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Authors: Tanya Anne Crosby

Happily Ever After

BOOK: Happily Ever After
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Happily Ever

After

 

 

TANYA ANNE CROSBY

All Rights Reserved.

This e-book is licensed for your
personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce
this book, or a portion thereof, in any form. This book my not be sold or
uploaded for distribution to others.

This is a work of fiction. Any
references to events or people, historical or otherwise are used fictitiously.
Names, characters, places and incidences are the product of the author’s
imagination and any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons living or
dead is purely coincidental.

Cover design by
Ravven

 

ISBN-10:
0988497425

ISBN-13: 978-0-9884974-2-9

 

Published by
Oliver-Hebert Books

 

Copyright © Tanya
Anne Crosby

 

 

 

Dedication

 

This one is still for
Alaina.

Always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

Boston, 1884

 

It was dark beneath the covers, but not so dark if
Sophie cracked open her little sanctuary to the moonlight shining in through
her bedroom window. She’d formed a tent of sorts, with pillows and blankets and
hoped no one could spy her beneath it.

Her mother had forbidden her to get out of her
bed, but she never said a word about her drawing beneath the covers. She was
sent to bed early, just after supper, as a punishment for her behavior this
afternoon—all because Sophie had gone out to play with the boys, had dirtied
her dress, and had, in her mother’s estimation, ruined the entire picnic.

But Sophie didn’t understand why it should ruin
everyone else’s day just because her dress was dirty. Jonny and Harlan had both
been dirty too, but no one seemed to care. Anyway, she didn’t like to have to
sit on a blanket at every picnic just so her dress would stay clean. It made
her feel like one of those tarts in a baker’s window, getting stale and yucky
while waiting for someone to come eat them!

Her mother’s friends had no little girls, and
Sophie always sat alone. She didn’t like it one bit! She wanted to run and play
like the boys did. And she could find shark’s teeth better than any old boy!

In fact, she found one today and wanted to draw it
right now. It sat before her on the pillow, her afternoon’s prize, as beautiful
to Sophie in all its mud-encrusted glory as all her mother’s sparkling
diamonds. She wanted to draw it shiny and pretty and golden just like it looked
to her. As she drew, she thought about Harlan Penn.

Harlan’s father was an osteologist! Harlan taught
her that word. He studied bones, and his house was like a mausoleum—bones
everywhere, skulls with no eyes in the sockets, legs and even hands with
fingers that dangled and wiggled. Harlan claimed he had a cigar box full of
eyes he’d plucked from his father’s skulls, but Sophie didn’t believe him one
bit. It didn’t matter, she liked to go to his house and wander the corridors.
There was always something new to see. And when she grew up, she wanted to live
in a house just like Harlan’s.

Maybe she would marry Harlan and Harlan would
bring her lovely things from far away so that she could display them for all
the world to see.

The door to her room opened, and Sophie froze,
afraid suddenly that her mother had come to check in on her. She rarely did,
because she expected no less from Sophie than for Sophie to obey. And usually
Sophie did, but she had wanted so badly to draw her shark’s tooth before the
image in her mind faded away. Everyone said she drew quite well for a little
girl who was only eight and it made her beam with pride whenever someone looked
at her drawings and smiled in approval.

“Sophia?”

It was her papa’s voice, and she let out the
breath she’d been holding, relief washing through her. Still, she was supposed
to be asleep and she really didn’t want to upset her father. For the slightest
instant, Sophie considered lying back and pretending she was fast asleep, but
her papa would never believe it, she knew. Her papa was too smart for that.

“Sophia,” he called again, and there was only a
bit of a reprimand in his voice.

Sophie battled her way from under the covers,
leaving her pencil and paper and shark’s tooth safely beneath.

He stood before her bed, looking down on her.

“But I’m not sleepy yet,” Sophie complained,
falling back upon the pillows.

“I wonder why,” her papa said, and pulled the
covers up, discovering Sophie’s drawing. Sophie thought he might take it away,
but he merely let the covers fall again, eyeing her reproachfully. “If your
mother found that, she wouldn’t like it,” was all he said. He pulled the covers
all the way up, tucking them in about her, then knelt at the side of her bed.

Sophie rubbed her eyes. “She never likes anything
I do.” It certainly seemed true. No matter what Sophie did, her mother was
displeased with her. She could always have done it better somehow.

“That’s not true, Sophia,” her daddy scolded her.
“Your mother loves you. She simply expects the best from her one and only
daughter.” He was silent an instant, and then added, “
You
are all her hopes and dreams rolled into one pretty little
package.” He reached out and tweaked her nose. “Understand?”

Sophie shook her head. Somehow, the statement
disturbed her but she didn’t know why. Her brows drew together as she
contemplated.

“She wants your life to be perfect,” he told her.
“She wants
you
to be perfect.”

Sophie frowned. It was too hard to be perfect. She
didn’t want to be perfect. But she did want to make her mother happy.

“When I grow up I
will
be perfect!” she promised, thinking of the perfect wedding her
mother had described so many times for Sophie. When she spoke of Sophie’s
future, those were the only times her mother ever smiled at her. “Only can I
please marry Harlan, Daddy?”

Her father laughed softly, the rich tone of it
filling her heart with warmth. “Sophia, my dearest love, when you grow up, you
will marry whomever your heart desires!”

Sophie smiled at that, completely reassured.

“Why Harlan?” her papa asked.

Sophie shrugged. “He has a very curious house.”

Her father laughed again. “That he does, angel
face.”

Dreamily, Sophie thought about Harlan’s house. “I
could walk about it for
all
my life
and
never
get bored, Papa!” Their own
house was far too perfect, nothing out of place, everything sublime. It forbade
one to run and play, or even to touch. Only her bedroom seemed a haven from
perfection.

Her father touched her cheek with the back of his
finger, caressing it softly. “Go to sleep,” he commanded her and smiled. “But
first you must show me the drawing you were working on.”

Sophie beamed up at him. She sat up at once and
threw off her covers, revealing them in the moonlight to her father. She handed
him the drawing first.

He turned it in the dim light of the room, trying to
make out the source of her inspiration. “It’s quite ... lovely, dear.”

Sophie knew he didn’t know what it was, but he
probably had never seen a shark’s tooth before. She held out the tooth in her
hand. “See, I found it, Papa! I went on a expiation with Harlan—”

“Expedition?”

“Yes! With Jonny and Harlan! At the picnic! I
found it all by myself!”

Her father smiled.

“Harlan said there used to be oceans right over
our house! And he said there were sharks everywhere! His daddy said so!”

Her father nodded and winked. “His daddy would
certainly know!”

Sophie beamed with pride.

“Put that away somewhere safe,” her papa told her,
letting her keep it. He put his fingers to his lips as if to tell her to keep
it a secret.

“Mother wouldn’t like it,” she told him, her voice
sounding dire.

“Your mother doesn’t have to know everything, my
dear.”

His declaration seemed to shock him as much as it
did Sophie. She peered up at him, brows arched, waiting for an explanation.

“There are things in your life as you grow older
that you will have to make decisions about on your own,” he explained. “Mothers
and fathers aren’t perfect, Sophie, although we do want the best for our
precious little bundles. Remember that, and use this.” He reached out and
tapped her gently on the forehead.

“Your mother loves you,” he said again, “but...
well...” He faltered, and then frowned, as though unsure how to proceed. “Let
me tell you a little story...”

Sophie nodded eagerly and fell back on her soft
down pillow to listen. It wasn’t often her daddy told her a bedtime story. He
worked so very much. But when he told her stories, she enjoyed them immensely.

“Once upon a time,” he began, “there was a little
girl who had a mother who wanted only the best for her...”

Sophie’s brow knit. The story sounded familiar.

“This mother loved her daughter so much,” he told
her, “that she put her only in the best dresses, gave her only the shiniest
black shoes. And she never, ever let her play with little boys. She was never
allowed to get her dress dirty... or mud under her fingernails.”

Sophie’s brow furrowed a little deeper. Was he
telling a story about her, she wondered.

“However, this little girl wanted only to play in
the stables, to feed the horses and ride them whenever she could. Her father
sold thoroughbreds, some of the finest most beautiful horses.”

Sophie listened intently. “Grandfather sells
throwbreds,” she commented after a moment.

Her father smiled down at her, obviously pleased
with her observation. “Yes, well... this little girl was never allowed to ride
them, nor even to be in their presence. You see... her mother didn’t think it
was a proper thing for her little girl to do, and only the little boys were
allowed to play in the stables. Her brothers and their friends often tended the
horses while the little girl watched.”

Sophie didn’t understand the story at all. It
wasn’t as entertaining as the ones he normally told. Still, she listened,
because she knew what it felt like to have a mother who never let her do
anything at all.

“Well, there was this one little boy,” her father
continued, “who thought the little girl had the most lovely smile.” Her father
sighed wistfully and shook his head. “He used to feel sorry for her when she
sat all alone, wishing she could play. He wanted so much to go talk to her, but
he knew he would only get her in trouble and so he never did, but he promised
himself that one day he would take her away from that place and give her a home
of her own where she could do whatever she pleased, somewhere she could raise
horses if she wished, somewhere where she would smile.”

“He was a very nice boy,” Sophie remarked, getting
sleepy.

Her father laughed softly. “Well, he wasn’t always
a nice little boy,” he assured her, “but he really, really liked the little
girl.”

“Oh,” Sophie said. She rubbed her eyes again.

Her father went silent, staring down at her,
though somehow Sophie wasn’t certain he was actually seeing her. He looked sad
suddenly and far away.

“What happened to the little girl and the little
boy, Daddy?”

“They were supposed to live happily ever after...
but happily ever after isn’t something someone can give you, Sophia... not even
a mother who loves a daughter very much. It’s a place inside here.” He reached
out and tapped Sophie on the breast.

Sophie nodded, trying desperately to keep her eyes
open, not wishing to hurt her papa’s feelings. She wanted to hear the end of
the story, she truly did, but she was getting so very sleepy.

She struggled to keep her eyes open as her daddy
continued. “So the boy and girl grew up, and got married. He took her away, as
he promised, but it was too late for the little girl. She was a very good
little girl, you see, always did what her parents wanted her to do. She never
disobeyed them, ever. They molded her into the perfect little girl... who grew
up to be the perfect lady... just like her mother... who never smiled.”

Sophie was suddenly too sleepy even to attempt to
understand her father’s strange tale.

“You, see, Sophie... sometimes it takes more
courage to follow your own dreams instead of the dreams of the ones you love.”

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