Widowed and penniless, Bella Gale Smith and her young daughter face a bleak future in 1865 New York City, until Zach Smith knocks on her door. She knows her late-husband’s estranged stepbrother as “the black sheep” of his family. The handsome bandleader hoped to visit his younger brother before joining his former musicians in Smith’s Cornet Band, a favorite of New York society before the war. Battle-weary from fighting on the Confederate side, Zach is certainly not looking to take on his brother’s family. But Bella and her daughter tag along, buying a ticket on a steamboat north to the opulent Catskill Mountain House, where his band is booked for the summer season.
Determined to keep out of Zach’s way, Bella is hired as a hotel maid, struggling to care for her daughter despite her grueling schedule and a tyrannical boss. The hotel manager, meanwhile, pressures Zach to update the band’s image and hire a female singer in the style of the popular Swedish Nightingale. It’s only when Zach overhears Bella singing a lullaby to her daughter that he realizes her clear soprano voice and good looks could be the answer to both their problems.
A sweeping saga of passions and new ambitions at the beginnings of the Gilded Age in old New York.
Release Date: November 8, 2022
Genre: Historical Romance
~ A White Satin Romance ~
“Hurry, Amanda. We don’t want to miss Papa’s streetcar!”
Bella Smith gripped her four-year-old daughter’s hand and stepped into the crush of people on the narrow street. They dodged two boys who streaked out of the alleyway. Elbowed their way through a throng of shoppers and vendors.
“On-i-yons! Onions!” one vendor called.
“Hot soup! One penny!” cried another.
Bella allowed only one quick stop at Amanda’s favorite bakery. They looked longingly at the rows of pink-frosted cakes and whipped cream confections, inhaling the intoxicating aroma of sugar and fresh baked bread.
At the junction of Park Row, Bella stood on tip-toe to peer down the avenue between stalled carriages and pawing horses. The buildings were still draped in black bunting from President Lincoln’s recent funeral. Bella could just make out the green-trimmed, horse-drawn streetcar far ahead. It advanced quickly along its iron tracks, bringing her husband Daniel home from his job as senior clerk of Vanaford’s Fine Books Emporium.
Since his return from the war six months ago, Bella and Amanda had made a ritual of meeting his trolley at noon on his half day off. Then they would all stroll down the avenues together, window shopping mostly. Daniel would treat them for the midday meal to one of the many delicacies that could be bought on the street: Perhaps a bowl of the delicious oyster chowder from a stooped, elderly man and his fat wife; or a paper cone of hot roasted chestnuts from the red-headed boy who tended the copper roaster. Whatever they chose, Daniel always insisted on buying a confection for Amanda from Kleekfield’s bakery.
“It’s coming, Amanda! Papa’s trolley will be stopping soon. Let’s hurry to meet him!” Bella tugged at her daughter’s hand and quickened her pace to match the hum of activity on the great avenue. Her spirits were buoyant as the spring breeze. “It will be so much fun to surprise your father with this telegram from your Uncle Zachary.”
How Daniel’s blue eyes would sparkle when he caught sight of them! Bella pictured his delighted grin on hearing the news that his brother was alive and well. Daniel had prayed for that news ever since he began sending out letters in hopes of locating his older brother.
Anticipation burst through Bella. “When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah! Hurrah!” she sang. “We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, hurrah, hurrah.”
“Is Papa’s brother nice?”
“I’ve never met him, but I’m sure he’s particularly nice.” Bella frowned, wondering if a man everyone referred to as “the black sheep of the family” could be nice. It didn’t matter. Daniel worshipped him. “At any rate, we shall soon meet him and find out for ourselves...”
The metallic grind of brakes and a loud crash cut off her words. A huge delivery wagon had sideswiped the green streetcar. Horses bucked, stumbled and screamed in fright as their drivers swerved to avoid the wreck, crashing into others in the chaos.
“Daniel.” Bella whispered his name like a prayer.
A second wagon plowed into the streetcar, pinning half a dozen men who rode on the top, or clung to the outside platform. Screams of agony and sharp moans rose in a persistent staccato above the crowd’s sustained murmur of horror. Slowly, the streetcar caved in. It rocked on its tracks. Then it turned over. The crowd roared. Bodies tumbled into the gutter.
“Daniel!” Bella screamed his name now. Scooping Amanda into her arms, she began to move, swept up in the tide of pedestrians who stampeded to the wreck. “Oh, God, please, not my Daniel!”
Tears stung her eyes. Her heart drummed out a message of fear. Vaguely, she was conscious of Amanda’s sobbing, of the child’s legs tightly wrapped round her waist. “Shush now,” she whispered, automatically patting her daughter on the back. Yet, all her attention was focused on the chaos of the street. She stumbled, regained her footing. Jostled by the crowd, she fought to get closer.
The crowd pressed in from all sides. Bella clutched Amanda tighter, confused, and fearful of being crushed or pushed to the ground. Then the crowd shifted as the special squad of traffic police ran into the morass. They directed pedestrians around the fire brigade, who were struggling to pull out survivors from the overturned car.
“If you’ve a strong arm, lend a hand!” shouted one officer.
“Let the doctor through!” shouted another.
Bella plunged forward, her arms trembling from the exertion of carrying her daughter. “My husband. He was on that omnibus!”
The policeman nodded and pushed her through.
Bella’s vision was blurred by tears. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. Shifting Amanda to her left hip, she scanned the bloodied and bruised faces in tangled heaps, searching for a pair of familiar blue eyes. As she picked her way past sprawled, twisted bodies, a woman next to her wailed and collapsed to the ground.
“Don’t look!” Bella instinctively turned Amanda’s face into the crook of her neck to avert her gaze from the horror. The four-year-old clung tightly to her.
Then she saw Daniel. His left hand was flung out above his head. His face twisted in agony. His lower torso disappeared beneath the overturned streetcar.
Bella’s mind shut out the babble of chaos that swirled around them. Dazed, she bent to put Amanda down.
“Daniel?” Her voice was so choked she could barely whisper his name. She sank next to him on the hard bricks, gazing helplessly into his unfocused blue eyes.
They flickered in recognition. His lips curved slightly.
“Bella.” He spoke her name so softly, Bella wasn’t sure he had actually said it. Her spirits soared with a glimmer of hope. He was alive!
She leaned closer to smooth back the familiar stray blonde curl, her thoughts flowing back into serenity. “Daniel, I’m here. Don’t worry. I’ll make you more comfortable.” She reached behind his head, intending to use her soft drawstring reticule as his pillow. Her hand felt something sticky. Blood. She stared at it in shock.
Daniel moaned and then his body seemed to relax with a long, deep sigh.
“I’ll take care of you, my love.” Bella lay her hand in his open palm, expecting his fingers to curl around hers. But his fingers did not bend. Confused, she squeezed his hand, but it remained unresponsive. Tears welled up in her eyes. She bent over him and kissed his still warm lips and knew that he was dead.
Bella felt an insistent tug on her sleeve. Bewildered, she turned to see her daughter.
“Is Papa all right?” Amanda’s face was pale. Her china-blue eyes were wide with fear.
For a moment, Bella could not answer. Her mind refused to think. Her throat was so constricted, she could barely breathe, let alone talk. Tears ran down her cheeks. She took Amanda’s hand, wondering why she could not feel its weight against her palm. All she could was shake her head in mute sorrow.
Without a word, Amanda knelt down next to Bella and put her arms around her mother’s neck. Softly, the child patted her mother’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort her. Bella clasped her daughter tightly to her chest, still unable to make a sound. Then she collapsed against her husband’s lifeless body.