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Lena Nelson Dooley
Near her eighteenth birthday, Margaret Lenora Caine finds a chest hidden in the attic containing proof that she's adopted. The spoiled daughter of wealthy merchants in Seattle, she feels betrayed by her real parents and by the ones who raised her. But mystery surrounds her new discovery, and when Maggie uncovers another family secret, she loses all sense of identity. Leaving her home in Seattle, Washington, Maggie strikes out to find her destiny. Will Charles Stanton, who's been in love with her for years, be able to help her discover who she really is?
Excerpt of chapter one:
Once again she leaned forward and drew a furbelow around the hem, shading it carefully to show depth. The added weight of the extra fabric would help the skirt maintain its shape, providing a pleasing silhouette at any ball. She pictured herself wearing the beautiful green dress, whirling in the arms of her partner, whoever he was. Maybe someone like Charles Stanton, since she’d admired him for several years, and he was so handsome.
“Margaret, what are you doing?”
The harsh question broke Maggie’s concentration. The charcoal in her hand slipped, slashing an ugly smear across the sketch. She glanced at her mother standing in the doorway, her arms crossed over her bosom. Maggie heaved a sigh loud enough to reach the entrance, and her mother’s eyebrows arched so quickly Maggie wanted to laugh . . . almost, but she didn’t dare add to whatever was bothering Mother now. Her stomach began to churn, a thoroughly uncomfortable sensation. Lately, everything she did put Mother in a bad mood. She searched her mind for whatever could have set her off this time. She came up with nothing, so she pasted a smile across her face.
“I’m sketching.” She tried for a firm tone but wasn’t sure it came across that way.
“You don’t have time for that right now.” Florence Caine hurried across the Persian wool carpet and stared down at her. “We have too much to do before your party.”
Of course her mother was right, but Maggie thought she could take a few minutes to get the new design on paper while it was fresh in her mind. She glanced toward the mantel clock. Oh, no. Her few minutes had turned into over two hours. She’d lost herself in drawing designs again. No wonder Mother was exasperated.
She jumped up from the burgundy wing-back chair. “I didn’t realize it was so late. I’m sorry, Mother.”
Florence Caine took the sketch pad from her hand and studied the drawing with a critical eye. “That’s a different design.”
Maggie couldn’t tell if she liked the dress or not, but it didn’t matter. Designing was in Maggie’s blood. Her grandmother was a dressmaker who came up with her own designs instead of using those in Godey’s Lady’s Book or Harper’s Bazar. And, according to Mother’s sister, she never even looked at a Butterick pattern. Aunt Georgia had told her often enough about all the society women who wouldn’t let anyone but Agatha Carter make their clothing. They knew they wouldn’t be meeting anyone else wearing the exact same thing when they attended social events in Little Rock, Arkansas. Not for the first time, Maggie wished she could talk to her grandmother at least once.
With the news about people being able to converse across long distances with something called the telephone, someday she might talk to her that way. But Maggie wanted a face-to-face meeting. Knowing another dress designer would keep her from feeling like such a misfit. Mother kept reminding her that she didn’t really fit the mold of a young woman of their social standing in Seattle. At least, Daddy let her do what she wanted to. She didn’t know what she’d do without him to offset Mother’s insistence, which was becoming more and more harsh.
According to Aunt Georgia, the business Grandmother Carter started was still going strong, even though her grandmother had to be over sixty years old. Maggie planned to go visit her relatives in Arkansas, so she could tour the company. She hoped her journey would happen before she was too late to actually meet Agatha Carter. Her deepest desire was to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, since she had inherited her talents.
The sound of ripping tore through her thoughts. Aghast, she turned to catch her mother decimating her sketch. She lunged toward the paper, trying to save it, but Mother held the sketch just out of her reach.
“What are you doing?” Tears clogged her throat, but she struggled to hide them.
Dribbling the tiny pieces into the ornate wastepaper basket beside the mahogany desk, her mother looked up at her. “Just throwing it away. You had already ruined it anyway.”
Anger sliced through Maggie’s heart, leaving a jagged trail of pain. She still wanted to keep the sketch. She could use it while she created another. Her plan was to ask her father to help her surprise Mother. The design would set off her mother’s tall stature and still youthful figure. She planned to ask him for a length of the special blue satin brocade that would bring out the color of Mother’s eyes. The dress would make Mother the envy of most of her friends when the winter social season started in a couple of months. Now she’d have to begin the drawing all over again. So many hours of work and her dreams torn to shreds.
“Darling.” That syrupy tone Mother used when she was trying to make a point grated on Maggie’s nerves. “When are you going to grow up and forget about your little pictures of dresses?”
Little pictures of dresses? The words almost shredded the rest of Maggie’s control. She gripped her hands into fists and twisted them inside the folds of her full skirt.
They’d had this discussion too many times already. She gritted her teeth, but it didn’t help. In a few days she would be eighteen, old enough to make decisions for herself—whether her mother agreed or not.
She stood as tall as her tiny frame would allow her. “Those aren’t just ‘little drawings,’ Mother. I am going to be a dress designer.”
The icy disdain shooting from her mother’s eyes made Maggie cringe inside, but she stood her ground.
“Margaret Lenora Caine, I am tired of these conversations. You will not become a working girl.” Mother huffed out a very unladylike deep breath. “You don’t need to. Your father has worked hard to provide a very good living for the three of us. I will not listen to any more of this nonsense.”
Maggie had heard that phrase often enough, and she never liked it. Mother swept from the room as if she had the answer to everything, but she didn’t. Not for Maggie. And her sketches were not nonsense.
She tried to remember the last time she pleased her mother. Had she ever really?
Her hair was too curly and hard to tame into a proper style. And the hue was too red. Maggie wouldn’t stay out of the sun to prevent freckles from dotting her face. She could come up with a long list of her mother’s complaints if she wanted to take the time. She wasn’t that interested in what was going on among the elite in Seattle. She had more things to think about than how to catch a husband.
Maggie wanted to get married someday. But first she would follow her dream. Become the woman she was created to be. That meant being a dress designer, taking delight in making other women look their best. If it wasn’t for Grandmother Carter, Maggie would think she had been born into the wrong family.
The enticing aroma of gingerbread called her toward the kitchen. Spending time with Mrs. Jorgensen was just what she needed right now. Since she didn’t have any grandparents living close by, their cook and housekeeper substituted quite well in Maggie’s mind.
She pushed open the door, wrinkling her nose and sniffing like the bunny in the back garden while she headed across the brick floor toward the cabinet where her older friend worked. “What is that heavenly smell?”
Mrs. Jorgensen turned with a warm smile. “As if you didn’t already know. You’ve eaten enough of my gingerbread, for sure.”
Pushing white tendrils from her forehead, the woman quickly sliced the spicy concoction and placed a large piece on a saucer while Maggie retrieved the butter from the ice box. Maggie slathered a thick coating on and watched it melt into the hot, brown bread.
“Here’s something to drink.” Mrs. Jorgensen set a glass of cold milk on the work table in the middle of the large room.
Maggie hopped up on a tall stool and took a sip, swinging her legs as she had when she was a little girl. Mother would have something else to complain about if she saw her. That’s not ladylike and is most unbecoming. The oft-spoken words rang through Maggie’s mind. But Mother hardly ever came into the kitchen. Mrs. Jorgensen met with Mother in her sitting room to plan the meals and the day’s work schedule. “This is the only place in the house where I can just be myself.” Maggie took a bite and let the spices dance along her tongue, savoring the sting of spices mixed with the sweetness of molasses. “Ja.” The grandmotherly woman patted Maggie’s shoulder. “So tell me what’s bothering you, kära.”
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