Summer Moon

Summer Moon

Jill Marie Landis

April 2019 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-944-5

RANCHER SEEKING WIFE...

 
Our PriceUS$16.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy


RANCHER SEEKING WIFE

A newspaper ad is the desperately needed answer to Kate Whittington’s prayers. Abandoned by her mother—the town tramp, raised in a bleak Maine orphanage, and a spinster without prospects, Kate dreams of a home and family of her own. Unfortunately, when she arrives to begin her new life, the man she believes she married by proxy denies placing the ad. He denies ever corresponding with or marrying her. Worse, he’s a Texas Ranger who’s recently been wounded while rescuing a boy from the Comanche—a boy he believes may be his long lost son.

Reed Benton doesn’t want a wife, doesn’t believe Kate’s story of an ad and letters, but he does need help taming the wild, resentful young boy under his roof—a boy who is a painful reminder of a past filled with betrayal and lies. There is no place in Reed Benton’s heart for a woman.

Can the faith of one woman with nothing left to lose create a miracle and heal two damaged souls?


About the Author Jill Marie Landis is the New York Times bestselling author and seven-time Romance Writers of America Finalist for the RITA Award. Long known for her historical romances, Jill Marie Landis also now writes The Tiki Goddess Mysteries (set on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, where she lives with her husband, actor Steve Landis.)


Reviews


"A SURE WINNER... Hardship, reality, adventure, and love combine to make this an emotional and dramatic tale.”

—Rendezvous

"[Jill Marie Landis’s] gift for intense emotion, her warm, real, very human characters, and her ability to draw us into the heart of a family make her a standout in the world of women’s fiction.”

—Amanda Quick

"A tender, satisfying historical romance.... A breezy, beach blanket read, offering up well-developed characters, a compelling plot line, and a pleasing slice of Americana.”

—Publishers Weekly

"Poignant, heartwarming.... Featuring good writing and exceptionally well-drawn characters, it should appeal to fans of LaVyrle Spencer and Kristin Hannah.”

—Library Journal

"Appealing.... An accomplished page-turner.”

—Kirkus Reviews

"A gifted writer . . . able to enthrall readers and touch their deepest emotions.”

—Romantic Times


Excerpt


Prologue

Applesby, Maine. Winter 1849.

"TURN YOUR FACE to the wall, Katie, and stop that coughin’.”

With her chest and throat burning, racked with chills that shook her thin frame, nine-year-old Katie Whittington huddled in her narrow bed.

"Katie, I mean it. Stop it now.”

Only half-awake, at first she thought she had dreamed her mother’s voice, so familiar, tinged with a hard-edged, soulless quality that held no love. But then she heard it again, clearly and for real, and the sound bur­rowed into sleep-fogged corners of her mind, waking her completely.

There were the other sounds, too. Throaty moans, whimpers, sharp, keening cries. A man’s harsh, ragged breathing. The whining protest of coiled bedsprings from across the cramped, cluttered room.

Katie rubbed her eyes and tried to hold back the hollow, jarring cough, but it erupted anyway. She covered her mouth with both hands and listened to the coupling noises, kept her back to the room, and hoped that Mama wouldn’t yell at her again.

She lay there pretending to sleep through the noise, painting pretty pictures in her head, dreaming of another life, another world for her and Mama—the kind of world she had only glimpsed from afar, the kind she could barely imagine.

In her lovely dream world, she and Mama wore pretty dresses, clean dresses, with starched lace and ruffles, and there were pretty hats to match. The weather was always warm and sunny, and whenever they walked down the street, no one stepped aside or turned away. No one pointed at them or whispered as they strolled along in their pastel finery.

Mama had tried to teach her to ignore the stares and whispers of the townsfolk, but the rudeness still cut Katie to her soul, and it always would.

She hugged the torn wool blanket and coughed again, then wiped the palm of her hand on the dirty sheet that was little more than a rag.

The linens in her dream home would be soft and clean. There would be a fancy yellow cover on her bed, too, just like one she had seen through the window of a big white house up on Poplar Street. She would have lace curtains, fancy as snowflakes that would never melt, hanging at every window. The sun would stream through them, casting strands of precious yellow gold around her very own room—a room bigger than the shack she lived in now. There would be pretty china plates piled high with more food than any one person could ever eat all by herself.

The roof would never leak. The windows would glisten, and there would not be even one single crack in them. Wind would never sneak through holes in the windows or walls.

She shivered, her teeth chattering. Without warning, she started coughing again, but this time it went on and on until she lay on her side gasping for air like a dying fish.

"Katie!”

"Jeezus, can’t you shut that kid up?”

Katie rolled herself into a tight ball, hugging the thin blanket around her shoulders. Her hands were stiff with cold, her feet nearly numb even though she had climbed into bed in her heavy shoes and socks.

She tried to picture her pretty dream house and all the lovely dresses again, and the plates piled high with hot food.

When the images would not come, she looked up at the frosted windowpane above her head. Between the ripped curtain and halo of frost crystals, she could see a sliver of moon and one lone star shining in the night sky.

She closed her eyes and wished upon that star. She wished all her dreams would come true. Then she opened her eyes, thankful that the moon was not full tonight.

On moonless nights it was easier for her to disappear inside herself and shut out the sound of Mama and the men. On moonless nights she was less tempted to watch.

But on nights when the moon hung full and heavy in the starless sky, she would silently turn away from the wall, stare through the milk-white light, and watch the shapes writhing on the bed. She would peer over the edge of her blanket and watch as Mama entertained the men who came scratching at the door.

She must have fallen asleep, for the next thing she knew, Mama’s hand was on her shoulder, shaking her awake. The room smelled of burning whale oil. The single lamp on the crate beside Mama’s bed cast a weak halo in the corner.

"Katie, get up and put your coat on.”

Mama stripped off the blanket and tossed Katie the ugly green wool coat that some little girl across town had outgrown. They had found it in the bottom of the Christmas charity box that the "self-righteous do-good­ers” (as Mama liked to call them) had left sitting on the front stoop last year.

Suffering through another fit of coughing, wiping rusty phlegm on the sheet, Katie sleepily protested. "It’s still the middle of the night, Mama.”

"Get up. We have to go.”

"Where? Where do we have to go in the dark? It’s cold out,” Katie whined.

Mama didn’t answer.

Katie pulled herself up, climbed off the bed. Mama held Katie’s coat as she shoved the girl’s arms into sleeves that did not cover her wrists. Katie looked around for her faded red scarf, but Mama grabbed her arm before she could find it.

"Come on.”

"Where are we going?” Mama would not look at her, and Katie began to worry and wonder why she was acting so strangely. "I’m sorry I keep coughing, Mama. I can’t help it.”

"You almost lost me a night’s wage.”

Before she could promise not to cough again, Katie doubled over with another spasm.

Her mother pulled a tattered cotton hankie out of the bodice of her torn gown and handed it to her. Then she grabbed her by the wrist, dragged her across the room, and opened the door. Katie ducked her head to avoid the blustery wind that sailed in off the sea and tried to keep up as her mother tugged her down one cold, deserted street after another.

Katie knew most of the lanes near the wharf by heart. They had trodden them since she could walk, she and Mama. They lived from hand to mouth on the money that the sailors and fishermen paid Mama when she took them to her bed. When times were very hard, they lived on do-gooder charity.

As they passed beneath a street lamp Katie glanced up at the familiar lines and angles of her mama’s thin face. Her mama was looking straight ahead with her jaw set.

They were climbing now, up the hill, away from the wharf and the ramshackle houses that lined the narrow byways and shops close to the water. Katie fought for breath as they ascended. The houses up here were larger, prettier, and surrounded by trees, part of a forest that had once grown all the way down to the sea.

Well into unfamiliar territory now, Mama turned another corner. Barely able to do more than shuffle behind her mother, Katie lifted her head and saw a tall bell tower and the steeple of a brick church. Her eyes tearing from cold, she struggled to read the sign on the front of the building.

SaintPer-pe-tua’sChurch.

Mama was fairly dragging her now, walking faster, more determined.

"Ma-ma?” Katie had to gasp for air. She wiped her eyes with the kerchief.

"It’s somethin’ I have to do, Katie-girl. Somethin’ I should have done long ago.”

Mama’s huge brown eyes were watering from the cold, too. A fat tear slipped down her bony cheek.

The freezing night air, heavy and damp off the sea, burned Katie’s lungs. She had never set foot inside a church before. In awe, she stared at a ghostly white statue of a sad-faced young woman in a niche above the door. Something about the statue made her whisper.

"Are... we going... in there?”

The building looked old and sturdy. It was probably warm as toast inside. If she could just sit down and catch her breath, maybe close her eyes for a bit—

Mama tugged on her arm when Katie kept staring at the statue. Katie sighed when they hurried past the church and the small graveyard beside it.

Except for the sound of their hollow footsteps, the neighborhood around them was silent. Not a single lamp was lit inside any of the big houses lining the street.

Suddenly Mama stopped to open a small iron gate in a low fence bordering the yard of another brick building, one almost as big as the church. The gate clanged shut behind them, ominously loud, with a sound that shattered the silence.

The cobblestone walk that led up to the front of the brick building was patched here and there with dirty snow left from the last snowfall. Dead leaves trapped since fall peeked through. Katie lifted her head.

Mama had already started up the six wide steps to the front porch. Katie’s legs gave out after the first three. She knelt on the stair, doubled over, coughing. Mama stood over her.

"I can’t lift you, Katie.”

"I know, Mama,” she whispered. She struggled to her knees and with Mama pulling on her arm, made it to the porch. "Can I just sit here a minute?”

Mama started beating on the heavy wood door with her fist.

Above the door hung a small gold-lettered sign. There was another statue, too. Smaller, but it was the same sad lady who stared down at her with her empty, marble eyes.

"Saint Per-petua’s Home for Or-phan Girls.”

Orphan girls.

Katie slowly read the words again, faster this time, and frowned. They didn’t know any orphan girls.

"Mama?”

Her mother pounded on the door again, then whirled around and knelt down beside her. She grabbed Katie by the shoulders, leaned so close their noses almost touched.

Mama was whispering frantically now, her raspy voice ragged and hushed. She talked fast, as if her mind were running a race with her tongue.

"This is for the best, Katie. Someday when you realize that, I hope to God you’ll forgive me. I should have done this when you were born so’s you wouldn’t remember. I’ve been selfish, Katie-girl, trying to keep you with me, but it ain’t workin’ out, see?”

Panic squeezed Katie’s heart and lungs. She couldn’t breathe any­more. "Mama—” She let go of the kerchief and desperately grabbed hold of Mama’s coat sleeves.

"I gotta do it. Don’t you see, Katie? What kind of a life are you going to have, growin’ up with me in that shack? Followin’ me around? It’s bad for both of us, you and me.”

"You’re scaring me,” Katie wailed.

Mama’s eyes narrowed, and her bottom lip trembled uncontrollably—that frightened Katie more than anything. "I’m leavin’ you here with the nuns where you’ll have a warm bed and plenty to eat.”

Katie stared in horror at the big door and the gold-lettered sign. Inside, someone had lit a lamp. Yellow light bled through plain white curtains. Her heart began to pound in her ears.

Mama’s fingers tore at hers as she tried to push her away. "Let go, Katie!” Mama shoved her away. "Don’t make this worse for me than it already is.”

Having freed herself, Mama stood up; she stepped back as Katie tried to grab hold of the uneven hem of her coat. Mama dragged the cuff of her sleeve across her eyes and then wiped her nose.

Katie jerked around at the chill whine of the front door’s hinges. An elderly woman wearing eyeglasses and clothed entirely in black stuck her head out, blinking against the icy chill.

"Yes? Who’s there?” The woman had a gentle voice, but Katie was still frightened.

Katie expected her mother to answer, but when she turned around, Mama was already down the cobblestone walk, hurrying through the little iron gate.

"Mama!” Katie strangled on the sound, choked on a cough. She struggled to her knees, grabbed the column of the porch rail beside her, clawed her way to her feet.

The iron gate clanged with a lonely, hollow, terrible finality. "Don’t leave me here, Mama! I’ll be good.” Her scream echoed through the empty streets. She was gasping between sobs, fighting the dizziness that clouded her vision.

"Come—b-b-ack!”

As she wilted toward the cold wooden porch floor where Mama’s torn white hankie lay, Katie felt the old woman’s arms close around her, heard the clack of wooden beads and a hushed prayer whispered beside her ear.

"I won’t cough, Mama,” Katie sobbed, staring at the empty walk through a blur of tears. "I... promise. I’ll... be good.”


 

 

1

Twenty years later...
Saint Perpetua’s School for Orphan Girls.
Applesby, Maine. October 1869.

KATE AWAKENED, heart pounding, blood racing. She did not move until her pulse settled back into a slow, steady rhythm; then she drew back the sheet and slowly slipped out of bed. Moonlight spilled across her pillow.

She had long ago given up trying to sleep when the moon was full. Nights bathed in moonlight held too many memories of the life she had lived with her mother.

It was fall again. Maine nights had grown desperately cold already. Kate shivered as she walked through a puddle of milk-white light to the only window in her sparsely furnished attic room. A utilitarian piece of un­bleached muslin hung limp before the pane, as unadorned as everything else in this world of routine and orderliness where she had spent the better part of her life.

I stayed too long.

Kate drew aside the curtain and stared back at the man in the moon, unable to think of anything except what Mother Superior had told her after dinner when she had called her into the office: "I received word today that the archdiocese is closing the school at the end of the month, Katherine. We sisters are being sent to a new church school in Minnesota. The girls will be relocated, but I’m afraid that you will have to find other employ­ment. I’m so sorry, Katherine. I wish it could be otherwise, but there is nothing I can do.”

Eleven years before, desperately in need of another teacher, the good Sisters of Saint Perpetua had asked her to stay on after graduation. She was given room and board and a small stipend in exchange for teaching history and elocution to girls of all ages.

At eighteen, rather than face the streets of Applesby, she had accepted the offer without hesitation, knowing that someday she would have to go out into the world again.

She promised herself that one day she would resurrect her old dreams, that she would have that pretty little home of her own and a family to hold dear.

As time slipped away and spinsterhood crept upon her, she devoted eleven years to Saint Perpetua’s orphan girls and all the joys and challenges of dealing with them. She had made a home here, one that was safe and warm and familiar. The nuns and the orphans had become her family.

She had a certificate of education. She could read and write in Latin. She was a teacher, a scholar.

A spinster with no living relation.

The thought of having to leave after so long filled her heart with dread.

She had a little money put by, surely enough on which to survive until she found other employment. She would have to find another place to live—no easy task in a hamlet where her mother had been the town whore.

She had nowhere to go, nowhere to turn, and no one to turn to—not even her mother. On Kate’s eleventh birthday, Mother Superior had told her that the old shack near the wharf had burned down, that her mama had died, trapped inside.

Even in death, Mama had been infamous.

Kate could not go to her mother and tell her that she had forgiven her abandonment, or that she had cried herself to sleep for months, missing her mama more than she would have missed her heart if it had been taken from her.

Now she looked out the window at the round face of the man in the moon.

"Where will I go? What will I do?”

The moon man smiled back.

Or perhaps he was laughing at her. She could not tell.

AT THE END OF October, when the butcher made his final call to the nuns for an accounting, he found Kate standing outside the kitchen door with a hand-me-down satchel in hand. When he asked where she was going and she said that she did not really know, he took pity on her and told her she was welcome to rent the empty room above his shop. He was middle-aged and married, a portly man with fingers thick as the sausages he stuffed, and almost entirely bald.

With no alternative in mind, Kate accepted. She rode the butcher’s cart back to the shop, a sturdy whitewashed building near the center of town that was frequented all day long by housewives and maids.

The room was adequate and clean, a refuge where Kate spent the better part of the morning scouring up the courage to go out and find employment.

That afternoon, the butcher’s wife knocked timidly on the door and told her that she would have to leave on the morrow.

"Not that we don’t want you here, you see. It’s just that, well, some folks still remember your ma, and folks tend to gossip. We can’t afford to have our business ruined, you understand. It’s nothing against you, of course.”

That was how Kate learned that Applesby had not forgotten Meg Whittington—that like Mama’s, her name was still as tarnished as an old copper pot.

She packed her somber dresses and scant personal belongings again. The next day she held her head high, kept her tears inside, and moved on.





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