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Authors: Jill Marie Landis

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Come Spring

BOOK: Come Spring
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COME
SPRING
JILL MARIE LANDIS

To my brothers, Jeff and John Davis;

To the
real
Annika and her sisters,

Marieke and Adriana;

To “Old” Ted Kitzmiller and his dog,

Minnie Mouse;

To Pat Teal, agent, friend, mentor.

   1   

Sunday, December 6, 1891

I
T
was the perfect day for a wedding.

Not two days before, a strong storm had blown in off the Atlantic, battered Boston with freezing blasts, and held the bay-side town in its relentless grip. But today the temperature rose steadily as golden sunlight shimmered on the snow-cloaked landscape and glanced off the black-lacquered carriages that lined Beacon Street in front of the Storm town house. Matched pairs of horses standing in their traces flicked their tails and stamped impatiently as they stared at nothing in particular and waited to carry their owners home again.

The grand house had been the central focus of the Storm family’s life for nearly twenty years. As solid and staid as its counterparts that lined the Back Bay streets, the mansion reflected the seemingly well-ordered lives of its occupants. A monument of brick and stone, it had been embellished inside with satin-textured woods of ash and walnut. Mantels, mirrors, and bookcases were adorned with cartouches, scrolls, and gracefully curved brackets. Plaster cornices and medallions lent a touch of elegance to the ceilings.

Inside the imposing structure, a girl with honey-blond hair piled high in a neo-Greek coiffure stood before a bay window in her room in the second story and stared with Delft-blue eyes at the carriages below. In a white
peau de sole
gown that had been created especially for her by Jean-PhilippePhilippe Worth, she was a vision of both innocence and loveliness. Orange blossoms held her tulle veil in place; a matching corsage was artfully pinned at her shoulder. The gown’s full sleeves puffed at the shoulders but fit close from elbow to wrist. The bodice tapered to accentuate her narrow waist and created the hourglass figure that fashion demanded. Barely a glimpse of white silk stockings showed beneath the skirt that neatly cleared the floor. Satin bows adorned the low-cut slippers that matched her white kid gloves.

As if she had all the time in the world, Annika Marieke Storm pushed aside the Belgian lace panel and watched crystal water droplets form and fall from the ends of the icicles draped over the eaves. They dropped with a steady beat like passing minutes marked by a ticking clock. Annika turned away from the sight, and the curtain fell back into place with a hushed sigh. ‘

Her wedding was the talk of Boston’s Back Bay. Her groom, Richard Thexton—handsome, wealthy, and truly devoted to her—was from an Old Bostonian family. Her parents approved of the match. Friends and family had assembled in the reception room downstairs to await the ceremony. The dining room had been readied for a gala celebration following the wedding. The flower-bedecked cake stood three feet high. Gifts of fancy dresser sets, bride bowls, silver, crystal, and china were on display in her father’s library. No detail had been left to chance.

Everything was perfect.

Everything except for the fact that Annika Storm was not at all certain she wanted to be wed.

The idea had not come upon her suddenly. In fact, she had been harboring doubt for more than a month, but whenever she decided to talk things over with Richard, he would do or say something so charming and endearing that she wondered how she could entertain any questions at all.

Annika looked about her room and felt like she was seeing it through the eyes of a stranger. The usual clutter that she seemed to cultivate without really trying had been removed, her clothing—an overabundant assortment of fur-trimmed tailored suits; silk day dresses; evening gowns of exquisite fabrics; petticoats of glacé silk, satin, and brocade that were meant to rustle intriguingly from beneath her skirts; hats to match them all—everything had been packed into the various trunks and traveling cases, hatboxes and valises that she had planned to take along on their honeymoon tour of Europe. Now, instead of littering the bed, hanging from drawers or over the dressing screen, her clothes were all out of sight. As she looked around, she realized that it had been years since she had seen the chintz upholstery on the chaise in the corner.

“Annika?” The soft sound of her mother’s voice was followed by swift tapping against the locked door.

Annika quickly glanced at her reflection in the ornately decorated mirror above the fireplace and bit her lower lip. They were so close that she knew once Analisa Storm took one look at her face, she would know something was amiss. Her mother and father heartily approved of Richard and somehow seemed relieved to have her soon permanently settled with an adoring husband who was able to provide for her in the manner in which she had been raised. Her parents and older half brother, Kase, had always been highly protective of her; so much so that she had cause to wonder if she were marrying Richard because she loved him or because her new status as wife would afford her a chance at independence she had never had before.

“What is it, Mama?” Annika called through the door. She tried to bring some color to her cheeks by pinching them.

Her mother answered in her familiar, heavily accented English. “A wonderful surprise. Just in time, Aunt Ruth is home from her holiday.”

As a genuine smile of excitement replaced her expression of worry, Annika opened the door. As her mother walked in, Annika ushered her across the room. “Oh, Mama, I’m so glad she’s here! The day just wouldn’t seem complete without Aunt Ruth.” Not only that, she thought, more relieved by the news than her mother would ever know, but her “aunt” Ruth Storm was the only person who might lay to rest the niggling doubt she had about going through with her wedding. “Where is she?”

“Getting dressed.” Analisa smiled with a shake of her head. “As soon as she came in, I told her about the dress youchose for her to wear. I think it is good that it is ready for her, Annemeke, because she arrived in something not so suitable for the wedding.” Analisa finished by rolling her gaze heavenward.

Annika laughed. “You know Auntie Ruth, Mama. She has a style all her own when it comes to fashion.”

“Ja.
That she does. And today it was bloomers.” Analisa took a step back and looked her daughter over, then shook her head as her eyes filled with a mist of tears. “So beautiful,” she said, then she reached out and put her arms about Annika. They shared the moment in silence before Analisa drew back and smiled as she brushed away her tears. “Today is not a day for crying. It is a day of joy that I have always wished for you.”

Annika felt her stomach toss. “Mama, I—”

“You will never know how much it means to me to see you happy. To see you safe.”

“Safe, Mama?”

Her mother quickly shook her head and frowned. “Maybe I use the wrong word.”

“Secure?” Annika offered. After twenty-four years in America, her mother was still murdering the language.

Analisa frowned, then agreed.
“Ja.
Secure.”

A quick knock on the door drew their attention before Annika could broach the subject of Richard Thexton and her qualms about marrying him. Ruth Storm partially opened the door and peered in. “Where’s my little girl?”

Annika crossed the room and hugged her aunt as the woman stepped through the door. Although Ruth was really her father’s widowed stepmother, she had always been an integral part of the family. Nearly seventy and more than a bit scatterbrained, Ruth was a self-taught astrologer who did nothing without consulting the stars. When their quick but hearty embrace ended, Ruth set a stack of pages on Annika’s bureau.

After she took a deep breath, Annika turned to Analisa and requested, “Mama, would you mind if I have a word with Auntie Ruth alone?”

Analisa smiled. “Of course not. I have left your papa toolong alone to greet the guests. Welcome home again, Ruth.” She gave the older woman’s hand a squeeze as she left them.

Her heartbeat accelerated with trepidation as Annika looked at her aunt and smiled. Ruth’s choice of clothing was usually as exotic as her hobby, but for today, Annika and her mother had made certain Ruth had a stylish gown to wear. Instead of the mismatched, Gypsylike garb she usually donned, Ruth wore a bright lavender creation, the silk bodice sporting a jabot of cascading lace. Annika—who was tall like her mother—towered over the diminutive, white-haired lady whose hazel eyes usually winked with mischief. Today she appeared far too thoughtful.

“I was afraid I wasn’t going to get here in time to tell you,” Ruth said before Annika could express her doubt.

“Tell me what?”

“Maybe I’m being a bit premature. Why don’t you just explain what you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well”—Annika took a deep breath and then blurted out—“I’m not certain I want to marry Richard. But look at me”—she indicated her wedding finery with a downward wave of her hand—“Mama and Papa have a house full of people downstairs, Richard and his family are waiting, and I’m still up here debating with myself. I’m due to be wed in ten minutes, but I stalled, praying you’d get here before the ceremony. Everyone else is so convinced I’m doing the right thing—”

“Everyone but you?”

“I can’t help it, Auntie, it’s this feeling I have that there should be more. And it’s not just that. I want to be free for a while before I marry. I’ve just received my degree so my education is behind me. Now I want to see some of the world on my own without Mama and Papa or Richard telling me where to go and what to do. But they are so excited, so happy that I’m to be married.” She paced over to the window again and back. “I’ve wrestled with this over and over for the last few weeks and I even convinced myself that if I don’t love Richard enough right now, that my love will grow. But I’ve always trusted your judgment, Auntie Ruth, and the predictions you read in the stars. Now I want to know what you think. Did you get Richard’s birth date in my last letter?”

Taking care not to trip over the train of her gown, Annika let Ruth take her hands and pull her over to the bed, where they both sat down.

“And I’m glad you did,” Ruth said, studying her carefully. “I must admit I was surprised when I received the wedding invitation. You’ve barely known Richard six months.”

“He can be quite persuasive, and both Mama and Papa have been so excited and pleased. They were expectant from the moment they met him.”

“They are not the ones marrying him, Annemeke,” Ruth reminded her.

“I know that”—Annika twisted her hands together in her lap—“but they’ve always been so careful where I was concerned, so supportive and protective, that I convinced myself that they are right about this, too.”

Ruth frowned. She had often disagreed with the cloak of protection Caleb and Analisa wove about their only daughter. Smothering, she called it. Annika had overheard discussions between the three on more than one occasion. “But it sounds as if you haven’t entirely convinced yourself you are doing the right thing,” Ruth said.

BOOK: Come Spring
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