Lavinia Pertwee straightened her spine, trying to look studious and grateful as people filed by to give their condolences. The year was 1887. Her father was gone, and at twenty-five, Lavinia had been left all alone. Nathan, known affectionately by most of Lancaster as “Nate,” had been a friend to many people in Lancaster and the surrounding counties. Nevada, they said, would not be the same state without his booming personality, his over-the-top antics just to get a smile, his bellowing laugh that was at times contagious, and other times ear-splitting.
Lavinia wasn’t outrageous like her father, but she had a strong personality, too, and was used to getting what she wanted because she worked hard to make things happen. She was a good woman at heart and didn’t manipulate anything that happened. She just did everything in her power to achieve whatever goals she set before herself.
Now, with her father gone, she had no form of income. The estate was small and didn’t provide any income for her. In fact, the house was already in need of repairs they couldn’t afford.
Lavinia’s only chance of surviving on her own came through her Uncle Malcolm, her father’s brother, who was an actor, and a very good one. He was known for his performances, which he was asked to give over all of Nevada from top to bottom and side to side.
That’s what he liked to say, anyway. And he had a right to be boastful. He would have been even without his talent, he always said.
Lavinia loved her uncle, but he was not responsible for her welfare. She would have to take a job somewhere.
All these things went through her mind as she watched people pass in front of her, bowing to her because she was seated and they were standing, sometimes taking her hand but always giving her a kind word. She nodded and acknowledged them, though she barely heard what they were saying.
Finally, it was the end of the line. The last man to come past her and Malcolm, seated next to her with his arm around her to keep her safe, was her father’s lawyer. She hadn’t invited him, but she didn’t have an objection to him coming. Or she wouldn’t have if he hadn’t whispered the words he did when he bent to talk to her.
“I’m sorry about this, Lavi,” he said. “It’s not natural for a man to die so young, especially when he’s so energetic and lively hours before.”
“But I need to warn you that you are in serious financial trouble now.”
Malcolm clucked his tongue and glared at the short, frumpy-looking man. “This is not the time for that kind of talk, Gerald Fortney. What is wrong with you, sir?”
Lavinia slid her eyes to the two large front doors of the church. They were propped open, and the last funeral guests were trailing out, talking quietly and shaking their heads. They looked genuinely sad. It was heartening to see how loved her father had been.
She placed one hand on Malcolm’s leg and squeezed gently. “It’s OK, Uncle. If not now, when?”
Malcolm shook his head, clicking his tongue again. “Certainly not three seconds after the service,” he grumbled, turning his face away.
Lavinia patted his leg. “It’s okay, Uncle. Really.” She looked at the lawyer again. “Go ahead, Mr. Fortney. What is it you want to tell me.”
The man skittered to the side and slid into the chair next to Lavinia, leaning so close to her that it made her uncomfortable. But she knew it was Mr. Fortney’s way. He was the kind of person always a few inches from your face, speaking as if he had the greatest of secrets to tell.
“You know I cared about your father, Lavinia. I’ll miss him. He was such a good person. Genuine. To his very core. I know you know that.”
Lavinia nodded. At the present moment, she was numb. Everyone else saw her father as the wonderful man he was. He’d been her father. He’d raised her since her mother’s death when she was five from tuberculosis. A lot of people had been taken by tuberculosis that year.
She’d spent nearly every moment of the day with him throughout her childhood. He’d taken her on his business trips, though she didn’t know what he really did for a living. By the time she was eighteen, she knew he worked in distribution, receiving orders for large shipments and sending the order to a shipper he worked with. As the middleman, he took a cut larger than Lavinia thought any other distributor made.
But that was probably just her child’s mind making up how important her father was because his personality was so lively. He was often laughing, joking, dining with friends, drinking more than a man his size should have. But he didn’t know that until it was too late.
“Tell me what you have on your mind, Mr. Fortney,” she urged him gently.
He gave her a reluctant look, pulled in a sharp breath, and held it for a second or two. Then he let it all spill out.
“He was a generous man, Lavi. Too generous. He lived beyond his means and not for his own benefit. He gave you everything you ever wanted, and if he’d stopped there, he would have been fine. But he didn’t stop with you, my dear. He supported many around Lancaster alone and sent money to relatives of people here in Lancaster that he cared about and knew needed some help. He made a good deal of money but had recently taken out several loans to invest in businesses that … well, they didn’t last long enough to make him a profit, and he ended up losing a lot.”
He stopped and sighed. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Lavinia?”
Lavinia was annoyed by the question. “Of course I understand. I’m not a dunce, sir. What is my position now?”
“You can sell the house and every asset your father owns, and you will have a little left over to start over with. But it won’t be much. I’ve made some calculations. You may have around a hundred dollars left over.”
Lavinia’s heart sank. She hesitated and said, “Do what you must do, Mr. Fortney. I’ll figure something out.”
Mr. Fortney gave her a soft smile. “I knew you would, my dear. I’ll do my best for you on my end.”
Lavinia sighed, shaking the unfolded piece of paper in front of her, trying to focus on the words through the tears in her eyes. Her sister, Ellie, had not been able to make it from San Francisco, where she lived. Her husband had been in a minor accident, but it required staying home to take care of him and their little girl, and Ellie just hadn’t been able to get away.
It didn’t really matter. The house and everything in it went up on the auction block on Saturday. Everything she got would go to pay her father’s loans. He’d been too generous. Mr. Fortney was right.
But she still loved him. So did everyone in town. They would be at the auction. They would buy her and her father’s things – everything that was worth anything more than just sentiment. She’d also heard a rumor was swirling around Lancaster that if there weren’t enough to pay for all her father’s debts, they would take donations until there was enough.
Her father’s generosity was the reason behind theirs. Lavinia felt blessed that she had their support. And with her Uncle Malcolm to give her shelter until she figured things out, she would be fine. She would get back on her feet like she knew she could. Lavinia was a confident woman. Her father had taught her valuable things – integrity, devotion, loyalty, and intelligence. He told her to look at the logic behind her actions first, to make sure she wasn’t doing anything that would hurt others, but nothing that would hurt herself either.
He’d taught her so much. What a man he’d been.
Lavinia sighed again, setting her sister’s letter to the side. She couldn’t take the heartbroken, guilty words, the pain she felt that matched her sister’s.
“I miss him so much,” she whispered, allowing herself the tears she couldn’t resist. A week had passed, and Lavinia had decided to answer an ad for a bride to go to California. It was the only way she knew she would be supported for the rest of her life. “Why can’t I just stay here with you, Uncle Malcolm? I’ll join your acting troupe and … and do the cosmetics. I can learn how to do that. Or help build the stage …”
“No, no, no, my dear.” Malcolm swept through the room; one hand held in front of him higher than the top of his head but not straight up. “You are not suited for a life on the road, you see. That’s only for a special type of person. A traveler, like me. A man of the world. Or woman if it was in your case. I am a worldly person, you see. You are not. You are destined to be a beautiful wife producing the most beautiful children. You will marry a sweet man. I will make sure you choose rightly. I do wish you could find someone right here in Nevada. If you choose a man in California, as planned, I may have to move my home to a brand-new state.”
“But you would do that for me, wouldn’t you?” she asked in a teasing voice.
Malcolm seemed to float around the couch she was sitting on, placed in the middle of the sunshine-filled room. There were windows on three sides from top to bottom, an addition to Malcolm’s home that he had built himself. It was Lavinia’s favorite room. The atmosphere was peaceful and calm. He settled on the couch next to her as if he weighed no more than a feather. She smiled at him, affection making her feel warm inside.
“You know I cannot lose track of my one and only niece. You are the only family member I have left, my dear. Mama and Papa are gone, now Nathan has passed, and everyone is still mourning him. You are the only one left who shares the same blood as mine. You need to marry and have children, honey, or the blood line ends with you.”
“Oh, but you–”
Malcolm held up one long hand, his thin fingers straight with perfect fingernails he took great care of. “Not me, my dear. I won’t be marrying. I am a bachelor for life. My days of reproducing are long over. I was never interested in being a family man anyway. My love has always been for the stage. Never for a woman. No woman would have put up with me anyway. I’m always on the road, always learning my lines. I simply don’t have time for a woman, you see.” He laughed softly. “And I have been tempted, mind you. Asked by several women who could not resist my natural charm.” He lifted his nose in the air, lowering his eyelids in mock arrogance.
Lavinia grinned and nodded. “Yes, I understand.” And she did. She had never seen her uncle show any signs of attraction toward anyone of either gender. She only saw friendship. He was probably right. He didn’t have time to have a wife. “You and Papa were so different. It’s hard to believe you are his brother. Everything about him was the opposite of you. He was such a large man, and you are tall and slender. He had dark hair, while yours is light. Everything is different.”
“That is true. It has been noted before. But you are distracting from what I am trying to explain to you.”
“Can’t I stay here while you’re out of town on your trips?”
“You must get married and have children! Must I repeat myself?”
Lavinia laughed softly. “No, no. That’s not necessary. I understand. You’re right. And I think I will receive a letter from one of the men I wrote to in California. We shall see.”
“They must write back, and then you will be the one to make the decision,” Malcolm said confidently. “And whichever one you choose will be blessed to have you, my dear. Absolutely blessed.”
“When I get married, you will be there, won’t you?”
“I will be there!” he replied exuberantly.
“And if I have trouble, you’ll come and give me your wise counsel, won’t you?”
“You know, I will be there whenever I receive a message from you. I will never abandon you, my dear. But you must live your life and not rely on me or anyone else for your success. It’s your perseverance that will get you far in life. You are the only one you can really count on. Trust me. Well, you can count on me, too, can’t you? My sweet girl, I do love you dearly and wish I could take you under my wing. I think we would be grand on stage together! But alas, it is not to be, and you must go on your way and live your life the way the Good Lord intended you to. And that is as a wife and mother, carrying on the Pertwee blood, even if it is not in name.”
Lavinia sighed. “I love you, too, Uncle Malcolm.”
Brian and Gabriel Kemp emerged from the mine covered in black dirt. Gabe was ready for a bath. He’d taken to going to the creek behind the back of the house he shared with Brian, his father, sister, and their father’s parents. It was a large house, and although Melinda was technically out on her own, she was still there almost every day, checking on their father.
Since their mother Marianne’s death, their father, Carl, had nearly given up on life. He immediately stopped working the farm, and men from the town were asked to come in and take his place. They could afford it only when the farm ran like clockwork, and the men they’d hired those years ago apparently knew exactly what they were doing. Either that or God was shining down on them during their time of mourning, blessing Carl and the family, though the man was waiting for death to be with his wife again.
Brian slapped his hands together, smiling wide. His white, straight teeth were the envy of Red Peak, and Gabe wasn’t blessed with the same. Brian took care of his teeth, and it might have been because he was smiling so much. He didn’t smile because of his teeth, though. He smiled because he was always happy. How he hadn’t found a woman to marry by now was beyond Gabe’s comprehension.
“Why you so happy?” he asked in a gruff voice.
Brian rubbed his hands back and forth, excitement in his voice as he replied, “I’ve got a letter in town, Melinda said at lunch.”
“How does she know?” Gabe asked, pulling his eyebrows together.
Brian’s eyebrows lifted up. “I don’t know,” he said simply. “She just knows. Maybe she passed by the postmaster’s office or something.”
“But then why didn’t she just get it?”
Brian looked frustrated before slapping a hand on Gabe’s shoulder. “What’s the problem, brother? You knew this was coming. I gotta get married and have those kids to carry on the line, right? I’m the oldest, right? That’s what you keep saying. Well, I’m finally doing what you want me to do. What everyone wants me to do. I wouldn’t be getting married if Pa wasn’t so desperate for me to. I’d rather you do it.”
Gabe grunted. “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t have a woman in my life. Don’t know if I ever will. Everyone knows you. Everyone likes you. You’re the obvious choice.”
“I don’t know about that. I never wanted to marry. Never wanted to be down to one woman. But I have to be, don’t I? So that’s what I’m gonna do!”
Gabe didn’t understand his brother’s way of thinking. Wasn’t he signing on to be miserable for the rest of his life? Was that what he really wanted?
But his brother took his loyalty and duty to the family seriously. He would get married because his father wanted him to do that. He’d written to a woman in Nevada and was waiting for the letter back. He was excited about it, too. Brian knew when his brother was being genuine.
The two walked side by side down the mountain to the small temporary shelters built for the workers’ convenience. It was one of the few incentives their head supervisor, Peter Mercer, had asked the owner of the mine, Samuel Milton, to provide for the workers. There weren’t many. Most of the miners agreed Milton was a shameless, money-hungry, sneaky, outright mean scoundrel. But they needed the job, so those sentiments were never spoken out loud – at least not where they could be heard by anyone of importance.
Gabe and his brother were close. At three years older than Gabe, Brian had done everything he could since his little brother was born to protect and love him.
There was one thing Gabe wished he could have prevented for his brother, though. He didn’t want Brian working in the mines with him. He was supposed to be tending to the farm with their father. Their mother’s death had changed everything. Their father was out of commission, and the farm began to suffer greatly. Brian couldn’t handle all the duties on his own or with a single worker and took it upon himself to get a job at the mine to bring in more money.
Mining was a dangerous job, something Gabe understood to the fullest. He’d been in several situations where he thought he might lose his life, cave-ins were always a danger, and bad air had killed several men who broke into new areas of the mine, forcing everyone to get out until the air cleared. They’d lost several birds checking the air in the mine and lost nearly two weeks of work one time as the bad air continued to leak from the earth.
“I bet you’re ready to head home, aren’t ya?” Brian asked just before sucking in a loud, long breath, puffing his chest out. “It’s great to be outside, isn’t it? Come on. I’m starvin’. Let’s go get some food.”
He knocked his knuckles against his brother’s chest before taking off down the rest of the path and heading quickly for the lot where their horses waited for them.
Gabe caught up with his brother, and they rode to the farm quickly. Brian was the first to dismount and was almost inside before Gabe even got to the top of the porch steps.
“Hold on there, fella,” he called out, laughing.
“Gotta see if my letter is here!” Brian yelled over his shoulder as if Gabe was thirty yards from him.
The storm door slammed hard when Brian went through it, so Gabe made sure it didn’t slam when he went in the house. He closed it gently, his eyes on his brother as Brian raced to the sitting room, where their father typically was with whoever was staying with him. The siblings, including their sister, Melinda, made sure someone was always with their father when he was awake. His brain was too scrambled to do anything for himself.
Brian was holding up a letter triumphantly when Gabe went into the room. He ripped the envelope open and slid out the folded paper. A photograph was included. Brian gazed at it with a “not so bad” look on his face and then turned it to face Gabe so he could see what the woman looked like.
It took everything Gabe had not to gasp and snatch the photograph from Brian. The woman in the picture was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. His heart nearly stopped when his eyes took in her beauty.
“My, my,” he managed to say smoothly. “You’re blessed.”
“Ah, she’ll do,” Brian said, sliding the photograph back into the envelope and unfolding the letter. “Now let’s see what she has to say.”
Lavinia sat back on the comfortable couch, reading the letter she’d received from Brian Kemp in California. Malcolm paced in front of her, holding a manuscript in front of him, one hand held in the air as he recited lines from the play.
“Oh, I will never remember these lines!” he said exaggeratedly, slapping the manuscript on his thigh and lifting his eyes to the heavens. “Why, oh, why must I have this tired brain of mine?” He rapped his knuckles gently against his temple. “Work!” he demanded. “Work!”
“You are tiring yourself out, Uncle,” Lavinia remarked, glancing up at him. “You must stop doing that to yourself. You’ve been working on this for the past three days, and you’re just going to wear yourself out. You should take a break.”
Malcolm stared at her for a moment before his face brightened, and he slid over to her, dropping on the couch next to her. “I know what we should do, my girl. We should go to town and visit the new playhouse. I could get a feel of the stage! I’m sure they would let me in to take a look, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know,” Lavinia replied honestly, “but I don’t see why it isn’t worth a try. I’ll go with you.”
Malcolm let out a light laugh. “Of course, you will go with me. I said I know what we should do, didn’t I? Until I lose you to California and this Kemp fellow, I insist on having as much of your time as I can.”
Lavinia grinned at her uncle. He’d been like this since she could remember, an outgoing, terminally positive kind of person everyone liked to be around. She felt blessed that she was related to him because he would carve out time for her when he might not for someone who wasn’t as important to him.
She took his proffered hand, and he helped her unfold herself from the couch.
“This is going to be such fun!” he exclaimed exuberantly.
The ride to town was quick, as Malcolm’s cottage was just on the outskirts of Lancaster. They could have walked.
But Lavinia began to suspect something else was happening when Malcolm didn’t stop at the new playhouse like he’d suggested. Lavinia turned her head and looked at it as they passed.
“Where are you going, Uncle? You just passed the playhouse.”
“I decided we should go to the train station instead,” he said, giving her a side-glance that said something mysterious was going on. Lavinia was a bit nervous. Was he sending her to California early? Had she done something to upset him to make him want her to leave right away? Or maybe he thought sending her on was what was best for her.
“Why are we going to the train station?” she asked breathlessly.
Malcolm’s eyes darted to her face when he turned his head to give her a surprised look. “My dear, you sound scared. Do you think I would do anything to harm you? I’m not sending you away if that’s what you think.”
Lavinia felt an immediate sense of relief. Her muscles relaxed, and she let out a soft giggle. “I did think that. I’m sorry.”
Malcolm frowned and shook his head. “Never think I would harm you, my dear,” he said affectionately. “You are a treasure to me. I will be sorry to see you leave, even though I know you must go and start your life. No, something has been planned to surprise you, and I had nearly forgotten.”
“A surprise for me at the train station?” Lavinia inquired, racking her brain with ideas of what could possibly be there for her. Was he preparing her for the train ride she would take to California? Was he buying her an early ticket or finding out how long it would take to get there?
They pulled into the station’s dirt lot ten minutes later.
The moment they got there, Lavinia knew why Malcolm had brought her. She was stunned to see her sister, Ellie, waiting on the platform, staring out into the lot. When she saw Malcolm’s buggy, Lavinia saw her smile big and hurry around to the steps. She waved at them enthusiastically, hurrying toward the buggy.
“Ellie!” Lavinia shrieked, aware that she’d made Malcolm cringe and shrink away from her. She leaped from the buggy as soon as it was slow enough and ran to meet her sister. They hadn’t been together for nearly a year.
The two sisters met in a swatch of hugs and kisses and laughter.
“Look at you!” Ellie said, grabbing the sides of her sister’s face and gazing warmly at her. “You look so much more mature and grown since I left.”
Lavinia laughed. “It’s only been a year, sister dear. I haven’t grown that much.”
“You look different to me. More of a lady. I’m glad, my dear. I’m glad I was able to come see you finally. I’d like to visit Papa’s grave if you will come with me.”
Lavinia nodded vigorously. “Of course, I will accompany you. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
They turned together when the buggy pulled up next to them. Ellie grinned big at their uncle, whose smile radiated just as much.
“Ellie, my girl. Look at you. A modern woman. I never thought I’d see the day.”
Ellie lifted her eyebrows as her uncle dropped down from the buggy and came around to give her a hug.
“You never thought I’d reach womanhood?” she asked, teasing him.
He laughed. “No, my dear. I never thought I’d see the day.”
Lavinia gasped, drawing their attention to her. “Uncle Malcolm,” she scolded, “what a terribly morbid thing to say. You’re going to live forever, and you know that.”
Malcolm just laughed, giving Ellie a prolonged hug. “All right, come on and get in the buggy. We’ve got to get some food in our bellies. At least I must in mine, or I may lose my temper.”
Lavinia couldn’t imagine the ever-positive Uncle Malcolm losing his temper. She didn’t imagine it was very scary or intimidating.
“Let’s go then,” Ellie replied, gently pulling Lavinia’s hand. The pair climbed into the back of the buggy while Malcolm returned to his seat in the driver’s position.
“So, how are Oscar and Dinah doing?” Lavinia asked when they were on their way back into town. “He’s feeling better I take it since you were able to come visit.”
“Yes,” her sister answered, “he’s recovering nicely. He was so upset that he had to keep me there during Papa’s funeral. But I told him you had it and that Papa would understand. He would probably say I always was late or something like that.”
Lavinia heard her sister choke up a little and reached over to take her hand. She squeezed it, and they shared a loving look.
“Uncle tells me you have written to someone and are expecting a letter in return?”
Lavinia was immediately nervous, her heart rate speeding up. She tried to breathe normally and nodded. “Yes, that’s right. I did get a letter. Today. He is a very kind man, I think. His letter is very … very erratic.”
Ellie’s face went from delighted to confused. “Erratic? What do you mean?”
Lavinia thought about what she’d read in the letter she’d received from him. “It’s … a long letter. He talks about so many things. I know he’s a miner and a farmer. His mother has passed, and his father took it very hard. He couldn’t work the farm because they needed immediate money, so he had to work in the mine with his brother, Gabe. He has a sister. There’s just no … transition from one thought to the next. He stops talking about one thing and goes into another. All of the front and back of a page. I expect further letters will be longer. And when I meet him, I feel he will have a lot to say. He probably speaks quickly, too.”
Ellie raised her eyebrows. “Does that mean you’re not interested in him?”
Lavinia shook her head. “No. I find that interesting. I look forward to meeting him. I didn’t think I’d ever say that, but I am. I’m sure this will work out. If it doesn’t, I will call Uncle for assistance, and he will cheer me up.”
They both laughed.
“From Grief to Bliss” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Left to deal with an unbearable debt after her father’s untimely demise, Lavinia Pertwee has no choice but to sell their house, search for her luck in a mail-order-bride ad and rebuild her life from scratch. Fate though enjoys playing tricks on the unsuspected, and Lavinia finds herself traveling to California to meet her husband-to-be only to discover that he passed away in a mining accident. His brother, Gabe, will be the one to welcome her with the bitter news and her heart will shiver both in anguish and fascination…
Can this stern, yet charming man fill the hole in her life and make her hopeful once again?
Gabe Kemp is lost in his sorrow after his older brother’s accident that cost him his life. While he tries to take up the mantle and take care of the rest of the family, his brother’s wife-to-be, Lavinia, arrives in town to shake things up for him even more. Albeit he feels the obligation to take her in, he also feels an irresistible attraction which will fill him with guilt. Torn between his feelings for her and for his late brother he will get tangled in a maelstrom of emotions…
Can he overcome this inner battle without losing his mind?
Although the circumstances of their meeting are far from perfect, Lavinia and Gabe will build a strong bond and will soon realize that destiny always has a plan. Will they be able to find love amidst the grief that brought them together, or will they be engulfed by it?
“From Grief to Bliss” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.