there is—”
“There is no coal, Miss Thompson.” He glanced around the foyer and took a deep breath. “I would be indebted if you would keep Ann here until tomorrow.”
Miss Muireall Thompson went from being a rather stern and serious woman, unassuming in her looks, to one of beauty so startling that when she smiled, as she was doing now, he could barely draw breath. The transformation was astonishing. He turned quickly away from her and went into the sitting room in search of Ann. If she was not comfortable staying, he would carry her in his arms to their rooms if it took him all night.
“Yes, Papa,” she said and hurried to him.
“Miss Thompson has offered to allow you to stay tonight so that you do not have to venture out in this weather. But if you would rather not—”
“Yes. Oh yes, please.” She reached her arms to be picked up, and he complied. “But will you be all right? I will be worried about you.”
He chuckled. “I’ll be fine. I weathered through colder nights than this during the war.”
“But you were younger then,” she said. “Just please remember to get yourself coal and take the pudding with you, Papa.”
“I was a younger man, but I will endeavor to stay safe.” He smiled at her. “Now, give your Papa a kiss.”
Anthony refused the offer of a carriage ride made again by Mr. Thompson, the brother who’d asked them him to stay for a meal. He went slowly down the three wide steps in the front of the house and pulled his collar tight, careful not to put too much weight on his bad leg.
He carried the sack with the pudding and syrup after Ann insisted he take it, to his further embarrassment. The Thompsons would think he was some poor soul unable to care for his child, a cripple, rubbed down to a nub, with no coal for the stove. He laughed grimly as he turned the corner on the next block, heading toward Devlin Street. He wasrubbed down to a nub, and his very meager savings had dwindled to a few dollars. He had next month’s rent but would have to have an income for the following month if he was to keep a roof over Ann’s head. His jaw clenched, and his stomach roiled with that thought. He’d seen the homeless in the city, the children dressed in rags against the bitter Philadelphia winters sometimes alone on the street while the mother or father worked piecemeal on the docks—or for the women, a much worse occupation.
He could live on the street if he had to, and he was sure the sisters would take Ann into the orphanage, but separating from her, not hearing her lively chatter or seeing her smiling eyes would certainly be the death of him. He hoped after today’s interview he would be employed, even though the work was well beneath his capabilities and Mr. Endernoff seemed like a pompous ass, eyeing Anthony’s faded coat and missing gloves. But he was thankful regardless. The snow made walking treacherous, but he was alive, on his feet, even if one foot wasn’t as whole as the other, with a full belly, pudding in his pocket, and Ann getting the spoiling of her life, undoubtedly. He smiled. She’d taken a liking to Muireall Thompson, he could tell, and she to Ann. What an incongruous pair, his cheerful daughter and a woman who looked as if she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.
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