Read A Great Catch Online

Authors: Lorna Seilstad

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A Great Catch

BOOK: A Great Catch
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© 2011 by Lorna Seilstad

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www.revellbooks.com

E-book edition created 2011

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-3269-4

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Scripture is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Published in association with the literary agency Books & Such, 52 Mission Circle #122 PMB 170, Santa Rosa, California 95409.

To my father,

who taught me to love

history, family, and the Lord

In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Proverbs 3:6

1

Lake Manawa, Iowa, 1901

Three blind mice.

Three little pigs.

Three days in the belly of a whale.

Emily Graham stifled a moan. Some of the worst things in life came in threes, and she was facing her favorite meddlesome trio right now.

“The right to vote won’t warm your bed at night, dear.” Aunt Millie poured fresh lemonade from a crystal pitcher into four glasses, then blotted her round face with a handkerchief. Even though the table, complete with an heirloom lace tablecloth, sat in the shade of the Grahams’ cabin at Lake Manawa, the late May heat brought a sheen to her aunt’s crinkled brow.

Emily pressed the glass of lemonade to her cheek and watched the sailboats on the lake lazily glide across the rippling surface. “As hot as it is, the last thing I want is a warm bed.”

“Honestly, what are we going to do with you?” Aunt Ethel, rail thin, stiffened in her chair, and Emily imagined her aunt would launch into a tirade concerning Emily’s character flaws at any minute.

Aunt Ethel turned toward her older silvery-haired sister, Emily’s grandmother. “It’s your fault, Kate. You filled her head with all those ridiculous notions of changing the world, women voting, and all that other nonsense. Now look at her. She’s twenty-three years old, and she’s still not married.”

“I’m twenty-two, Aunt Ethel.”

“But your birthday’s just around the corner.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “It’s six months away.”

“So sad. Almost a spinster.” Aunt Millie shook her head and smoothed her apron. “If we don’t do something soon, no man is going to want a woman that advanced in years.”

“I guess it’s up to us.” Aunt Ethel tsked and patted Emily’s hand. “Even though you’re no great catch, don’t worry, dear. With the three of us on the job, we’ll have a man on your arm in no time.”

“Three?” Emily felt a millstone sink to the pit of her stomach. She turned to her grandmother. “I thought you were on my side.”

Grandma Kate smiled. “I am. That’s why I’m going to help. If I leave it up to your aunts, they’ll have you married off to some spineless simpleton you’d have henpecked in a matter of days, or some bald, solid member of the community that every other bright girl has already discarded.”

“Do I even want to know what these two have in mind?”

The corners of Grandma Kate’s crinkly mouth bowed. “Probably not.”

“Trust us, dear. We have your best interests at heart.” Aunt Millie held out a plate. “Prune cake?”

“No thank you.” Emily checked the watch hanging on the chain around her neck. “I have to go now. I promised to meet some friends to go roller-skating.”

“You’re not going out in that abysmal outfit.” Aunt Ethel’s face pinched. “It’s hardly proper.”

Emily held out the sides of her sporting ensemble, complete with a shorter-length, divided moss-green walking skirt. “I can’t very well skate in a full skirt. I’d kill myself.”

“You probably will anyway,” Aunt Ethel said solemnly.

“Ethel!” Grandma Kate shot her a warning glance. “It’s not Emily’s fault she struggles a bit in the art of gracefulness.”

“A bit?” Aunt Millie chuckled. “That’s like saying I’m a bit old.”

“Aunties, Grandma, we’ll talk about all of this later.”

Aunt Ethel squeezed Emily’s forearm. “No need to thank us, dear. It’s our pleasure to help.”

After buckling the metal roller skates to her boots, Emily pulled the straps tight and dabbed her upper lip with a handkerchief. Patrons of the roller-skating rink, the newest addition to Lake Manawa’s Midway and ever-growing resort, lined the bench beside her.

“I can’t believe you two talked me into this again.” Emily set her feet on the paved brick sidewalk, shook the wrinkles from her skirt, and smiled at her two dearest friends, Lilly Hart and Marguerite Andrews.

“You’re the one who said we should challenge ourselves to grow.” Lilly, formerly Marguerite’s personal maid and still her best friend, grabbed Emily’s hand and pulled her to her feet.

“I said we needed to challenge our minds, not break our necks.” Emily wobbled, and Marguerite caught her arm.

“Careful.”

“You both realize that you are putting yourselves at great risk. It’s common knowledge I could trip over a chalk line drawn on the sidewalk.”

“You were a little shaky when we started last time, but you caught on just fine.” Lilly kept a firm hold on Emily’s elbow. “Besides, teaching you to skate is the best excuse Marguerite and I have for getting a break from our children.”

Keeping a hand on the door frame, Emily rolled in behind her friends. Her lips turned downward as the excitement soured. “Did you have to ask your husbands for permission to come today?”

“Tate takes a long afternoon nap, so Trip doesn’t mind.” Marguerite paused to give the clerk her coin. “Did Ben give you any trouble about coming today, Lilly?”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle. Besides, Levi’s with my mama.” She deposited her nickel on the counter. “And probably being spoiled rotten.”

Emily fished a coin from her chatelaine purse attached to the wide belt at her waist. “I can’t imagine having to ask a man if I can go somewhere. How utterly degrading.”

Marguerite stepped onto the smooth wooden floor of the rink. “That’s what I used to think.”

“And now she’s just a plain old married woman.” Lilly laughed as she followed her onto the floor.

“And you’re not?” Marguerite countered. “Emily, it’s not that I ask permission, really. Trip and I share our lives. It’s more of a common courtesy.”

Emily eased out onto the rink, pausing to adjust to the feel of the wheels on her feet. “But what if Trip told you no? If he said he didn’t want you to go, would you be here?” She wavered on the uneven floor and narrowly avoided the boy in front of her. His brows knit in anger, and she shrugged in apology. Why did skating and speaking at the same time have to be so difficult?

“The right answer is probably ‘no,’ but I can’t honestly say I’d obey him. I’m not sure what I’d do.” Marguerite smoothed a crinkle in her skirt.

“I am.” Lilly spun backward with ease. “You’d be here now and fight with him later.”

“That’s why I’m not sure marriage is for me. Obey? Even the word irritates me.”

Lilly laughed. “You just need to find the right person—like we have.” Emily started to lose her balance, and Lilly caught her hands. “Relax. Don’t fight it. Think of the skates as wheels on your feet.”

“Remember, I’m not graceful on my feet
without
the skates.”

They giggled, and Marguerite linked her arm in Emily’s. “You’re your own worst enemy. Smile. Act like you’re having fun.”

“It would certainly be acting.” Emily adjusted her hat, set askew by her last near fall. “I’m holding you two back. Why don’t you two go skate together awhile and let me practice on my own for a few minutes?”

“We couldn’t do that.” Lilly twirled in a circle.

“Please. It’s hard for me to talk and concentrate on the task at hand. I need about ten minutes to get used to this.”

“Are you sure?” Marguerite worried her bottom lip between her teeth.

Emily reached for the wall to steady herself. “Yes. Please, I’ll do better on my own. I certainly couldn’t do worse.”

“Ten minutes,” Lilly said. “And no hugging the wall.”

Like birds set free from their cage, the two friends sped off. Lilly skated with such ease she made it look as if she’d been doing it all her life, and Marguerite looked angelic floating around the rink with her blonde hair surrounding her head like a halo. Emily felt a stab of jealousy but pushed it away. It wasn’t their fault she’d been born without an ounce of athletic prowess.

She let go of the wall and shoved off, determined to master at least one lap around the rink. It might not be fair that fear pulsed through her every time another skater whooshed by, but that wouldn’t stop her. It never had before.

Despite her worries, her wobbly legs seemed to solidify as she rolled down the length of the maple floor. The soft
thunk
,
thunk
,
thunk
of her skates passing over the boards caused her confidence to grow. She rounded the first corner by pressing her hand to the wall and grinned. Perhaps she’d get used to this yet.

Relax. Don’t think about the skates.

Maybe if she concentrated on something else, like the Council Bluffs Equal Suffrage Club. With the recent failure of the Iowa legislature to amend the state’s constitution, the women were despondent, tired after losing a hard fight. As their local president, she needed something to rally the troops—something they could put their wholehearted efforts into. They couldn’t quit before they’d won the right to vote. She wouldn’t let them.

Would a husband complicate all she hoped to accomplish? Marguerite and Lilly had been able to participate in the fight, but having young children affected the amount of time they could commit to the cause. As a single woman, she was free to give the effort her undivided attention.

She reached the end of the rink and bit her lip when she crossed her right boot over her left, as she’d seen Lilly and Marguerite do many times.

Suddenly her feet tangled. Arms spinning like the paddle wheels of a steamboat, she teetered precariously to the right, then the left. Strong hands tightened around her waist and attempted to move her out of the way. Instead, she gave an ungainly kick and fell hard against the person holding her. Air whooshed from her lungs as they tumbled together onto the floor, a heap of knotted limbs and skates.

2

Emily hurt. She just couldn’t figure out where.

The man regained his footing and crouched in front of her. A mass of coffee-colored curls tumbled from beneath his cap and over his chestnut brown eyes.

“Carter? Carter Stockton?”

“Emily Graham? I didn’t figure I’d bump into you here.” He shoved the locks away. “Are you okay?”

“I think so.” A sharp pain shot through Emily’s wrist as she struggled to sit up. She clutched it to her stomach. Trying to ignore the sting, she smiled weakly. “I haven’t seen you since high school.”

His gaze dropped to her wrist. “You’re hurt, aren’t you? How bad is it?”

“I’m okay. I’m so sorry. This was all my fault.”

“Nonsense.” He smiled, and the cleft in his chin deepened. “Come on. Let’s get you out of harm’s way before some of these other skaters do more damage.”

Carter skated behind her, slipped his hands under her arms, and lifted her to her feet. Then, to her surprise, he kept his hand locked on her elbow until they had safely skated off the rink. He lowered her onto a bench and dropped down beside her. “Is your wrist broken?”

“Oh, heavens no.”

“Let me see it.”

“Honestly, I feel bad enough having taken so much of your time.”

He gently pried her arm loose and examined the puffy area. “It’s already swelling. Does it hurt to move your fingers? Wiggle them.”

His cool touch made her skin tingle in a most alarming way. Emily tried to tug her arm free, but he held her elbow fast. With an exasperated sigh, she gave a tiny wave with her digits. “See. I’m fine.”

“Humph.” He scowled and rubbed his chin.

Lilly rolled toward them and used the back of the bench to stop. “Emily, we saw you fall. Are you all right?”

Marguerite joined them, out of breath from rushing across the rink. “Carter, are you the man she crashed into?”

“No, I crashed into her.” He laid Emily’s hand back in her lap and stood up.

“That isn’t true, and you know it.” Emily winced when she jostled her arm. All this fuss. It was bad enough to make a fool of herself in front of all the skaters, but now they were all drawing added attention to her embarrassment.

“She needs someone to take a look at that wrist. My carriage is outside, so I’ll be glad to take her home. Is she staying here at the lake?”

“Her grandmother has a cabin on the south side.” Lilly checked the watch hanging off her belt. “I can ride with you. It’s on my way.”

Marguerite elbowed her side. “You’re not going in that direction. Remember, you have to pick up Levi and your mother at the Grand Plaza. She’s waiting for you.”

Puzzled, Emily eyed her best friends.

When Marguerite tilted her head toward Carter, realization seemed to explode across Lilly’s face. “Ooooh, yes. Sorry, Emily.”

Emily’s eyes widened in disbelief, and her cheeks flushed hot. They were abandoning her on purpose.

“You really don’t mind taking her home, Carter? It would be such a help because Trip is expecting me soon. He has a sailing lesson to give in half an hour.”

“Actually, I insist. I want to make sure I didn’t do any lasting damage.”

“In that case, we leave you in good hands.” Marguerite flashed Emily a winning smile. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Emily’s eyes shot fire. “You can bet on it.”

“Take care of her, Carter.” Lilly squeezed her shoulder. “She’s one special lady.”

Emily watched the two betrayers skate away and turned to Carter. “Thank you for your kind offer, but I really can get home on my own.” She bent to unbuckle her skate and let out a tiny yelp.

Without a word, he knelt in front of her and scooped up her boot. He slipped off the heavy skates and set them on the bench beside her. “Emily Graham, I can see one thing hasn’t changed. You are as stubborn as ever. Still trying to change the world?”

“Someone has to.”

“Indeed they do.” He chuckled, stood, and offered his hand. “But even crusaders can get a lift. Come on. Your carriage awaits.”

Every rut and bump along the dirt-packed service road made Carter flinch. The road wound behind some of the buildings and cabins lining the lake’s edge. Usually, resort patrons rode the streetcar to Lake Manawa, but Carter was glad he’d chosen to take his own carriage today. If not for the sporty two-seated phaeton, Emily would have had to walk home, and her pale face told him she wasn’t up to that.

He glanced at her and found her jaw clenched against the pain caused by the jostling. Having been in his own share of scrapes on and off the ball field, he sent up a silent prayer on her behalf. A lock of silky, soft brown hair had slipped from her bun in the collision and now danced across her forehead and landed on her nose. She struggled with her good hand to tuck it back in place. When the strand refused to comply, she finally puffed it away from her face.

She caught him watching her and rolled her eyes. “I must look a mess.”

“You look fine.” Truth be told, she looked more than fine. The Emily Graham he remembered from high school was all arms and legs with no obvious curves. This Emily had grown into her arms, legs, and curves quite nicely.

He shook his head and forced his gaze back to the road. What made him notice that? This was Emily, Martin’s little sister. Martin had played on some of the same ball teams with him in high school. Emily and Carter had simply been acquaintances, due in part to their positions on the school’s literary magazine staff. Even though she was a year younger than he, she was selected editor of the publication, a fact that still both riled and impressed him.

“So, Emily, what’s your brother up to?”

“He’s running Graham Implement Company while my parents are out of the country.”

“I’m sure he’s good at it. I remember he had quite the competitive streak in high school.”

“You’re telling me. I don’t think he let me win so much as a game of checkers growing up.” With a wince, she adjusted her hold on her wrist. “I believe my father’s company banks with your father. If you’re joining his business, it looks like you and Martin could be on the same team again.”

“Not unless he’s playing baseball.”

“Excuse me?”

“My father is semiretired. My brother Nathan is the vice president who runs everything now. So unless Martin is playing baseball, we won’t be on the same team. Though my brother expects me to join him this fall.”

“And until then?”

He drew his left index finger over the red letters on his striped wool baseball jersey. “I’m pitching for the Manawa Owls in the field they put up a couple of years ago.”

“I didn’t realize the owls at Lake Manawa gave a hoot about pitchers.” She giggled, a soft, full, infectious sound that rolled off her lips, not a high-pitched twitter so many girls tried when flirting.

Carter chuckled too. “Of course they do. Whooooever it is, they have to be the best.”

“I see. But he’d be wise to keep that news to himself.”

Her drawn face relaxed, and a warm feeling spread in his chest. It appeared he’d managed to keep her mind off the pain.

The two-seated rig hit another bump, and she gasped.

Carter grimaced, snapped the reins, and the horse picked up speed. “Sorry. It won’t be long now.”

“Good. I can’t wait to be out of this rig. I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t enjoy your company. I do. I mean—” She huffed. “Oh bother, listen to me. I sound like my great-aunts. I apologize, Carter. None of that came out right.”

He couldn’t stop the corners of his mouth from lifting at the sight of her looking flustered, her cheeks turning crimson. Sucking his lips together to make the grin go away, he turned the horse to the right. “So, how long have you been roller-skating?”

“This was only my second time, but I suppose that was obvious.” Despite her pain, she managed to laugh at herself.

“As soon as your wrist is better, you can tackle it again.”

“I’m not sure you should use
skating
and
tackle
in the same sentence where I’m concerned.”

“You need to have a little faith.”

Carter slowed the horse as they approached the cabins. Last summer, only tents had lined the seven-hundred-acre lake—a virtual sea of white on the grassy areas. Now a handful of whitewashed cabins had been constructed off the shore’s southwest edge. Farther down the shore on this side of the lake stood Louie’s French Restaurant and the soon-to-be-opened grand Kursaal. He pulled the rig off to the side of the service road, climbed down, and secured the horse to a tree.

“Easy.” Carter helped Emily out of the phaeton.

“Thank you for seeing me home.”

Ignoring her dismissal, he took hold of her elbow and urged her toward the cabins. “Which one is yours?”

She sighed. “The fourth one.”

He led her around to the lakeside, and they followed the gravel path in front of the cottages. Carter scanned the row of cabins. Reading the wooden signs posted over the doors, he recognized they’d been built for the best families in the area, such as the Wickhams, the Kimballs, and the Officers. Of course, the Grahams would be among that elite group.

If Carter remembered correctly, Emily’s grandfather had made his fortune mining silver in Colorado and had left his wife and son a significant sum upon his death. Emily’s father, James Graham, had then built one of the most successful implement companies in the Midwest.

An elderly woman sat in a wicker rocker bent over an embroidery ring. She looked up as they approached and craned her neck forward as if she didn’t recognize the two of them. “Emily?”

“Yes, Aunt Millie. It’s me.”

Her aunt struggled to her feet. “Is that a man with you?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Carter chuckled at the disbelief in the older woman’s voice. “I brought your niece home. She was injured at the skating rink.”

A grin plastered on her wrinkled face, Aunt Millie wobbled closer. Her gaze raked Carter from head to toe. “Isn’t he a dandy?”

Carter sucked in his cheeks to keep from laughing at the comical aunt.

“Aunt Millie,” Emily hissed.

“Relax, child.” She patted Emily’s cheek. “Are you really hurt?”

Carter pointed to her arm. “Her wrist may be broken, ma’am.”

The elderly woman’s eyes grew as large as baseballs. “Ethel! Kate! You need to come out here and see who Emily brought home.”

“Aunt Millie, I d-d-didn’t bring him home. He b-brought me.” Red-faced, she stumbled over the words. “And he was just about to leave.”

Carter crossed his arms over his chest. Now was not the time for ridiculous concerns. “Not until I know if I need to summon the doctor on your behalf.”

“Oh bother.” Emily rolled her eyes.

The door swung open and two more elderly women stepped ou
t.

“Emily, you’re injured.” Concern filled the green eyes of a stately white-haired woman. She examined Emily’s cradled arm. “Thank you for seeing my granddaughter home.”

Carter shifted his weight from foot to foot. “If it’s all right with you, I’ll stay until I’m certain she’s okay.”

“We’ll keep him company,” Aunt Millie volunteered with a girlish giggle. “I think Britta just made some fresh lemonade, and I believe we have a nice selection of cookies.”

“Yes.” The slim elderly woman eyed him with suspicion. “I think keeping your gentleman friend company would be an excellent idea.”

“Stay at your own risk,” Emily muttered as her grandmother directed her inside. She paused at the door. “And don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Carter swallowed hard and eyed the wide smiles of Emily’s two aunts. Like buzzards preparing to attack a fresh kill, they stared at him, sizing him up for dinner. He glanced around and spotted a white dining table, a few straight-backed matching chairs, and a rattan rocker situated in the shade.

“Would you ladies care to join me on the lawn? I believe someone said something about fresh lemonade.”

Aunt Millie’s face lit up. “Yes, I did. Please, do sit down. I’ll go ask Britta to bring some refreshments.”

“That’s very kind of you.” After she’d waddled inside, he swept his arm toward the empty chairs. “After you, ma’am.”

He followed the slight aunt to the table and watched her settle in the wicker rocking chair. He sat down at the table.

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