Authors: Beverly Jenkins
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction
|Always and Forever|
To Ava Williams and Gloria Larkins,
for their hard work, love, and support.
I am blessed by their presence in my life.
And to my eight aunts, for teaching me
style, wit, and grace.
Wearing the ice blue gown she’d planned to be married…
“You’re going where?” Grace’s elderly aunts shouted in unison, as…
Grace looked out over the sea of women who’d come…
True to his word, he arrived the next morning at…
Grace spent the rest of the week turning over the…
Grace awakened tired and stiff. Thoughts of Jackson Blake had…
That evening after dinner, Jackson called everyone together. As the…
As Garth neared, Loreli asked, “Does anyone know this handsome…
On the morning of June 3, 1884, the women prepared…
On the twentieth day of the journey, the brides spent…
The following evening, Grace tried her best to be cheerful…
Jackson stopped them a few miles away and slid from…
By the first week of August Jackson’s wounds had healed…
Evidently, Grace’s babies didn’t like riding Jim Crow anymore than…
January 1, 1884
earing the ice blue gown she’d planned to be married in within the hour, Grace Atwood stood before the large windows of her late father’s study looking out at the beautiful winter day. Across the room and behind her stood the man she’d planned to marry, handsome Garth Leeds.
The sun sparkled on the snow like diamonds. Normally, Grace would’ve enjoyed the sight, because she loved winter, but because of her mood it might as well have been pouring rain. Less than twenty minutes ago, Garth had come to beg off. He’d lost his heart to someone else, or so he claimed. Were it not for the many guests waiting downstairs in her parlor, Grace would be
giving him the loud verbal thrashing he so rightly deserved.
Instead, she’d held onto her dignity. Without bothering to mask the frostiness in her voice, she asked bluntly, “Who is she?”
“Amanda Young,” Garth confessed quietly.
Grace’s jaw tightened. She’d known the woman in question most of her life. In Chicago’s Black representative society, Amanda Young was known for her dour face, her boring dinner soirées, and of course her fortune, or rather, her papa’s fortune.
Grace had a fortune, too, albeit a small one left to her upon her own papa’s death a few months ago, but the wealth of the Youngs eclipsed all others. Grace sighed inwardly. Her beloved widowed aunts had warned her Garth might be nothing more than a money seeking cad.
, Aunt Dahlia proclaimed.
, echoed her sister Tulip, but Grace had been willing to take that chance in hopes that he really did love her for herself. The aunts had been right, it seemed. No decent man would throw his bride over for a bigger catch, but that’s what he’d done, and Grace was both angry and humiliated as a result.
For the first time since he’d entered the room, Grace turned from the window to look at him. She’d yet to meet a more handsome man. The light-skinned Garth Leeds had wit, charm, and a smile that could make a woman swoon. Even now, in spite of her mood, she found him striking. “So, when will you and Amanda marry?”
“As soon as the talk dies down.”
“Talk that will no doubt center on me.”
He had sense enough not to reply. Grace knew that for the next few months every time she entered a room gossips would whisper behind their hands. There’d be
looks of pity and well-intentioned words of consolation and advice. How she’d survive it would be anyone’s guess, but she’d never run from anything in her life, so it was far too late to begin now. At twenty-nine she’d fallen in love like a silly schoolgirl and been made a fool of, and nothing anyone could say or do could alter that fact. “I’ll make the apologies to the guests,” she stated emotionlessly.
“What about the gifts?”
Grace paused to turn to him again. She looked him up and down. Surely he didn’t believe they should be kept. “They’ll be returned. I’m certain you’ll want for nothing once you make Amanda your wife.”
He had the decency to appear embarrassed. “Whatever you think is best.”
It would’ve been best had you never entered my life,
she wanted to shout.
Haltingly, he said, “Well, I guess I should be going.”
He tried again. “Good-bye, Grace.”
She didn’t reply, she couldn’t; instead, she simply stood there at the window until the sound of the door’s soft closing signaled his departure.
Once alone, she asked herself how she could have been so blind. Grace knew she would never be considered a raving beauty; she had a head full of thick, copper red hair, was unfashionably short statured, and would be thirty years old in a month’s time. Nothing about her would’ve qualified her to be on the arm of a man like Garth, except her bank deposits, which is probably why he chose her in the first place.
Women like her, watching their youth fade, were susceptible to the grand flatterers of the world because they’d had so little of it in their lives. During Grace’s courting years all her suitors had taken to the hills once
they’d discovered she ran her father’s bank and had opinions on everything under the sun. Even as women of all races made occupational strides in unprecedented numbers, the men she encountered socially found her choice of occupation as baffling as her intelligence. Few seemed comfortable being around a woman like the one her papa had raised her to be, and she dearly wished he were alive today so she could be buoyed by his fatherly strength and wisdom.
After a few more moments of wallowing, she decided she’d moped long enough. She moved to the door, angrily noting that Garth hadn’t even apologized for the mess he’d made of her life. Determined not to let her heartache be seen, she set her shoulders to go downstairs and inform the guests that there’d be no wedding; she also vowed never to risk her heart again. Ever.
February 1, 1884
Dear Cousin Grace,
Greetings from Kansas. I hope my letter finds you well. As you know, I’ve joined the Great Exodus and am now a member of a newly founded colony in southern Kansas. It has not been an easy task, trying to carve out a life in a place where none has existed before, but we’ve done it. We’ve built houses, cleared land, and put in our first crops. Now, many of the unmarried men wish to start families but lack the most necessary element—wives. We’re wondering if you could make inquiries on our behalf as to whether any decent, god-fearing women in Chicago would be willing to travel here and marry.
I’m writing to you because no one else knows of anyone capable of taking on such a daunting task. Our men are stalwart individuals, most are educated, and many like me are veterans of Mr. Lincoln’s war. Since new men are arriving weekly, by the time this letter reaches you, we will undoubtedly need between thirty and thirty-five women. If you decide to take up our quest, please reply soon so that the funds you’ll need to finance the journey can be deposited in your accounts. I will also be posting to you sketches and information on each of the men wishing to be a part of this plan in hopes of helping the women choose their mates before they arrive. I dearly hope you can assist us. Hello to the aunts.
March 6, 1884
Dear Cousin Price,
Your letter did indeed find me well. I’ve decided to accept your unorthodox challenge. Having given the journey much thought, I feel it would be best to travel by wagon. The insidiousness of Jim Crow makes a train trip too perilous. I do not wish to have us all ordered off a train in the middle of the wilds or forced to ride with cattle. Granted, this decision will raise the costs, but I prefer the women reach Kansas City free of terror and with their dignity intact. I’m sure your men will agree. The aunts send their love.
Your loving cousin,
April 3, 1884
?” Grace’s elderly aunts shouted in unison, as they sat in the downstairs parlor of Grace’s modestly appointed home.
“To Kansas City,” Grace echoed simply. “Cousin Price wants me to find brides for the men in his colony and I’ve agreed to do it.”
Grace watched her aunts, Tulip and Dahlia, stare first at each other and then back at her. She sought to explain further. “You both know I’m not one to cry over spilled milk, but since Amanda’s and Garth’s wedding, I’ve wanted to get away, and this seems a golden opportunity.”
Both women nodded sympathetically. They knew of the gossiping and whispering that had been dogging Grace’s every step since Garth’s betrayal and how much pain the whole ugly ordeal had caused her even though she never let it show. Dahlia and Tulip were aunts on Grace’s late mother Vanessa’s side of the family and had come to Chicago last November to help Grace bury her father, Elliot. They’d intended to stay only until she mastered her grief but the visit lengthened, mainly because they found the bustling city of Chicago far livelier than their home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and because they loved their niece as much as they’d loved her mother.
“Who will run the bank while you’re away?” Tulip asked. She was the shorter, plumper, and elder of the two widowed aunts. Tulip and Dahlia had been named after their mother’s favorite flowers.
“I believe Mr. Rowe and the others are capable of seeing to things.”
“You believe,” Dahlia echoed skeptically, looking at Grace over her spectacles. The sisters were complete op
posites in temperament. Tulip viewed life optimistically and rarely found fault in anyone or anything. On the other hand, the tall, thin Dahlia tended to be more skeptical and opinionated. Tulip often swore Dahlia should’ve been named
for her sometimes negative opinions, but Grace thought the two women balanced each other perfectly and loved them both equally. “The bank will do fine without me. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t think so.”
Grace had complete faith in the abilities of her employees. Head clerk, Lionel Rowe, one of her father’s first hires, had been working at the bank for many years.