New York, 1879
The Ashfords’ home in town – rather pretentiously named Ashford Manor – was the largest and ugliest building around.
Ashford Manor was a large, rectangular building, taller than it was wide, and with windows just a little too small to let in enough light.
Amelia was used to the small windows by now, of course. Anything was better than the orphanage, and she was old enough to easily remember that.
They lived on the outskirts of New York, and while the rapidly expanding city center crawled a little closer towards swallowing up their small town every day, for now it stayed at a distance, and the Ashfords continued to be large fish in a moderately sized pond.
Someone knocked heavily on the bedroom door, and Amelia flinched, midway through her own toilette.
“Miss Patel! You’re to help Miss Ashford dress this morning.” Came the sharp, unfriendly tones of the head housemaid, Mabel. “And a letter arrived for you this morning. I’m leaving it outside the door.”
Amelia sighed, hastily pinning up the rest of her hair.
“It’s okay, Mabel, I’m ready. I’ll be along in just a moment.”
Mabel huffed audibly, as if she very much doubted it. Amelia heard her footsteps retreating along the hallway. This part of the house – the servants’ quarters – was cold and drafty, poorly built and with a tendency to echo. Amelia did not, of course, live upstairs with the family. It had been years since she and Cora shared a bedroom.
She glanced at herself in the mirror one last time, checking that everything was in order. Mrs. Ashford had very strict rules on how Amelia was to dress and conduct herself. She wore a light gray dress which did not particularly flatter her, and her brown curls were pinned up into a tight and unforgiving knot. No jewelry was permitted, of course, even if Amelia had owned such pieces. No hair-ribbons, no ornaments, and certainly no perfume, not even rose-water.
There was nothing that could be done about Amelia’s vivid green eyes, though. Her eyes had been compared to various things by besotted gentlemen – fresh-cut grass after rain, leaf-green, sunlight dappling through spring foliage, and so on.
Mrs. Ashford’s expression turned thunderous whenever Amelia received these compliments, no matter how unwanted and frankly ridiculous they were.
Amelia shook off these unpleasant thoughts and turned away from the mirror. She didn’t think very much about her own looks. It wasn’t as if anyone was looking at her, anyway. She stepped outside her bare, plain room, swiping up the letter as she did so. She didn’t recognize the writing, and anyway she would have no time to read it. Amelia slipped the letter into her pocket to read later.
Amelia tapped on the door to Miss Ashford’s room. Her room was on the second floor, off a light, airy landing. It had its own parlor and washroom.
“Come in.” a voice inside trilled, and Amelia pushed her way inside.
“Morning, Cora. Goodness, your room is a mess.”
Cora Ashford was still in her nightgown and robe, perched on the padded stool in front of her dressing table. She snorted.
“The maids will clean it up later. Help me decide what dress to wear, Amy. The blue satin or the peach?”
Amelia glanced at the two ornate ballgowns set out on the bed. They were both covered in flounces, ruffles, lace, sequins, and more. One was violently blue, and the other a sickly shade of pinkish yellow.
“They’re a bit much to wear for breakfast.” Amelia said dubiously.
“Not to wear now, silly. We’re going to a soiree tonight. Mrs. Jamison’s. Her son will be there, you know. Thomas Jamison. He’s sweet on me, I’m sure of it.”
Amelia, however, was not sure of that. Thomas Jamison had paid her far too much attention during his last visit. He’d all but ignored Cora altogether, which was really rather rude.
Cora hadn’t noticed. She was, as always, entirely wrapped up in her own private world, chattering nonstop and preening for nobody in particular, while Thomas ogled Amelia none too subtly.
Mrs. Ashford had noticed, of course. Her face had been so red Amelia thought she might burst.
There’ll be trouble later, she’d thought at the time, and she was right.
For now, though, Amelia contented herself with smiling briefly and saying nothing. She picked up a hairbrush with a mother-of-pearl back, and began to brush out Cora’s long, golden hair.
Amelia and Cora were the same age. They would even turn nineteen within a month of each other, which was likely been why Amelia had been chosen as Cora’s companion. That, and the fact that Mrs. Ashford clearly thought that Amelia would grow up into a plain, unthreatening sort of girl, unlikely to get between Cora and her marriage prospects.
Of course, there were crucial differences between them. For one, Cora was remarkably beautiful, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a perfectly featured heart-shaped face that most people complimented.
For another thing, Cora had a substantial dowry and both her parents. She was not a friendless orphan. It didn’t matter that she tended to be a little too demanding, a little too used to getting her own way and doing whatever she liked.
“You know, it’s been over ten years since I first came here.” Amelia commented, carefully teasing out a knot from Cora’s hair. Brushing out her hair had been Amelia’s job since she first arrived. They’d sat on the bed then, giggling over nothing, like nine-year-olds were wont to do. Cora had squirmed horribly, complaining about every little tug of the brush.
She hadn’t changed much now.
“Gently, Amelia!” Cora huffed. “You’re going to tear out my hair from my scalp. And yes, I know it’s been ten years. I was just thinking about it last night, and I thought we could have a day out today, you and me, but Mama said no. I suggested you come with us to the Jamisons’ soiree, but Mama said definitely not. Sorry.”
“That’s okay, I didn’t much want to go anyway.” Amelia lied.
It wasn’t so much that the Jamisons’ soiree would be interesting, more than her only other option was to sit at home in silence and isolation. The parlor would be closed up while the family was gone, and none of the servants would speak to her. They wouldn’t bother setting out the dining room for her to eat. At best, she could hope for a tray to be sent down to her room, if the cook remembered.
She usually didn’t.
So, Amelia would sit alone in her room, bored and miserable. The library was in Mr. Ashford’s study, which would now be locked, so unless she had the time to take out some books beforehand, she’d have nothing to do.
Like a toy that a child has gotten tired of, Amelia thought wryly. Tossed to the floor and forgotten until they want to play with it again.
“Are you okay, Amy?”
She glanced up and caught Cora looking at her in the mirror.
“You seem a little… a little off today.”
Amelia bit her lip. How could she explain the change that had taken place to Cora? Cora was the beloved daughter of the house; Amelia was just her companion. Of course it would be a problem if Amelia received more attention at parties, or if the two girls got a little too close. When you came down to it, Amelia was just a servant, really.
It would only upset Cora to learn just how far apart their respective situations had become. Amelia hadn’t always felt like a servant. She’d once been treated like a daughter.
“It’s nothing, I’m just tired.” Amelia said, neatly changing the subject. “Are you looking forward to tonight? You should wear the blue silk, by the way.”
“Amelia, we’re leaving!” Cora called.
She put aside her mending – Cora was far too careless with her clothes – and hurried along the hall to say goodbye.
The front door was open, letting in a cool draft of air. Mr. Ashford was already climbing into the carriage, and Cora was poised on the doorstep, obviously keen to get going. Mrs. Ashford stood in the foyer, pulling on her gloves.
“Goodbye, dearest!” Cora said, waving and smiling at Amelia. “Don’t have too much fun without us.”
“I won’t.” Amelia said, and she meant it. “Mrs. Ashford, may I ask you something before I go?”
Mrs. Ashford frowned. She was a tall, painfully thin woman, with a hooked nose and features which were too large for her small face. She’d once been kind, smiling and indulgent towards Amelia. As the two girls got older, and it became apparent that Amelia was attracting too much attention at soirees and parties, Mrs. Ashford’s good nature melted away like ice in the sun. Cora was their only child, and she needed to have a good marriage. Mrs. Ashford soon decided that Amelia would not accompany them to gatherings and to outings. Her usefulness was dwindling, and for the first time since the Ashfords took her away from the orphanage, Amelia began to feel afraid again.
This was not her home. It had never been her home.
“What is it, Amelia?” Mrs. Ashford said sharply. “We cannot be late.”
“I was wondering if I could take some books from the library. You’ll be gone most of the night, I assume, and the study is always locked. I didn’t have time to collect any books earlier.”
Mrs. Ashford scowled. “Have you no work to keep yourself busy? I haven’t time for this nonsense, Amelia.”
Amelia bit her lip. “I know it’s silly, but it is my birthday today. I am nineteen.”
Cora sucked in a breath. “Oh, many happy returns, Amelia! I’m sorry, I haven’t got you a present.”
Amelia smiled vaguely at Cora. “That’s okay, Cora. Mrs. Ashford, I only ask to take out a book because I’ll have to stay up until you all return, and…”
“You call her Miss Ashford.” She corrected sharply.
Amelia flinched. Cora, still standing on the doorstep, frowned.
“Mama, there’s no need to be like that. Amelia has always called me Cora. It would be strange to hear her call me Miss Ashford now.”
Cora, in her own way, was trying to smooth over the situation.
It was not, of course, working.
Mrs. Ashford turned to face her daughter.
“No, Cora. It’s time this nonsense was nipped in the bud. You and Amelia are no longer children. You are Miss Ashford, and she is your companion. You are not equals. I’ve allowed this to go on for too long, and Amelia needs to know her place. It’s bad enough to see her flirting and talking with the young gentlemen at parties, as if she had the right to address any of them. I am quite ashamed of her behavior at times. I don’t think I’ve done either of you any favors, allowing you to believe that an orphaned girl with no family or friends is equal to a lady like Miss Ashford. It’s time you girls grew up and understood how the world works.”
Cora’s small, pink mouth fell open in shock, and her eyes bulged. She looked as though she wanted to say something, but she’d never been good at standing up to her mother. Mrs. Ashford turned to face Amelia and smiled coldly.
“Do I make myself clear, Amelia?”
Amelia met her eye steadily.
“Quite clear, Mrs. Ashford.”
“Good.” Mrs. Ashford turned to go, but Amelia spoke again, stopping her in her tracks.
“I have news of my own, too.”
Mrs. Ashford paused, shooting her a glare. “Goodness, you are very keen to attract attention this evening, aren’t you, Amelia? We will discuss this when we return, I think.”
Amelia took out the letter – now opened and read – with a shaking hand.
“I am leaving, Mrs. Ashford.”
There was a tense silence.
“Leaving?” Cora echoed, her voice wobbly. “What do you mean?”
Amelia looked past Mrs. Ashford, meeting Cora’s eye, and smiled faintly.
“I applied for a position as a schoolteacher, some months ago. I didn’t hear back, so I assumed it was a waste of time. This letter I received this morning informs me that I’ve been offered a post. It’s a place called Briarwood, in Texas.”
The silence filled the hall, thick and heavy. Mrs. Ashford’s mouth hung open, and she looked furious and disbelieving. Tears shimmered in Cora’s large blue eyes.
Amelia met Mrs. Ashford’s eye.
“Never mind about the book, Mrs. Ashford. I think I shall be too busy packing. Goodbye, everyone. Enjoy your soiree.”
“Forged in Love’s Fire” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Amelia Patel, a resilient young woman, has overcome a difficult past as an orphan and is determined to find her place in the world. Leaving behind the confines of her adopted family’s oppressive treatment, she embarks on a journey to Briarwood to try her luck. However, as she settles into her role as a schoolteacher, she can’t ignore the growing attraction she feels for a mysterious widowed father, Luca Wright. Yet, while confronting her own insecurities, Amelia has a haunting feeling of being watched…
Will she find her rightful place in Briarwood, defying the limitations society has imposed on her?
Haunted by grief and burdened by the weight of being a single father, Luca Wright is a man struggling to rebuild his shattered world. Constantly judged and targeted by a nosy neighbor, Luca’s efforts to be the best father he can always seem to fall short. However, when his son begins attending school under the guidance of the captivating new schoolmistress, Luca finds himself drawn to her in unexpected ways. The path to his son’s happiness may lie in the hands of this intriguing woman who has captured his heart…
Can he navigate the complexities of his newfound feelings while proving to the world that he is indeed a capable and loving father?
Together, Amelia and Luca must confront the challenges of a judgmental society, small-town politics, and the enigmatic figures lurking in the shadows. Can they overcome the obstacles that threaten to tear them apart, or will the consequences of their choices shatter their dreams of love and belonging?
“Forged in Love’s Fire” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.