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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

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Book 1 of the Great Exhibition Series
© 2013 by Kaye Dacus


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
New Year’s Eve, 1850

Would the rustle of her skirts against the floorboards give her away?

Kate Dearing lifted the burdensome bulk—pink silk-taffeta flounces over layers and layers of starched petticoats—and padded down the hall in her soft kid dancing slippers. Christopher said he’d seen Father and Devlin Montgomery head toward Father’s study.

Devlin wanted to ask for Father’s blessing before he proposed to her. At least, Kate assumed so. Devlin had been courting her for almost a year now; and even though she could hardly tolerate being in the same room with him for the hour his calls lasted, at twenty-seven years old, she had no alternatives—for no other man had paid court to her in more than five years, despite the family’s wealth and her large dowry. Devlin was wealthy and somewhat handsome, and his family owned hundreds of thousands of acres of land in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. And the railroad company in which Father had invested his fortune wanted to lay new rail lines through it.

She squeezed through the narrow door of the storage room behind Father’s study. She and her younger brother, Christopher, discovered the hiding place many years ago.

Trying to mash her bell-shaped skirt flat, to keep it from catching on any of the old, framed paintings stacked against one wall, Kate sidled down the cramped space toward the thin beam of light that trickled through a chink in the wood-paneled wall. Too high to see through, it carried sound from the adjacent room quite well.

“You lied to me.” Devlin’s voice held a venom she’d never imagined the staid young man possessed.

“Lied?” Her father sound shocked—offended. “Is Kate not beautiful and accomplished? Intelligent and well capable of running a large household?”

Devlin snorted at her father’s words. “When she keeps her mouth closed and her radical beliefs about abolition and voting rights for women behind her teeth, yes, she is passing pretty.”

Kate stifled a gasp. Only passing pretty? Then she shrugged. She’d always known she’d never be a great beauty like her mother, God rest her soul.

“It is not of Miss Dearing that I speak,” Devlin continued. “It is of you and the deception you used your daughter to try to draw me into.”

Kate frowned. Father had nothing to do with Devlin and her meeting. Aunt Kitty arranged the introduction.

“I am certain I do not take your meaning,” Father said, though Kate recognized the tremor of fear in his voice. It was the same as when he’d tried to convince seven-year-old Kate and four-year-old Christopher that their mother and newborn sister would be just fine—and the same as when he’d told them the next day of Mother and Emma’s passing. Now, as then, her heart caught in her throat.

“You may have everyone else in Philadelphia fooled, but we Montgomerys know better.”

Father laughed nervously. “I do not know to what rumors you have been listening—”

“They are no rumors. The front page of the paper announced the land commission’s decision to vote against allowing a railroad to be built through that part of the state. Which means everyone who invested in the speculation, in buying up all of that land, lost everything. And since you boasted to my father of how you invested all your wealth in the speculation, trying to get him to go in it with you, it is obvious you are also now penniless. And you intended for me to marry your spinster daughter—whom no man with use of his senses would have before she possessed no dowry—to save the railroad and your fortune.” A loud thump followed Devlin’s pronouncement as if he’d hit his fist against the table or desk. “I will not be your dupe.”

The thud of footsteps followed by the opening and slamming of the study door masked the whoosh of Kate’s skirts as her knees gave out and she sank to the floor.

Bankrupt? Penniless?

Surely not. Yet . . . the invitation list for tonight’s ball had been kept suspiciously small. Father had spent more time than usual away from the house in recent weeks. And when he returned home, his haggard appearance made her wonder if he was coming down with a chill.

Bankrupt. Penniless.

Kate pushed and pulled herself back up to her feet and squeezed through the small space and back out into the wide hallway. The dark hallway. Never before during a social event had so few candles been lit. And when had the exquisite Persian rug that had dressed the hall floor since before her birth been removed?

Though not a proper ballroom, the salon in the back of the house served the purpose well, looking much larger tonight with the pared-down number of guests who had come to celebrate the advent of the New Year.

Maud gave her a questioning look when she stepped into the room. Kate smiled at her stepmother, hoping to keep her believing everything was fine.

How soon would all of these people know that the Dearings were ruined? How soon would they turn their backs on Father and Maud, on Christopher and her? On her young half-sisters, Ada, Clara, and Ella? Once Philadelphia society discovered their new financial status, doors would be closed, connections severed. No one would want to be associated with a man who invested unwisely and lost everything.

Devlin had been correct—no man would want to marry her now, with no dowry.

Ignoring the cold of the winter evening, Kate escaped through the back doors to the solitude and peace of her garden, its wildness beautiful even in the light of the half-moon and covered in snow.

Dear Lord, what am I supposed to do now?

  1. jake021505 permalink
    Tuesday, April 9, 2013 10:31 am

    Can’t hardly wait to get these. I have really enjoyed reading you other books. The Ransome series really keep you on the edge of your seat.


  2. Janette permalink
    Tuesday, April 9, 2013 12:19 pm

    Excellent! Can’t wait!


  3. Ruth permalink
    Tuesday, April 9, 2013 3:49 pm

    Whoop, exciting times! 🙂


  4. Emma permalink
    Tuesday, April 9, 2013 4:25 pm

    Ooooh, I look forward to reading it!


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