Clarissa Sullivan dreams for more from life than sipping tepid tea in stifling parlors in Victorian Boston. She defies her family’s wishes, continuing to teach poor immigrant children in Boston’s West End, finding a much-needed purpose to her life.
As a suffragette, Clarissa is considered a firebrand radical no man would desire. For why should women want the vote when men have sheltered women from the distasteful aspects of politics and law?
When love blossoms between Clarissa and Gabriel McLeod, a struggling cabinetmaker, her family objects. Clarissa’s love and determination will be tested as she faces class prejudices, manipulative family members and social convention in order to live the life she desires with the man she loves.
Will she yield to expectations, or follow her heart on a journey of self-discovery as she learns what she cannot live without?
Targeted Age Group:: all
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 1 – G Rated Clean Read
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was listening to my favorite Irish band, Lunasa, perform and I realized I had a creative void in my life. I began writing not long after that and I researched topics that interested me. I'm from Montana but was living in Boston, and that duality of place and separation from those I love provided an inspiration for my writing.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I was fly fishing in Montana when I began to think about the characters and what they'd be like. It was a slow process, and they changed over time as I became better acquainted with them. I find I always do my best thinking away from a computer and especially in nature!
“ARGH!” groaned Gabriel, walking toward his workbench where he picked up a piece of wood and threw it across the room where it splintered into fragments against the brick wall.
I stood still, transfixed, as I had never seen such displays of anger before. It was as though I were frozen in place, unsure if to run or to stay. Gabriel continued to breathe forcefully but finally began to calm after a few moments. He leaned heavily on the workbench, bent over at the waist, gripping the edge of the table so hard I thought it would break in his strong hands.
After a few moments he looked up at me, with his piercing blue eyes starker today than I had ever seen them, and said, “I’d ask you to forget these past few minutes, but that won’t be possible, will it?” He now appeared weary, as though the emotional exertions of a few moments ago had drained him.
I stared at him dumbfounded. “How could I forget what I have just seen? Who was that woman? Why is there such animosity between the two of you?”
“Ah, Miss Sullivan, you of the thousand questions.” His deep baritone had dropped to a gentle tone and was laced with wry humor. He shook his head ruefully and said, “I won’t be getting much more work done today. Will you walk with me, and I’ll tell you a story?”
I noted that he did not meet my eyes, one of the first times that had happened in our acquaintance.
I agreed and, as I had yet to take off my coat, was ready to leave. Gabriel carefully extinguished the gaslights and locked the door. We descended the stairs quietly, and then turned down Canal Street toward Causeway Street. He appeared to be gathering his thoughts.
Finally after a few blocks of silently walking side by side, I asked, “Penny for your thoughts?”
He said with a dry laugh, “Ah, Miss Sullivan, I thought they’d be worth more than that to you. However, you are right. I have a long story to tell you. I just hope you don’t tire of the telling.”
“I don’t wish to intrude,” I whispered.
“I want you to know who I am,” Gabriel said, determination lacing his voice. “And after witnessing that scene, you can only have doubts.”
I nodded in silent agreement, thinking of Florence.
We walked to an overlook of the harbor where we could see ships coming and going. The bustling port was filled with ships, many now with steam engines, although there were still quite a few sailboats traversing the harbor. Across the waterway in East Boston, large passenger ships were docked, recently arrived from Europe. Small ferries skirted the larger ships, bringing passengers to and from the different areas surrounding the harbor. Bunker Hill Monument gleamed in the late afternoon sunlight. This overlook was a beautiful place for we could see the harbor, watch men unloading ships and still have a sense of privacy while remaining in public.
“I had a good childhood,” Gabriel began in a low tone, carefully choosing his words. “My parents were strict, yet there was no doubt that we were all cherished. We didn’t have much money, but I think we were too young to notice. Or else my mum did a wonderful job of hiding our poverty from us. Either way, Jeremy, my youngest brother, Richard and I grew up creating harmless mischief and learning from our mistakes. My da believed in schooling, since he hadn’t had much himself and was barely able to write his own name. My mum was very educated, a well-read woman. She read to us every night and taught us our letters at an early age.
“It was expected of us to go to school, to learn and to make something of ourselves when we grew up. I wanted to be a lawyer, learn fancy words and be paid to argue. That was one of my favorite things to do when I was young—try to outargue my da. I never won, but I enjoyed the challenge. Richard wanted to be a doctor. Jeremy didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he figured he had time to decide, being the youngest. We lived in a protected cocoon, in our tenement in the West End, with sporadic visits from my da’s traveling brother, Uncle Aidan.”
He paused, sighing, and seemed to brace himself, not looking at me, but out to sea. As he continued, his voice hardened. “One night—a cold early fall night in November when the chill had just hit—I heard screaming and woke up. I was twelve and knew waking up and smelling smoke meant something was wrong. I shook Richard and Jeremy, grabbed them, somehow moved us in the right direction, and we escaped the house. We stood huddled together, in front of the house, waiting for Da and Mum to come out. I remember calling out, over and over again until I was hoarse, for my mum and da. But they never came.”
“What had happened?” I whispered.
“A neighbor’s lantern had tipped over, and the fire had spread to the back of the house first, killing my folks, but giving us time to escape.” His bleak eyes reflected the torment of reliving that long-ago night and the loss of his parents. He shook his head, as though trying to shake free of the memories.
“We just continued to stand huddled together in the street, not knowing what to do. We didn’t understand death, the finality of it. This was our home. We had nowhere else to go. Thankfully a neighbor across the way took us in for the rest of the night, rocked Jeremy to sleep and consoled us as best she could. But she had five little ones herself, and she couldn’t take us on. I remember watching the door all that first night, waiting for Mum or Da to come in to tell us everything would be fine, it had been a mistake, but they never did.” He paused, staring out at the harbor as though lost in thought. He shook his head, continuing to speak in a low, flat, emotionless voice.
“Finally the next afternoon, Aunt Masterson, my mum’s sister, came around looking much imposed upon that she had to see to her sister’s children, horrified she had to set foot in the West End. However, her idea of appearances and social standing had to be kept up, and she didn’t want the apparent social disgrace of forcing her parentless nephews into an orphanage. So she took us.
“Am I boring you?” he turned to me, addressing me for the first time during the retelling of his childhood nightmare. Torment lit his eyes. “I can stop at any moment.”
“No! No, I’d wish to hear more, if you’d like to speak of it,” I replied, reaching out to touch his arm, unable to hide the eagerness in my voice.
He smiled wistfully and looked out to sea again. A slight breeze blew, ruffling his black hair.
“We rode to the Mastersons’ home in a carriage—the first time I had ever been in one—and were introduced to cousins we had never met. Nicholas and Henry.” His voice was laced with disgust as he said their names. “They disliked us immediately. They were dandies. All dressed up in proper clothes, though a bit too fine, if you know what I mean? And using proper words and no rough accents. They looked at us like we were beggars, come to live in their home, and they treated us as such. We learned quickly that there was no love to be spared on us—no hug when we scraped our knees, no extra help with our studies.”
He closed his eyes for a few moments.
“I dreamt of escape from that house, almost from the moment I entered it, and Old Mr. Smithers helped provide that escape. He had no sons and was looking for an apprentice. He had caught me a few times in his shop, skulking around, hiding from Aunt Masterson. We struck a bargain. He’d teach me his craft, and I’d behave for my aunt and uncle. In the beginning, I often wondered who got the better part of the bargain.” With that, he let out a long sigh and turned to me. “Well, that’s enough of the past for one day. I’ll walk you home.”
I frowned, startled at the abrupt ending of the story. There was so much more I wanted to know, especially why the woman I had met, who I assumed to be his aunt Masterson, disliked him so greatly. However, as I glanced toward the harbor and East Boston, I noted that night was quickly falling. I knew I needed to hurry home to forestall any unwanted questions from my family.
“I would not want to put you to the trouble of walking me home, Mr. McLeod. I am used to making my own way, and I can ride a streetcar.”
“No, I’ll see you home. It’s best not to wander these areas at this time of day alone, miss.” He smiled at me, almost shyly, and offered me his arm as we walked toward the streetcar stop.
I was pensive, thinking through what he had told me, and what had not been relayed. I hoped he would tell me more as we walked, but, instead, we fell into a quiet camaraderie. We arrived at the streetcar kiosk after a short, brisk walk.
“Richard worries about you, you know,” Gabriel said, breaking the silence between us.
“Richard?” I asked perplexed. I couldn’t imagine Richard, who had only met me once, worrying about me. “Why?”
“He heard a rumor at the smithy that an old friend is looking you up,” he said, watching me intently.
I felt my eyes go round, surprise flitting through me. “And they say women are the worst gossips,” I muttered.
Gabriel laughed. “Men say that of course. Though we’re just as curious as the next about the latest news.” He continued to watch me. “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“I hadn’t realized you’d asked one,” I said primly.
“Who’s the man, and what does he want from you?” Gabriel asked, leaning down to fully meet my eyes, daring me to prevaricate.
“A ghost from the past.”
“A welcome one?” he inquired, studying me.
Gabriel leaned away, sighing. “I apologize, miss. It’s not my place,” he said with a hint of regret.
I nodded, feeling sadness course through me. “We all have pasts that haunt us, Mr. McLeod,” I whispered before clearing my throat. I worried I had revealed too much with that simple comment. “Thank you for sharing part of yours with me. I’d like…” I closed my eyes, breaking off any further comments, feeling foolish.
“You’d like what, miss?” Gabriel asked, intensity in his voice again.
I met his eyes. “I’d like you to know that I enjoy the time I spend with you.”
His eyes flashed momentarily, as though in triumph, then focused on the approaching streetcar. “I should let you arrive home without me in tow,” he stated. “I bid you a good evening, Miss Clarissa.”
I looked up at him sharply, at his use of my first name, pleasure flooding me. I could not hide a smile and nodded a few times before hastily boarding the streetcar.
“Come see me again, so we can discuss the project,” he called into the open streetcar door, just as it began to move. I watched him shove his hands into his pockets, happiness filling me as he continued to watch me until the car disappeared around a bend.
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