Laurie Alice Eakes
Novella: “Moonlight Promise”
Four unexpected letters. Four intrepid women. Four lives changed forever.
Spanning a century and a continent, these romantic novellas will lead you on a journey through the landscape of love. Four young women find their lives altered after each receives a letter that sets her on a new path. From a Hudson River steamboat to a lush drawing room, from a carousel carver’s workshop to a remote hospital, you’ll be swept into the lives of women who are making their way in the world and finding love where they least expect it.
Moonlight Promise by Laurie Alice Eakes
Camilla Renfrew is a highborn English lady fleeing false accusations when she runs smack into love on a steamboat bound for the new Erie Canal. But can this unexpected attraction survive the treacherous journey?
From Chapter One of “A Moonlight Promise”
New York City
October 24, 1825
“Wait. Wait.” Camilla Renfrew raced down Barclay Street, waving her umbrella at the lone figure at the dockside of the last steamboat moored along that section of the East River. “Please, do not leave.”
The man who had been pointed out to her as Captain Nathaniel Black glanced toward her and said something inaudible above the chugging of the boat’s engine, the patter of the rain against Camilla’s umbrella, and the clatter of her hard, leather soles on the wooden planks of the wharf. She did not need to hear what he said. His turned back and feet heading up the gangway, his dark hair lifting like mourning kerchiefs waving farewell in the icy wind blowing off the Atlantic, spoke a trumpet blast of a message—he would not wait for her. Emphasizing his rejection, a bell clanged from the upper deck.
Camilla kept running toward the solitary boat and broad, indifferent back. “Oh, no, please, just another moment.” Heedlessly sacrificing her last bonnet to the rain, she collapsed her umbrella and tucked it under her arm so she could gather up her skirt with one hand and run unimpeded by layers of fabric.
She hit the edge of the dock just as the gangway began to rise.
A bell clanged, and the paddle wheel began a languid shug, shug, shug.
She glanced at the growing gap between wharf and gangway, took a deep breath, and leaped onto the latter.
The gangway rocked beneath her, swaying like a tree branch in a gale. Men shouted. Two left the tarpaulin they were tying over some barrels and surged toward her. Captain Black motioned them back with a gesture so forceful he may as well have shoved them, and charged toward Camilla. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Coming . . . aboard.” Running, sliding, gasping for breath, she closed the distance between herself and the captain.
The boat heeled beneath the onslaught of an incoming wave, and Camilla landed on the planks at his feet. She gripped his arm. Beneath her gloved fingers, his arm stiffened to something akin to an iron railing.
She glanced up at its owner and could not move. Eyes the pale green of spring grass back home in Gloucestershire pierced into hers like ivory knitting needles. For all their sharpness, those were young eyes. He could not be more than two or three years beyond her own twenty-five.
“What,” he asked in a frosty tone, “possessed you to do something so dangerous? If you’d fallen into the river, the current would have pushed you right into the wheel.”
Camilla gulped. Her stomach churned like the paddle wheel towering at the stern of the boat. Even in the gloom of the rain-soaked afternoon, the blades flashed in lethal grace. If she had gotten caught, those paddles would have pounded her like a piece of hide in the hands of a tanner.
She clutched Black’s arm more tightly, though her fingers slipped on his wet leather coat, and swallowed three times before she managed to speak. “I insist.”
In response, Black extricated his arm from her grasping fingers and stepped away from her. His face turned stony, emphasizing every chiseled angle. “I can’t help you.”
Behind him, the now mostly idle crew watched with expressions varying from dismay to amusement.
Their curiosity lent Camilla some courage to press her suit. “But you must help me.” She firmed her chin to keep it from quivering, and her voice emerged so sharply she feared she sounded shrewish. “All the other boats have left, and I must reach Albany before October twenty-sixth.”
“You’re not the only one.” He turned half away. “This is not a passenger boat. There’ll be more of those tomorrow.”
“But I cannot—”
She could not stay in the city another night. She could not tell him that, however. Of everything else she had lost over the past six months, no one could remove her pride.
She hefted her reticule. The beaded and embroidered velvet bag hung limp with its sad compliment of some English and American pennies and a five-dollar gold piece she doubted would last her another day in the city.
Her chin quivered despite her efforts. “Please.”
“As soon as we can get turned back, I’ll put you ashore again.” He walked away from her, past a black tower belching smoke and radiating blessed heat, and up a stairway.
Camilla followed. “You do not understand, sir. It is vital I reach Albany immediately.”
He paused at the top of the steps. “And it is vital I’m not delayed any longer.”