Love’s Sure Dawn
No matter how hard she tries to help, Rebekah Cummings always ends up causing more problems than she solves. This time, though, things will be different. She’ll find a way to pay her family’s debts, even if doing so requires leaving Eagle Harbor. Maybe then they’ll start treating her as a capable woman who makes her own choices.
Gilbert Sinclair is going to marry an heiress. With his latest business venture sunk at the bottom of Lake Superior, he needs money to replace the steamship he lost, so he heads to Chicago where his father’s business connections should land him a suitable wife. Like most things in his meticulously planned life, everything goes as expected—until he discovers Rebekah Cummings working as the new cook on his ship.
Rebekah well remembers the pain she endured the last time she tried trusting Gilbert, and Gilbert can’t afford to pursue the love of a working class woman. But they can’t stop the forgotten feelings swirling between them–or ignore the sacrifices they’d both have to make for a future together.
Eagle Harbor, Michigan; June, 1883
How much was a year of someone’s life worth?
Very little when it resided at the bottom of Lake Superior.
But Gilbert Sinclair hadn’t just lost one year, he’d lost four.
He sighed as he stared out his office’s open window at the calm waters of the harbor, where one of his steamships had just arrived from Chicago. The afternoon sun painted the water a turquoise blue, though the shade could change from turquoise to dark blue to gray in a matter of hours. The waves, lapping gently at the sand for the moment, could change even quicker, unfortunately—just as they had on the day the Beaumont sank two months ago.
His gaze drifted to the west side of the harbor entrance where the bow of his once-prized steamer stuck up from the water like a beacon while placid waves washed it against the rocks. If only it hadn’t been carrying four years’ worth of his work when it went down.
Salvors would be here any day to dredge what was left of the Beaumont out of the rocky shallows of Lake Superior, and the insurance company would soon write him a check for a new ship.
Or rather, seventy-five percent of a new ship and lost cargo, as that was all his maritime insurance would cover.
Which left him in need of precisely $11,341.
If he intended to get that money, then there was only one way to do so.
Unfortunately it meant leaving Eagle Harbor. In the summer. With its glistening bay and leafy trees and wildflowers aplenty.
From his open window, Gilbert drew in a breath, long and deep. It smelled of lake and sun and foliage, all so very different from the packed streets and thick, smoggy air of Chicago.
But Chicago was where the money was.
The door to his office burst open, and he turned to scowl at his assistant, Stanley Harris, for bothering him when he’d asked not to be disturbed.
Except it wasn’t Stanley.
“I’d heard the Beaumont had wrecked.” His older brother’s smooth voice filled the office. “Looks worse than I’d imagined.”
“Why are you here?” Though really, he shouldn’t be surprised. The only surprising part was it had taken two months for Father to send someone to fetch him home to Chicago.
Gilbert straightened and adjusted his waistcoat, even though doing so was futile. He never looked quite as impeccable as Warren, who stood just a few inches taller, had hair just a touch blonder, and eyes just a hint bluer than his own.
And considering how Warren was just a little better at landing business deals…
He let his shoulders fall back into their relaxed position. Why did he try keeping up with his brother? He would only fail in the end.
He looked out the window at the Lassiter, which was certainly preferable to watching Warren. His workers were unloading the supplies that would be sent via rail to the copper mines farther inland. He would have rather filled the space Warren occupied aboard the ship with cargo. Then he’d be making a profit.
“So you lost one of our most valuable ships?” Warren’s voice mocked as he approached the window.
Gilbert sighed. His brother was nothing if not predictable. “The Beaumont wasn’t ours, it was mine.” Father had signed it over to him last year along with the Lassiter and two other ships, just as he had signed over four similar ships to Warren. “Why aren’t you in Chicago?”
Warren leaned against the side of the window and smirked. “I see you’ve got a pretty view of the Beaumont from your office—or rather, what’s left of her since your inept crew decided to smash a forty thousand dollar vessel.”
“I was piloting when we hit those rocks.” Piloting in a blizzard. Without the aid of the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse to guide him to harbor. The truth sounded inane even to him. The ship never should have been on the water during such a storm.
“So it’s all your fault, is it? Either way, Father’s livid. He wants you back home.”
“Yes, well…” Gilbert fiddled with a small scratch in the smooth molding along the window. “Perhaps I don’t want to see him.”
Warren smirked again, that taunting grin which compelled women all over the Great Lakes to fall into his arms the moment he arrived in port. The one that made Mother beam and Father sign over the better ships to Warren.
Gilbert held back his sigh. Was he the only one who saw the mocking curl at the edge of Warren’s lips? The cold glint in his eyes?
“Good luck avoiding Father.” Warren surveyed the street below as though he were some medieval lord and the land below his fiefdom. “So has anything interesting happened around here? Besides you sinking the Beaumont, that is.” He muffled a yawn. “It looks the same as always.”
If Warren only knew. Gilbert turned away from the window and strode to his desk. “Boring as ever.”
“For someone who finds it boring, you sure spend a lot of time here.”
Gilbert plopped down and took up his pencil without glancing at his brother. “Why do you care?”
“I have to run my part of the business from here for a bit.”
How was it that he was leaving Eagle Harbor when he’d rather stay, and Warren was staying when he’d rather leave?
“Your office is next door.” Gilbert jutted his chin toward the far wall where a sofa piled with paperwork and reports sat. “Your business would be better handled over there.”
Warren straightened and looked around the office. “Tsk. Tsk. You’re awful quick to get rid of the brother you haven’t seen in three months.”
“I’ve work to do.” He moved the ledger he’d been studying closer, the one that proved he needed to come up with over eleven thousand dollars to replace the Beaumont and its cargo. And that wouldn’t cover the extra five thousand dollars insurance wasn’t going to pay him for the prototype of a shipping crane he’d had aboard, the crane he’d spent the past four years of his life inventing, perfecting, and—finally—building.
Talking to Warren or facing sixteen thousand dollars in debt. Choices, choices.
“I see your old friend is still fishing.” Warren leaned back against the window molding as though he hadn’t been asked to leave. “I’m surprised one of you hasn’t killed the other by now.”
Gilbert’s hand stiffened on his ledger. His brother could only be talking about one man. “Cummings and I have made amends.”
“Amends? That sounds interesting.” Warren drew out his words, his head cocked to the side.
“It’s not.” And he was a liar, because amends didn’t begin to describe what had transpired between him and Elijah Cummings, and his brother would find the story very interesting.
Though he’d probably hear the tale the second he headed to the brothel tonight.
“How long did you say you were staying again?” Please let him leave tomorrow. I’ll even endure a trip to Chicago with him on the Lassiter if it means I can get him away from here before he hears the scuttlebutt.
Warren shrugged, but the movement was stiff and jerky. “A month. Maybe two.”
Two months in Eagle Harbor? His brother? “Maybe I should be asking you if anything new has happened. You must have really erred if you have to stay so long.”
The little muscle on the side of Warren’s jaw clenched. “What about Cummings’s sister? Always was a looker. She married yet, or is she still tromping around in trousers like a man?”
Had Warren seen Rebekah? Gilbert shot out of his chair, knocking his neatly stacked pile of steam engine diagrams to the floor. Even if Warren was looking at Elijah’s fishing boat, he shouldn’t be able to recognize Rebekah from this distance given the way she dressed as a man and wore that overlarge hat low on her face.
Not that Gilbert ever had trouble picking her out from afar. “Leave Rebekah alone.”
“Rebekah, is it? Not Miss Cummings?” Warren chuckled, low and deep. “Don’t tell me you’ve finally taken a mistress, Gil, and one who wears trousers to boot.”
“She’s not my mistress.” Gilbert peered out the window, though doing so positioned him entirely too close to his brother, and looked toward the stretch of beach to the left of the dock. There she was, all right, her movements swift and efficient as she took the trays of fish from the boat and dumped them into crates.
“Then why is the back of your neck red?”
Brothers. Had a worthwhile one ever walked the earth? “It’s not like that. We’re just…”
What? A vision of her came to him. Her face smooth and creamy, her auburn hair thick, and her grass-green eyes shooting little sparks at him over some imagined affront. What did one call the woman he’d nearly kissed a month and a half ago? The woman he thought of far too often?
The woman who hadn’t so much as looked at him in three weeks. Gilbert fought back a cringe at the memory of their last conversation, the one that had ended with her storming away from a rainy beach, her jaw set and shoulders stiff.
“You’re just what?” Warren taunted. “Lovers?”
“Friends.” And that’s all they’d ever be.
“Friends.” Warren tipped back his head and laughed, his eyes gleaming the way they did whenever he walked into a saloon and spotted a pleasing woman. “I’m rather interested in finding out just how friendly she can be.”
“You’re the last person Rebekah Cummings would waste her attentions on.” And he was. But Gilbert suddenly wanted to wrap her up and take her to Chicago with him if only to keep her away from Warren. In all his years, he’d never once seen his brother treat a woman as anything other than an object to lust over and then discard. Or worse.
But Rebekah wouldn’t have to fend him off by herself. She had two brothers that looked out for her, and she was smart enough to see past Warren’s charm—even if most of the other women who lived in port towns couldn’t decipher Warren’s compliments from his taunts.
“Feeling protective?” Warren flashed another mocking smile.
“No,” he gritted, because there was nothing to be protective of. Sure, he might think of Rebekah from time to time—if lying awake every night counted as time to time—but he meant every word when he told Warren they’d only ever be friends. Their worlds were too different to meet.
“Well, I must admit that I rather enjoy seeing a woman’s legs—though not encased in trousers. Put Rebekah Cummings in silk dresses during the day, and she’d be a sight to behold.” Warren shoved himself off the wall and moved to study the bookshelf in the corner, the one filled with drawings, equations, and prototypes for cranes and derricks and the steam powered engines that ran them. “We’ll see how committed she is to you once you’ve gone to Chicago to beg Father for money to replace the Beaumont.”
“I keep telling you, she’s not—” Gilbert clamped his mouth closed. He was better off not uttering another word. His brother was likely toying with him, and he’d fallen into Warren’s traps one too many times over the years. “I’m not going to Chicago to beg Father for anything.”
Warren turned away from the bookcase and raised an eyebrow. “No? It might be the last chance you have to get any money for your silly ventures, seeing how Great Northern Shipping will be mine in another year or two. I won’t be so generous with business associates who run ships aground during a snowstorm, relatives or not.”
The business will be Warren’s. The business will be Warren’s. He’d been hearing that his entire life, and he didn’t doubt for an instant it would happen. But neither did he intend to acknowledge it, at least not today. “You sound rather sure of yourself considering Father sent you away.”
It was just a guess that Father had sent Warren here, but Warren’s eyes suddenly turned hard. What had his brother done?
“Watch yourself, Gilbert.” Warren leaned his elbow casually on the top of the bookshelf, except there was nothing casual about the movement. It sent an entire pile of papers scattering across the floor, a one hundred-and-twenty-some page study on friction drums and the benefits of using two drums or three in a hoist.
Who needed to read it in order anyway?
“My being in Eagle Harbor is a misunderstanding, that’s all.” But the tightness in Warren’s jaw said there was no misunderstanding. “My mistake will blow over a lot sooner than yours, and when all is said and done, I’ll be the one controlling Great Northern Shipping, not you.”
Warren stalked across the floor toward the door, not bothering to avoid the papers he’d spilled as they crinkled beneath his polished shoes. The office door swung shut with a thud that could likely be heard across the street on the Lassiter.
Gilbert bent to pick up the mess off the floor. Maybe Warren would end up with Great Northern Shipping, but there was one thing neither his brother nor his father knew.
He wasn’t going to Chicago to ask his father for money—he was going to find himself an heiress.
One with a dowry of at least sixteen thousand dollars.
Rebekah Cummings woke as she did every morning, in the dark of predawn, curled on her bed with her beaver pelt quilt. She rubbed at her bleary eyes and slipped quietly from under the covers, pulling on an open-collared shirt and a pair of trousers. Her hand stilled as she reached for the carpetbag she’d packed the night before.
No time to doubt herself now. She’d put things off long enough.
She clasped the handle and tiptoed to the edge of the loft where she slept above the kitchen. Careful to hold her carpetbag so it didn’t bump the ladder, she climbed soundlessly down into the sitting room and then padded to the kitchen on her stockinged feet. A quick glance at the first door down the hall told her the lamp was still out in Elijah’s room. He was usually up by now to launch the North Star while dawn broke over the water.
Except today was Sunday. He and Victoria were likely still abed together, and Ma wouldn’t be up for another hour yet.
She cast a wishful glance at the kettle sitting atop the stove, her mouth watering at the thought of a cup of strong coffee. But she needed to leave before anyone else awoke, so she set the brief note she’d written last night on the table. Hopefully God would forgive her for the lie it told, the one that would buy her enough time to leave Eagle Harbor.
She silently opened the door that led from the kitchen to the entryway and slipped on her boots before tiptoeing down the rough plank floorboards and letting herself outside. The sounds of waves rolling into rocks and the first birdsongs of the morning greeted her as she rushed across the yard. She didn’t pause to look back at the rambling log cabin her pa had built on the shore of Lake Superior or the vast lake beyond. Instead, she tightened her hold on the carpetbag until her nails dug into her palm and hastened down her family’s long, winding drive until she reached North Street.
The Pretty Penny brothel sitting just outside the town limit was all shut up for the morning, as was the bar, mercantile, barber shop, haberdashery, and telegraph office. She kept her gaze on the ground as she rushed past them.
She wouldn’t miss any of this—she absolutely refused. Elijah had left the family for two years while he’d sailed the world. Now he was settled with a wife to care for. But someone needed to leave, and it was her turn, like it or not.
She was determined to like it.
Because she couldn’t stay any longer in a town where everyone saw her as the half-crazed woman who ran around in trousers, nor could she stay with two brothers who thought she had nothing of value to offer the family.
She had something to offer, and she wasn’t going to sit around while Elijah and Isaac relegated her to mundane tasks like cooking, sewing, and icing fish. She’d let people keep her from doing what she knew had to be done once before, and her pa had ended up dead. She wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.
She’d seen the bills lying on the kitchen table and knew Elijah had emptied the family’s savings to rebuild his ruined surfboat this spring. She’d even wiped a tear or two from her eyes after he’d put in a full day of work on the lake and then turned around to help unload cargo ships for two straight weeks so he could purchase the small gold wedding band Victoria now wore on her finger.
But yesterday the representative who sold their catch inland said he could only give them seventy dollars for four months’ worth of fish. How could she not fear for her family when they were getting less than a third of what they’d brought in last year with the same haul?
There was no help for it. Her family needed money, and she was done—
“Oof!” She stopped short as she slammed into tall, lanky male body.
“Easy there.” A soft southern voice wrapped around her, and gentle hands gripped her shoulders as she attempted to straighten herself. “You should look where you’re going.”
In the growing light of dawn, she stared up into a narrow face that always seemed to be wreathed with compassion. “Sorry, Dr. Harrington. I wasn’t expecting anyone out this early.”
“It’s Seth. How many times must I tell you?”
“Seth, right.” Why didn’t she ever remember to call him by his Christian name? Her gaze fell to the black medical bag at his feet, which he’d probably dropped to keep them both from falling. “I trust everything is well this morning?”
“I’m afraid Tressa Oakton is still having trouble with her pregnancy.” He nodded toward the lighthouse to her left, then moved his somber green gaze back to her.
Rebekah shifted, not quite sure what to do with the odd way her belly curled whenever he looked at her like that. Maybe that look had something to do with him being raised in the South. They certainly did things differently down there.
She swallowed and turned to survey the red brick structure that jutted out from the rocks lining the outside of the harbor. Though Tressa’s husband Mac might not carry the last name of Cummings, he was something of an adopted brother, having moved in with them when he was ten years old and staying until he took the assistant lightkeeper position. She’d miss him and Tressa and their children while she was gone.
And now she’d have to wait until November before she met her newest niece or nephew. “Will Tressa be all right?”
“I pray so, but I’m afraid I don’t know what’s wrong with her, not really. Lots of fainting, lots of lightheadedness, and low blood pressure, but as for what’s causing it?” His brow furrowed and his lips twisted together. “Sometimes I wish this town had a midwife. I’d gladly defer to her in such situations.”
Since she wasn’t likely to have children anytime soon, Eagle Harbor’s lack of midwives wasn’t on her list of worries. Getting to the Lassiter, on the other hand, was. “You’re a good doctor. I’m sure you’ll see that she has a healthy baby in a few more months. Now I best be on my way.”
She moved to step around Dr. Har—Seth, but stilled when his hand clasped onto her arm.
“And where are you heading so early on a Sunday morning?” He ran his eyes down her in that assessing way again, but this time his gaze lingered on her carpetbag rather than her face. “Not fishing, I assume.”
No, she hadn’t been fishing in the three weeks since Elijah had told her he didn’t want her anywhere near his rescue boat during a recent storm, though she’d helped ice his catch every day after he returned from fishing. “I’ve taken a post.”
“One that requires a traveling bag and a trip at dawn?”
She drew in a deep breath. Speaking the words shouldn’t be this hard. After all, she had little trouble expressing herself when she’d been hired yesterday. But she’d been discussing leaving town with a stranger, not a family friend. “On the Lassiter, as the cook.”
“I’m surprised your brothers would let you do such a thing.” The furrow on his brow deepened, and his southern accent grew thicker.
She tore her gaze away from him and looked past his shoulder toward the ship with its lanterns burning. “Yes, well, I best be going.”
She attempted to move around him again, but his hand stopped her once more.
“Your family doesn’t know, do they?”
“Really, Seth. I gave word I’d be there at dawn. I don’t have time to talk.” She pulled her arm from his hold and rushed across Front Street and onto the pier where the Lassiter was docked.
“Wait. Rebekah, come back!” Footsteps thudded on the wooden planks behind her. “At least let me write to you while you’re gone.”
She paused at the top of the gangplank leading from the dock to the steamship and turned. “Whatever for?”
Even in the gray light, she could have sworn his cheeks turned red as he stood on the pier below her. “It’s what ladies and gentlemen do sometimes when they’re apart, hardly an odd notion.”
Yes, but why her? The odd fluttering in her belly started again, and she nearly pressed her hand to it. With his sandy blond hair, clear green eyes, and gentle southern manners, Dr. Seth Harrington had probably caught the attention of every marriageable woman in town—who could all be counted on one hand.
She liked him well enough, but to let him write her? That was as good as letting him court her. And if they wrote, when she returned to Eagle Harbor at the end of shipping season in November, he’d certainly have expectations concerning her.
They’d be wasted. She was too rough. She’d trample his kindness and compassion in a matter of days.
Certainly some other woman in town would be better suited for him. Like Ellie Spritzer. Dr. Harrington would make her a good husband, and Ellie surely needed one. “Seth, I think—”
“There you are.”
She glanced over her shoulder to find the shipmaster who’d hired her yesterday approaching.
“I was starting to worry I’d need to assign kitchen duties to one of the sailors.” Captain Steverman’s droopy blond mustache covered the corners of his mouth when he spoke and nearly hung down to his chin.
“I’m sorry, Seth. I have to go. And I think it’s probably best if we don’t write.” She stared at his chin rather than his eyes so that she couldn’t glimpse whatever emotion flashed across them.
“I assumed you’d say as much, but I wanted to ask nonetheless. Don’t feel bad for your answer.”
She pressed her lips together. Here she’d just refused him, and he was the one comforting her. If that didn’t prove he’d make a good husband, she didn’t know what would. If only she could be as good to him in return. “Have you thought of calling on Ellie Spritzer?”
“Ellie? She’s rather young yet, and I’m afraid since there’re so few women…” He blew out a breath and met her eyes. “How about we try this? Should you change your mind, you’re welcome to write me any time. If you happen to write, and I’m courting someone else, I’ll let you know straightway.”
“I can agree to that.” She glanced over her shoulder at the shipmaster, who’d taken a couple steps toward the hatch that led below deck. “Now I have to go. Goodbye, Seth.”
“Goodbye.” He held up his hand in a somber sort of farewell before turning and heading down the dock.
“You coming, lass?” Captain Steverman asked.
“Yes, I just needed a moment to say goodbye.”
“Got a sweetheart, I see.” He settled his hands on top of the belly that protruded over the waistband of his trousers as he watched Seth step off the pier.
“Not a sweetheart.” At least she didn’t think he was a sweetheart. “Just a good friend.”
She picked up her carpetbag, pausing to look back over the town she’d known her entire life. The town she’d never left once.
The lighthouse stood proudly on the rocks at the edge of the harbor, the beam powerful as it cast its rays over the water despite the brightening dawn. Behind the lighthouse, the town of Eagle Harbor sat, the buildings an odd collection of clapboard and whitewash intermixed with log structures.
“I’ll show you the galley whenever you’re ready.”
And look at her being maudlin. What a fool. Leaving town was best for her family, and she wasn’t going to stand around and regret it.
Even if she might miss the place where she’d grown up a tad more than she’d expected.