The Heiress He's Been Waiting For

Book Excerpt

May 1894

Sara Fleming’s only recourse was to fling herself over the side of the ship and into the ocean.

 She was a captive. Trapped. Held against her will. Hot tears pricked her eyes and her heart pounded wildly in her chest.

With expensively gloved fingers clinging to the railing, she stared down at the gray water sweeping below her, the salt spray splashing up and stinging her cheeks. Despair surged through her and the idea of throwing herself over the railing and into the sea seemed her only option. If only she had jumped sooner, before the ship had left New York harbor! She would have had a much better chance of swimming to shore safely then, but she was only just realizing they were not returning to port. It was more than likely too late to jump now. 

Glancing backward, the bustling, crowded city that was her home faded further and further from view.

Sara would surely drown before she made it back to land, her heavy mauve brocade dress weighing her down, pulling her into the cold depths of the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps drowning would be preferable to being held against her will and carried away to God only knew where?  Outrage flooded through her veins. 

How had this happened? How had she been so foolish as to get taken away like this? It wasn’t fair! She hadn’t done anything to deserve being treated so cruelly. So viciously. 

Trapped! Good heavens, she was trapped. There was no way out. Nowhere to go. No way to return home. She may as well jump into the swirling sea below her.

Her heart ached too. She couldn’t see how she could possibly go on without him. There hadn’t been a chance to say goodbye to him, not even a hastily penned note. The very thought of him ringing the bell at her New York townhouse this evening to take her to the theater as they had planned and discovering that she had sailed away, caused tears to spill down and sting her cheeks.  Great sobs of longing and grief wrenched from her chest. 

Then she burned with impotent fury at her heartless parents.

They had tricked her! 

She never would have suspected them of such an underhanded maneuver. They lured her out to sea under false pretenses.  It would surely qualify as kidnapping if they weren’t her very own parents!

“Come see your father’s new ship,” her mother had suggested innocently enough that morning, a bright smile on her face. “The Captain’s Daughter was christened yesterday and he wants you to see it.”

Sara had felt slightly guilty that she had missed the ship’s christening, because she had been an attendant in her friend Jennie’s wedding. It was doubly disappointing since the name of the new steamship was in reference to her. 

So like any trusting child, Sara had acquiesced, never imagining she would be callously whisked away against her will. How many times had she visited one of her father’s ships before? She’d spent most of her young life on the decks of one type of ship or another, sailing around the world with her parents. The past two years they had been staying at their townhouse in New York City, and so the prospect of seeing her father’s newest steamship was exciting to Sara, as it always was. But it all had been a ruse. A clever ruse to lure her away from the man she loved.

Stunned that her mother and father had tricked her so easily, Sara was deeply wounded by their betrayal.  Oh, she had not been unaware of their disapproval of the man she loved, but she assumed that they were merely being over-protective, believing that no man was good enough for their precious daughter. They had not been overjoyed by her courtship with Alexander Drake, but they had not forbidden it either. They were friendly with him, cordial even. So their deception this afternoon came as a devastating blow. 

Her eyes looked longingly back at the grand city she loved and called home while the tears continued to spill down her cheeks. Somewhere in that New York hustle and bustle of buildings and streets and people, Alexander alone was waiting for her, the man who held her heart. She should be with him now. 

It wasn’t fair! It simply wasn’t fair!

A frustrated scream of helpless rage welled within her, surging much like the waves that crashed below against the hull of the elegant ship. How could they do this to her? Their only daughter! Didn’t they care about her feelings? She was no longer a child, but a grown woman of twenty. Why she would be turning twenty-one in the fall! How dared they treat her this way? Maybe she should throw herself over? They would be sorry then. When she was no longer alive, they would regret hurting her and breaking her heart. 

The vast water swirled cold and dark gray, far below her. 

She placed her stylishly and expensively booted foot upon the polished railing of the boat, gripping tightly with her kid-gloved hands. If she pushed up, she could swing her legs over the side, taking her long heavy skirt with her, and just slip quietly into the sea and disappear forever. Her absence might not be noticed for hours, since her parents thought she had locked herself in her suite in a fit of temper. 

But when they finally discovered she was gone, her mother and father would be wracked with regret and guilt over what they had done to her. And it would serve them right, because they had hurt her far worse than they could imagine. 

The time was now or never. She took a deep breath and-- 

“Stop being so melodramatic, Sara.”

Startled, she turned to see her mother standing beside her. 

Although her facial expression was one of annoyance, Juliette Hamilton Fleming was an unmistakably beautiful woman. With her dark hair elegantly coiffed under a fashionable bonnet and wrapped in an expensive fur jacket to ward of the chill of the early May sea air, her heart-shaped face was relatively unlined for a woman in her forties and her blue eyes were clear and full of life. She carried herself with grace, ease, and confidence. People always said that Sara favored her mother, but Sara didn’t see the resemblance at all. 

Juliette stared at her daughter in sympathetic understanding. “It’s not the end of the world. And he’s certainly not a man worthy of throwing yourself overboard.”

Ignoring her mother, Sara turned her face away. Slowly she removed her foot from the railing. She continued to stare off at the sea, feeling more than a bit embarrassed to be caught contemplating something so foolish.

“I know you’re upset with us,” Juliette continued, “and to be honest, I would be upset too if I were you. Believe it or not, I am sorry for hurting you like this.”

Sara glanced at her mother for the briefest of moments. Looking back to the horizon, New York was no longer visible at all and her heart sank. Her parents had betrayed her. Most dreadfully. Sara didn’t know if she would ever forgive them. She wiped at the cold tears on her cheeks, the wind whipping loose strands of hair around her face.

“It had to be done. He wasn’t the right man for you. There were things you were not aware of and he would have only broken your heart. Please trust your father and me in this matter.” Juliette’s voice held a firm note.

“Trust you?” Sara flung back, her voice incredulous. “You tricked me! You and Father deceived me! You led me to believe we were just look-- ”

Juliette placed a calming hand on Sara’s arm. “I am terribly sorry we hurt you, but I am not sorry about what your father and I did today.  It’s our duty to protect you. And you definitely needed protecting.”

“Protection from what? From the man I love?” Sara cried, an anguished sob wrenching her throat. When would she ever see Alexander Drake again? Would he understand that her parents had taken her away against her wishes? Would he know that she had not left of her own volition?  Would he think she had simply run off?  Would he forgive her? Would he still love her? Doubt and heartache filled her with sorrow.