On a long train ride to Seattle, Ginny swaps identities with a woman who doesn't want to marry a man she has never seen, but their innocent ploy is threatened when an avalanche engulfs the train
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Cameron Dokey lives in Seattle, Washington. One of the things she liked best about writing this book was that she finally got to do a piece about the place that's now her "home state." That's probably the reason she did her best to give this love story a happy ending!
Cameron has one husband and three cats, and is the author of over a dozen young adult novels. Her favorite read is J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Her favorite TV show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
When she's not writing, Cameron likes to work in the garden and is learning to quilt. She also makes the best chocolate birthday cakes on the entire planet. Cameron is incredibly excited that Washington Avalanche, 1910 will be published not quite 100 years after the events which inspired the story.
February 22, 1910
"Virginia Nolan! What in heaven's name do you think you're doing?"
At the sound of her stepsister-in-law's voice, Ginny Nolan jumped, cracking her head against the window frame. A clump of hard-packed snow dislodged above her, landing squarely on the back of her neck.
Ginny could feel its wet coldness sliding downward, penetrating the thin, high collar of her shirt waist. Quickly, she jerked back. Her action tumbled more fresh snow onto the perfectly polished hardwood floor of Amanda Banks's front parlor.
Now I've done it, Ginny thought. Next to her four-year-old son, Mason, her stepsister-in-law's house was her most prized possession. That and the sterling reputation of the family name. The Banks were an important family in Spokane, and Amanda never let anyone forget it, particularly Ginny, since she wasn't one of them.
"Oh, for mercy's sake, Ginny," Amanda Banks exclaimed now, her tone sharp with irritation. "Snow on the floor will ruin the finish, and Emily just did this room this morning."
With an angry twitch of skirts, head held high as a queen's, Amanda strode forward into the front parlor, heading toward the bell pull she could use to summon a servant. Even through her annoyance with herself, Ginny had to admit her stepsister-in-law looked impressive.
Unlike Ginny, Amanda was always conscious of the impression she made. It was an important part of keeping up appearances. And Ginny was sure keeping up appearances was the only thing that kept her stepsister-in-law from making her clean up the soggy mess she'd made herself.
It would never do to have a member of the family perform such a menial task, even an unimportant family member, such as Ginny.
"Though why you would want to open a window in the middle of a snowstorm -- " Amanda went on as she gave the cord so hard an angry yank that Ginny could swear she heard the bell at the other end, ringing in the kitchen " -- I'm sure I cannot possibly imagine. It's never been so cold, not for twenty years. Stephen said so at breakfast just this morning. But, naturally, it's too much to hope that you were paying attention. You never listen to a word we say."
That's not true, Ginny thought. I listened plenty last night. Even more than the ice still melting down her back, the thought of what she'd heard made her shiver.
Quickly, she turned away from Amanda's petulant face, pulling the window closed with one swift, hard movement. Her action caused a final clump of snow to tumble to the floor at her feet. From behind her, Ginny heard Amanda make a strangled sound of dismay.
"It's been all I could do to keep the house a decent temperature since this storm set in yesterday," she went on, her voice shrill, "even with a fire going in almost every room. Mason could catch a chill indoors, and you know how I worry about his health.
"I might have hoped, having lost your own so young yourself, that you'd have some respect for a mother's feelings. But it appears that I hoped for too much, as usual. You have no respect for the feelings of others. After all your brother and I have done for you, too. You don't know the half of it, let me tell you that."
Stepbrother, Ginny thought, her eyes still fixed on the storm swirling outside the window. Stephen is no true relation of mine, Amanda, and neither are you.
But her stepsister-in-law had been right about one thing, Ginny thought now, as she reluctantly turned back to face her. Ginny didn't know the half of what her stepbrother and his wife had done for her. She knew it all. She knew everything. All the things Stephen and Amanda Banks had planned for Virginia Nolan's future. A future they'd designed to cover up their own past misdeeds.
Just thinking about it still had the power to make Ginny's throat close up in some strange combination of fury and terror. Realizing how close she'd come to never knowing the truth made her blood run colder than even the snowstorm's rage. If it hadn't been for the fact that she'd been unable to sleep late last night and had come downstairs in search of a book --
Don't think about that now, she told herself, appalled to discover that her hands were shaking. Quickly, she thrust them behind her back where Amanda couldn't see them.
The action made her feel like a penitent schoolgirl standing meekly before an angry headmistress, an image she was sure her stepsister-in-law would appreciate. Amanda was always happy to provide instruction to others, her two favorite recipients being her servants and Ginny.
Don't think about anything but placating Amanda, Ginny told herself sternly. The sooner she mended things with her stepsister-in-law, the safer she would be. Then Amanda would go back to ignoring her the way she usually did. Being the center of Amanda's attention was the last thing Ginny wanted, particularly today.
"I'm sorry, Amanda," she said now, stepping away from the window, being careful to avoid the snow rapidly melting into a slushy puddle. Perhaps putting some distance between herself and the scene of her transgression would make her apology more effective.
"You're absolutely right. Opening a window was foolish and thoughtless of me. It's just -- "
Just what? she asked herself, sardonically. How did she think she could explain her feelings to Amanda, even if she'd been in the habit of confiding in her? Even if confiding in her had been safe?
How on earth could she tell her stepsister-in-law how intolerable she found it to stay inside her house now that she knew what Amanda and Stephen had done? What they still intended to do. How could she tell Amanda that she could hardly bear to look at her? That all she wanted was to get away?
Ginny had lain awake for hours last night, trying to formulate a plan of action, desperately turning over various plans of escape. She'd wanted to run straight out of the house after she'd overheard Stephen and Amanda's conversation. But, even in her outrage and fear, she'd known she couldn't act so precipitously. She couldn't afford to give herself away.
It was the only reason Ginny was still in the house today. The only reason she'd endured the agonizing hours from breakfast until luncheon, from luncheon until mid-afternoon. She knew she had to choose her time for action carefully. She would have only one chance to get away.
In the hour after Stephen came home in the late afternoon, while he and Amanda were in their own rooms dressing for dinner. Not until then could Ginny act upon her plan to escape. To go earlier was to risk detection. That was what Ginny had told herself in the dark, bleak hours of the early morning.
But she hadn't reckoned on how difficult things would be today.
To spend the day as always, doing nothing, pretending to know nothing. Inactivity had made Ginny's body sore, like a toothache. She'd been so desperate she'd finally resorted to working on her embroidery, a ladylike activity of which Amanda wholeheartedly approved, but which Ginny usually hated.
It hadn't helped a bit.
Instead of soothing her nerves, the close, tiny stitches Ginny was creating only served to remind her of how close and narrow her world would become if she didn't get away. But it wasn't until she'd thrust her needle into her finger hard enough to draw blood that she'd abandoned the embroidery and taken the drastic step of opening the window.
She'd hoped the bitter weather would distract her from her bitter thoughts. She'd never intended to leave the window open for more than a few seconds. Even she knew it was too cold a day. It was just plain bad luck that Amanda had come back downstairs, after seeing young Mason put down for his nap, to find Ginny with her head in the snowstorm.
Apologize again, Ginny told herself now. Maybe if she said she was sorry enough times, Amanda would spare her a lecture and let her go up to her room. Ginny didn't think she had the patience to bear one of Amanda's full-fledged harangues today. Her own nerves were too raw. She would be too likely to snap back, and that would ruin everything.
"I am sorry, Amanda," she said. "I was just so astonished to see so much snow." Ginny closed her lips abruptly over the words that rose up, threatening to spill over. And so afraid the storm would stop me.
Amanda Banks's blue eyes narrowed. Even from across the room, Ginny could tell the expression in them was calculating, and something else. Good, she thought. She'd surprised her.
Though she was careful never to be impolite to her stepsister-in-law, Ginny rarely apologized for the misdeeds Amanda laid so constantly at her door. Most of them were simply imaginary. Almost the first lesson Ginny had learned upon coming to live with her stepbrother and his wife was that no matter how she behaved they were always going to find fault with her.
The second thing she'd learned was that Stephen Banks hadn't approved of his mother Edith's marriage to Ginny's father, Abner Nolan. There was only one reason he hadn't opposed it: upon his marriage, Abner had promised to settle all of Edith's debts. The Banks family needed Abner Nolan's money.
Banks was an old, distinguished family name in eastern Washington. Much more distinguished than Nolan. But being distinguished was no longer the same as being wealthy. Abner Nolan could provide the money the Banks so desperately needed if they were going to keep up the appearances they considered so all-important.
When Abner and Edith had died in a freak accident on their honeymoon, their sailboat overtaken by a sudden summer squall, Stephen had had no choice but to take in Abner's daughter. Ginny's own mother had died when she was a young girl. She had no other relatives.
Not offering her a home would have made the family look bad, have been a black mark on its spotless reputation. But although Stephen and Amanda had taken Ginny in, they had never made her welcome. Instead, they'd made her feel like what they obviously thought she was: a charity case, an obligation.
From the moment she'd first set foot into her stepbrother's house nearly two years ago, only one thing had kept Ginny going. The knowledge that she didn't have to stay there forever. When she turned eighteen, she would come into the inheritance her mother had left. Then, she'd have enough money to be independent.
Ginny knew it was unusual for young women to live on their own, but as soon as she came into her money, she intended to try it. She didn't want to stay in her stepbrother's house one hour more than she had to.
And now her eighteenth birthday was less than three months away.
Without warning, Ginny shivered, as if just thinking about her approaching birthday had suddenly brought the trap into which her stepbrother hoped to lure her even closer.
I'm not going to step into it, she thought. Not now that I know the truth.
"Oh, there you are, Emily," Amanda said as a girl several years younger than Ginny, dressed in the dark skirt, white blouse, and white apron of a household servant, finally appeared in the parlor doorway.
She was panting ever so slightly, as if out of breath. Her pale cheeks were flushed. Tiny tendrils of blond hair had escaped from her cap to curl damply around her face. Looking at her, Ginny felt a pang of guilt. Amanda Banks worked her servants hard, and Ginny hadn't intended to make things harder for any one of them, particularly Emily, who was the youngest.
"Where have you been?" Amanda demanded. If she noticed the girl's rapid breaths, she gave no sign. "You certainly took your time about coming. Tidy yourself up, girl. You look a mess. I've told you I won't have that."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Emily gasped out, her fingers fumbling to put her hair back into place. "It's just that I was -- "
"I've no time to listen to your excuses," Amanda broke in sharply. "Miss Virginia has opened a window and let the snow in all over the floor. I expect you to do something about it."
How cold her voice is, Ginny thought. It was the same tone Amanda had used the night before. Not because she'd been speaking to her husband, but because she'd been speaking about Ginny. I'm like a servant in her eyes, Ginny thought. Beneath her. Expendable.
In the doorway, Emily bobbed a quick curtsy. "Don't worry, ma'am," she said. "I'll attend to it right away."
"See that you do," Amanda said, as the servant spun on her heel and began to move away. "There's no time to waste. I shouldn't have to tell you that."
A sudden wave of nausea hit Ginny, full in the stomach. She took a few stumbling steps, and sat down hard in the nearest chair, heedless of the fact that she'd sat on top of her own embroidery. The striped wallpaper of the parlor wavered before her eyes.
Amanda had said almost exactly the same thing last night, her cold voice finally warming with urgency.
"Tell Jack he must move faster," she'd told her husband. "That girl's birthday is less than three months away. Everything about this must look proper. It can't look patched up in any way. I shouldn't have to tell you that, Stephen. Jack is dallying, and there's no time to waste."
Ginny closed her eyes, swallowing hard as bile inched with acid fingers up the back of her throat. This was the thing she'd learned last night. The thing that made her whole world different today. Standing in the hallway outside the library, listening to her stepbrother and his wife discuss her until her heart had turned numb and her body icy.
Stephen had been stealing from her, from practically the moment she'd set foot in the house. Robbing her of her inheritance. Her only chance for freedom. He'd planned to pay it back, or so he'd claimed. But his investments had gone sour, and now it was too late. Now, there was only one way out.
Ginny had to marry before her eighteenth birthday.
If she did that, everything she owned would become the property of her husband. Stephen's theft would never come to light. He would be safe.
As long as Ginny had the right husband.
She felt the bile inch a little higher.
She could still hardly believe that laughing, charming Jack Lawton was a part of Stephen's schemes. She still didn't know precisely why. It was likely she'd never know. But Ginny figured she had all the knowledge that she needed.
The knowledge that she'd come too close to believing that she could love Jack, as he claimed to love her. Too close to doing exactly what her stepbrother wished her to do: be swept off her feet.
Because even Ginny had to admit that, in Jack Lawton, Stephen Banks had found the perfect bait. Jack was impetuous and headstrong, just as Ginny was, attributes which had probably led him to become embroiled in Stephen's schemes in the first place.
All Stephen had had to do was to dangle Jack in front of her, and wait for Ginny's own nature to carry her away. It had almost worked. Ginny felt a chill swe...
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Book Description Simon Pulse, 2000. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110671036041
Book Description Simon Pulse, 2000. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Brand New!. Bookseller Inventory # VIB0671036041