The First Loves Forever Romance Collection: 9 Historical Romances Where First Loves Are Rekindled
A first love is never easily forgotten…
and coming face to face with that person again can be awkward when the heartstrings are still holding on to the “what ifs.”
In settings from 1865 to 1910, nine couples are thrown back on the same path by life’s changes and challenges. A neighbor returns from law school. An heiress seeks a quick marriage. A soldier’s homecoming is painful. A family needs help. A prodigal son returns. A rogue aeronaut drops from the sky. A runaway bridegroom comes home. A letter for aid is sent. A doctor needs a nurse. Can love rekindle despite the separation of time and space?
Heartfelt Echoes by Jennifer Uhlarik
Virginia City, Nevada—October 1875
Travis McCaffrey stared at the front door of the mansion before him. Victoria Gordon Sessums lived here? He extracted her letter from his inside coat pocket and re-read her cryptic words.
I am sorry to write you in this manner, but Millie needs you. We both do. Please come to Virginia City immediately. It is urgent.
Victoria Gordon Sessums
Despite the terrible memories Virginia City held, Travis had dropped everything to cross the Sierra Nevada and come to Millie and her mother’s aid.
Yet he hadn’t expected this.
Years ago, pretty Millie Gordon had told him that her mother was well-off. He’d believed it easily. On the few occasions the woman had visited her daughter at the California School for the Deaf, Victoria’s clothing, the fancy gifts she’d bought Millie, all oozed wealth. But this home was so large and refined it almost made his skin crawl. What could he, a livery-owner’s son, do for a family living in such luxury?
He knocked firmly on the door and, while waiting, took in the picturesque views surrounding him. Situated a little way up the mountain, the mansion overlooked the valley where Virginia City lay, the craggy hill rising behind it. The lavish house was perfectly situated to enjoy both views. He scanned the town below. It had grown immensely in the twelve years he’d been gone.
A sudden whoosh of air alerted him the door opened. Travis turned to find a portly gentleman in dark pants and gray coat, waiting expectantly.
“Hello. I’ve come to speak with Victoria Sessums.” After losing his hearing at eleven, Travis had learned lipreading while at the deaf school. That skill, coupled with his ability to speak clearly, allowed him to act like a hearing person when it suited. And right now, far from home with no friends, such skills suited his purposes very well.
The stout man shook his head. “I’m sorry. Mrs. Sessums is not receiving guests.”
Travis concentrated on the man’s lips. “Oh. Uh…she asked me to come.”
“I’m sorry. The lady of the house is unavailable. Please return another time.”
As the man shut the door, Travis braced a hand against it. “Please. I’ve traveled from San Francisco to see her. Could you at least tell her Travis McCaffrey’s here?”
The gent’s brows lifted. “McCaffrey—from San Francisco?”
“She’s expecting you.” The man motioned Travis inside. “Wait here while I announce your arrival.”
Travis stepped inside. Once the man disappeared up an impressive arching double staircase, Travis studied the nearby rooms. To the left, a parlor with grand fireplace and lavishly detailed furniture. To his right, a dining room with a long table and many chairs, two huge flower arrangements topping the surface. Directly ahead, an arched doorway led to other parts of the house, though the butler reappeared on the landing above, beckoning him upstairs before he could see more.
Complying, Travis went up the stairs and followed to the last door on the right side of the long hall.
“You may enter.” The butler pushed the door open then disappeared down the hall.
Travis peered into the brightly lit bedroom decorated in rich golds and purples, everything of the latest fashion except for one old chest. The well-worn piece, positioned at the foot of the bed, stuck out in the opulent surroundings. His eye traveled from it to the bed itself. Propped up against a huge pile of pillows, Victoria Sessums smiled weakly at him. She waved him inside.
For an instant, he stared. What had happened? The woman was a mere shadow of the one he recalled from her infrequent visits to the deaf school. Her dark hair was pulled into simple braid, a few stray curls framing her jaundiced face. Her features, once plump and healthy, were drawn and frail. He finally uprooted his feet and walked to the bed.
“Thank you for coming, Travis.” She signed and spoke the words, then motioned to a richly upholstered wingback chair beside the bed. “Please, sit.”
Aware he was staring, he took the offered chair. “Forgive me for being blunt, ma’am, but what happened?”
She shook her head and began to sign again. “I fell ill months after my husband, Walt, and I married.”
At her stumbling gestures, Travis held up a hand to stop her. “If signing is too taxing, ma’am, I can read your lips almost as well as sign language.”
A weak smile broke across her frail features. “Thank you. Signed conversations are difficult.”
He nodded. “I understand. Please, continue.”
“The doctor says I have gastric fever.” Her features grew pinched, as if she were fighting not to cry. “He hasn’t said so, but I fear I’m dying. I grow weaker each day. I don’t know how much longer I can hang on.”
Without thinking, he took her hand. “I’m truly sorry.”
“Thank you.” Victoria squeezed his fingers. She paused, eyes closing, whether due to weakness or emotion, he wasn’t sure. After a moment, her chest heaved and she looked at him again. “Travis, I’m afraid for Millie if I die. I know your school works hard to teach its students skills to earn a living, but I want someone to look after my daughter. She shouldn’t be on her own. Walt is a good man, but he and Millie haven’t gotten along well. She wouldn’t be happy staying here.”
His thoughts reeled. “What are you asking, ma’am?”
“I know you two meant a lot to each other. She often wrote about you in her letters to me.” The woman paused. “I want you—and your family—to make sure she’s safe and happy.”
A memory struck him—of standing in his father’s livery when he was fifteen and Millie was fourteen. Of the kiss he’d stolen, and the deep blush that colored her cheeks. Lord, I’ve dreamed of marrying her since that moment, but—
Travis’s gaze fell to the coverlet. “Long ago, I vowed to Millie that I’d do anything to help her.” Swallowing, he lifted his gaze. “But we lost touch years ago. I don’t know why. Her letters just stopped, despite my continuing to write.”
Victoria’s sunken eyes welled with tears. “She didn’t stop writing because she quit caring, Travis. It’s because of me—things I did. I—” Her words stalled, and settling a hand on her stomach, she gulped several deep breaths.
“Are you all right?” Travis leaned nearer.
Her distress passed quickly, and she turned a weak smile his way. “I’m sorry. You should know, I forced Millie to undergo a surgery meant to restore her hearing. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The outcome…changed her.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand. Changed her how?”
Again, Victoria gripped her belly, leaning forward with a wince. She gulped numerous deep breaths again before sinking back into the pillows. “Hand me the bell, please.” She pried her fingers from his grip and waved at the bedside table.
There, Travis found a small crystal handbell and passed it to Victoria. She shook it vigorously, then let her arm fall limp. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well. I brought you here to ask you a great favor.”
He leaned even closer. “How can I help?”
“Millie won’t simply agree to go to San Francisco with you. Not yet. I was hoping you’d stay. Win her trust again.”
Lord, I’d do anything to have Millie’s friendship again. “How?”
“Her birthday is coming. I’d planned to buy her a saddle horse. I want you to break it for her.” She took another gulping breath, concern etching her features. “You and your father still do that, right?”
He nodded. “I’ve taken over the horse breaking, ma’am.” Since Travis graduated, he and his father had worked to build their livery into the largest in San Francisco. They’d made a name for themselves, in part because of the quality horses they offered for rent, trade, or purchase. But could his father do without him for weeks or months?
Despite her distress, she mustered a smile. “Then…please stay? I’ll get you money to buy the best horse you can find, and train it. We’ve an excellent barn and corral that you’re welcome to use. Just stay close and rekindle your friendship with Millie.”
Motion from the doorway drew his attention, and the gent who’d answered the door and a woman in a maid’s uniform hurried in.
Gripping her midsection, Victoria latched onto his hand, and Travis turned to her once more. Her eyes burned into his. “Please?”
The butler grabbed Travis’s arm and pulled him up, Victoria losing hold of his hand in the process. “You must go now. Mrs. Sessums needs her privacy.” He roughly guided Travis toward the door.
All thoughts of his father handling the livery without him fled as he turned to Victoria. “I’ll do it.”
Victoria nodded faintly, even as the apron-clad woman fetched a bowl and pushed it into her hands.
The butler shoved him into the hallway. “Please see yourself out.”
“Wait!” The door closed, and for one dumbfounded moment, he stared. She’d promised to get him money to buy Millie’s horse. How was he to start without it?