The one thing Eve deLaurent has wished for in the two years since her sister, Amelia, was whisked away to America was to be a family again. But the tragedy that befell her once Amelia was gone has left her wounded, body and soul. Now, reunited with her sister, all Eve wants to do is run. Amelia’s new, happy life is a betrayal deeper than Eve can stand. She would leave and never look back, were it not for Mark Andrews.
As Cold Springs’s reverend, Mark is used to people confiding their darkest sins and looking to him for help. So when he sees the pain behind Eve’s mask of confidence, all he wants to do is help her. But Eve awakens a desire in him that reminds him that even a man of God is still a man. They seem to be everything the other wants and needs, but can the people of Cold Springs accept an actress in their pastor’s arms? Can they be together if bitter family betrayals keep Eve and Amelia at each other’s throats?
You’re only as strong as the loves that hold you together…
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HF6WCBW
Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HF6WCBW
Smashwords – https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/389708
Train whistles were by far the most wistful sound man had yet created, Eve thought as she paced the station platform in Cold Springs, Montana. More so than the hollow clack of worn boots walking across a barren stage in an empty theater. She knew both sounds too well.
She turned her head to follow the shrill whistle as the train that had brought her to Cold Springs rattled away and on toward the mountains. She had no reason to be anxious, she told herself. The mountains were glorious in their snow-capped brilliance, the sun was bright in the sky, and the crisp December air surely made her cheeks as pink as a rose without a drop of rouge.
The stationhouse in front of her was festooned with boughs of holly and glittering decorations for Christmas. Indeed, the entire length of the street stretching away from the town was lined with garlands of pine and red bows and baubles. It was as quaint and welcoming a sight as she could have hoped for, far from the glittering lights and overdone sparkle of the cities she’d breezed through in the last two years, one after the other. It was far more welcoming than the giddy menace of London.
She clutched her carpetbag to her stomach and breathed in the cold clean air. There was no reason to feel worried at all.
Except that Amelia hadn’t been there to greet her.
She started across the emptying platform, searching for some way to make her acquaintance with the town her sister now called home.
“Excuse me.” She approached a tall man in uniform who stood near where the baggage had been unloaded. “Could you help me?”
The man glanced up. His businesslike frown blinked to a wide-eyed smile. A moment later his jaw dropped.
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I know you. You’re the Indomitable Lady Eve!”
Eve shifted straight into character—smiling, her chin tilted up, one hand on her hip—in the pose she used for photographs.
“How very sweet of you to recognize me,” she said.
If anything, the man’s eyes widened, giving him the appearance of a shocked pelican. “It is you! I saw you on stage in Denver this past summer. You look just like your posters. They have one up at the saloon, you know.”
“Do they?” She flushed with embarrassment, but smiled on.
“Uh-huh.” Lewis beamed at her like a schoolboy with his first crush. He stared at her without going on.
She took a step closer to him. “I hope you can help me, Mr….”
“Jones. Lewis Jones.”
Mr. Lewis Jones thrust out his hand, face redder by the moment.
Eve slipped her gloved hand lightly across his fingers. He grabbed hold and pumped it up and down in a shake. She laughed with genuine joy at his enthusiasm, so different from the slick customers she was used to.
“Mr. Jones,” she went on, “I’m looking for my sister.”
“You have a sister?” He stopped shaking her hand but continued to hold it.
“Yes. Mrs. Amelia Quinlan?”
Lewis gaped for a few more beats then said, “Oh yeah! Eric did say something about his wife having a famous sister. That’s you?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so.”
She withdrew her hand from Lewis’s. When his face dropped in embarrassment over still holding onto her, she winked to reassure him. His shoulders relaxed and an admiring smile spread from ear to ear.
“Imagine that! The Indomitable Lady Eve is Amelia Quinlan’s sister!”
“It would appear so.” She stepped closer to him and leaned in as if to share a secret. “You wouldn’t happen to know where she is, would you?”
“Well.” He mirrored her stance as if they were part of a conspiracy. “The train was about an hour early today, Miss Lady Eve. Eric and Amelia live a ways out from town. They’re probably just not here yet.”
“Oh.” Eve straightened and nodded as though Lewis had given her sage advice. He may not have been the brightest man she’d ever met, but he was kind. Kindness deserved consideration, as far as she was concerned, rare as it was.
“If you want to wait for them in the stationhouse, you’re welcome to,” Lewis said.
“Thank you, Lewis.”
“Although the hotel would probably be more comfortable for you,” he went on.
“Do you think?” A hotel would be a blessing indeed. She would gladly fall to bended knees and beg before the concierge for a coffee to ward off the December chill.
“Yes, ma’am, I do. I can tell Eric and Amelia where to find you when they come looking.”
She rewarded him with a smile. “Then I shall have to take myself off to the hotel. Could you point me in the right direction?”
“Yes, I could.” He nodded, caught up in the scene she had created. He shifted to the left and pointed away from the station down a long, wide street. “That’s the hotel down there, at the end of Main Street next door to the saloon. Of course, there’s the other hotel out that way, out past the pharmacy and next to the new church.” He pointed straight through the buildings that lined Main Street and what must have been a few other side streets. A church spire rose up over the roofs. “That hotel’s newer and has a fine restaurant in it. But it’s a bit of a walk.”
A choice between a hotel next to a saloon and one next to a church?
“I don’t think I’d mind walking to that new hotel at all,” she said. Let her manager—her former manager—say what he would, a church was always more settling than a saloon.
“In that case, turn right onto Silver Street at the pharmacy, then head straight on. You can’t miss it.”
“Lewis, you are a godsend.”
With a final smile and a wave, Eve turned and marched across the platform and down a step onto Main Street as though exiting to the wings after a gala performance.
The show didn’t stop there, however. Main Street, Cold Springs was a scene to behold itself. Amelia had been writing to her about the town and its people for the past two years. Eve almost felt as though she recognized the shops and businesses that lined the brightly-decorated street.
She passed the general store, remembering that its owners were Michael and Charlotte West and that they had a daughter named Eloise and a brand new baby son, Michael Jr. She noted the bank that was owned by Mr. Phineas Bell, who was the Oscar Wilde type. She knew that Mr. and Mrs. Upshaw had just had their fourth baby as she passed the tailor’s shop towards the end of Main Street and that Christian and Lily Avery, some of Amelia’s closest friends, were expecting their first child in early spring. It was almost as if she’d lived with the people of Cold Springs for the past two years herself. The town could have passed as home.
Amelia had mentioned the new church briefly in a letter last summer, but as Eve passed it she paused to marvel at its size and brilliance. It was expansive with a tall spire reaching up like the mountains themselves. Cut-glass windows with bits of color gave it a feeling of lightness and a fresh coat of white paint provided the perfect backdrop for festive wreathes and red bows. Living quarters for the town preacher were just visible around the side. But it was the sound coming out of the church that drew Eve to it like a beacon.
The voices of children sang the Coventry Carol inside, like angels serenading her from on high. The sound swelled from the front door that stood partially opened. Her heart caught in her throat, twisting with joy as light as snowfall and regret as deep as night. She changed her path and headed straight for the door, slipping into the church and carefully closing the door behind her.
At the front of a wide sanctuary lined with polished new pews, a cluster of children stood in varying degrees of white and yellow and gold costumes singing their hearts out. A pair of women fussed over a few of them. They adjusted a costume here or tried on a pair of wings there. The children sang through it, fresh faces turned up to catch the light streaming in through the windows.
Eve had seen almost every stage from California to London, but not one of them could come close to the pure beauty that stood at the front of that church.
“Very good, very good, children.” A man in a simple black suit with sandy-blond hair stepped forward, applauding the children. “Now, once you finish the carol, you will cross the front of the church—yes, just like that—and come to stand over the manger where the baby Jesus will be resting.”
“Rev. Andrews, shouldn’t the shepherds be the ones looking at the baby Jesus?” one of the little angels asked.
The entire group shuffled from one end of the stage—the church, rather—to the other, the mothers with costumes in tow.
“You’re exactly right, Annie. The shepherds will be looking at the baby Jesus, but I bet that the angels couldn’t help but steal a peek as well,” Rev. Andrews answered.
The chorus of angels giggled at his answer, smiles shining.
Eve’s heart caught in her throat. They were all so dear, so marvelous. A few were unruly, twirling or giggling as they took their places above the empty manger. A pair of boys dodged through the others, their hands in the shape of guns that they fired with all the accompanying sounds. One little girl who couldn’t have been more than three stared up at the high stained glass windows, her thumb in her mouth.
A bittersweet twinge seized Eve’s chest. Her throat closed up and a hint of tears stung her eyes. She lowered a hand to press her abdomen. The scar wasn’t noticeable through the layers of her corset and skirt and the wide belt she wore, but she could feel it all the same. It cut her with a finality that went beyond the surgeon’s knife.
Eve blinked to find the sandy-haired man staring at her from across the church. She dropped her hand and smiled to hide the grief she knew was painted on her face. It was foolish of her to break character in public, no matter what caused it.
“Hello,” she answered.
The sandy-haired reverend smiled.
“What are you doing?” a woman’s voice snapped behind her.
Eve turned to see a handsome older woman in a serviceable blouse and skirt about ten years out of fashion yanking the church door open behind her. She had gray hair pulled back in a bun and lines on her face that revealed she smiled a lot. At the moment, however, she was scowling at Eve as though she were a rabble-rouser.
“I’m terribly sorry.” Eve kept her eyes bright and her chin up. “It’s so cold outside that I assumed you would want to keep the door closed.”
The old woman continued to scowl. “Well you assumed wrong.” She pulled herself to her full height and narrowed her eyes. “I don’t know you,” she went on. “I know everyone in town, even the new people.”
“I’m not from town.” Eve continued to feign ease, though it was a difficult role to play.
“I know.” The woman nodded and crossed her arms. “You’ve got an English accent.”
“It’s because I’m English,” Eve said. She tried leaning closer to the woman and sharing a conspiratorial wink the way she had with Lewis Jones and countless admirers before.
The woman crinkled her nose and leaned back. “You’re not one of the new girls Paul Sutcliffe hired to work at the saloon, are you?”
“No, no, not at all.” Eve tried a breezy laugh.
The woman’s scowl deepened. “Well you look like a whore with all that paint on your face.”
The sting of the accusation dug as deep as the emotion she had felt at the sight of the children. Eve’s act dropped.
“I most certainly am not a whore!” she said, hands on her hips in a reflection of her sister Olivia’s sourness. Indignant as she was, her denial still felt like a lie. “I am Lady Eve deLaurent. The Indomitable Lady Eve,” she went on, convincing herself as much as the outspoken woman.
“Well I am Sadie McGee,” the woman fired back at her. “And I can assure you that I’m as indomitable as any woman that ever set foot in Cold Springs.”
Eve blinked at the woman, not sure what to make of her declaration.
“Ladies, what seems to be the trouble here?”
She was spared having to come up with an answer to Sadie McGee by the interruption of the reverend. She switched back into the role of charming lady and turned to introduce herself.
Her act evaporated. Up close, the reverend was a sight to behold. He had soft blue eyes to go with his sandy hair, a strong jaw, and graceful nose. Tiny lines radiated from his eyes, giving him an air of kindness and humor. He could have played Hamlet or Algernon Moncrieff both and made the audience fall in love with him at a word.
“Just keeping the door open like you wanted, Rev. Andrews,” Sadie said as Eve scrambled to collect herself.
“But why?” Eve stammered. “It’s so cold outside.”
“It is,” Rev. Andrews replied, “but with the door closed people passing by can’t hear the children singing and be drawn in like you were.”
He ended with a smile that was as good as a wink. Butterflies danced in Eve’s gut.
“No, no they can’t.” Without choosing a character to play first, she held out her hand. “Eve deLaurent,” she introduced herself in the simplest possible terms.
His face lit up. “Amelia Quinlan’s sister!”
Her thumping heart flopped over in her chest.
“I believe that’s the first time in two years I’ve been recognized as who I truly am,” she said, more breathless than she should have been.
He took her hand and shook it, firm but not overpowering, warm but not moist.
“I’m Rev. Mark Andrews,” he said. “Your sister has told me all about you. She’s excited to have you here for Christmas.”
“Not as excited as I am to be here, I’m sure.”
He nodded. She watched the sparkle in his blue, blue eyes. It would probably be best to let go of his hand, but in that moment she had no desire to move at all.