South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club,
Lake Conemaugh, Pennsylvania, May 10, 1889
Jack Kelly stood cloaked in the shadow of a large tree. From this vantage point, his view of the woman he hoped to make his wife remained quite clear.
Alongside the lake, surrounded by veils of white dogwood blooms, the three Hensley children flocked around the skirts of Alaina Morrison’s day dress. Her beatific smile beamed down on their heads. Alaina’s close friend, Mary, off to the side of the group, laughed at the spectacle created as Alaina held the candy in her hand high above the shorter heads of their charges. Her voice carried to his hiding place. “Not until after supper. I promised your mother.”
Jack drank in the scene. As one child, taller than the rest, made a jump for the candy, Alaina leaned into him with her free hand and offered a tickle to his ribs.
Mary calmed the growing frenzy of laughter with a clap of her hands. “We need to be heading home.” Mary tapped the heads of two blond twins and an older girl and motioned. “Let’s go before supper is declared too cold to eat.”
“Do we have to go?” Little Lily Hensley whined to Alaina as she stood, grubby hands full of the pebbles prevalent at the lakeside retreat.
“We got here later than usual.” She touched the tip of Lily’s nose. “I’ll allow five more minutes of playtime. How does that sound?”
Reinvigorated by the news, Lily clapped Alaina around the knees and the two went tumbling into a patch of spring green grass. Alaina sat up and started a tickle attack.
Jack crossed his arms, entranced by the vision before him. Alaina’s yellow day dress did not flaunt the latest style. Plain but crisp, the material flattered her dark hair and eyes. The ease with which she laughed and smiled, accepted disappointments, and shared in fun swelled his heart, just as it had since he’d first talked to her at the store where her mother stitched clothing.
He’d seen her before that afternoon, but only at a distance. When she’d dropped three bolts of material at his feet and he’d helped to pick them up, her smile had made his heart pound and his palms sweat. He’d made the trip to the store across the river every spare moment for the past year and a half. At least until it had dawned on him that he loved her. But marriage meant he would need money.
He pushed the thought away as Alaina spread her arms wide. The smallest child of the prominent Hensley family toddled into her arms. She made a great show of allowing the little boy to help her to her feet, so much so that the two older children, Lily and Mark, pitched in to help.
With the light breeze from the lake at his back, and the promise of summer before him, Jack could no longer discount his feelings. For days he had reviewed his proposal, hesitant to say the words out loud, then unsure why he hesitated at all in asking Alaina to be his wife. But hesitate he did, and he hated himself at the end of every day he waited.
Today would be the day.
Alaina guided her small flock up the walkway toward Moorhead cottage, a large home that held little in common with its name. Built on the edge of Lake Conemaugh, the huge Queen Anne-style home, with its rounded end tower, was the summer retreat for any family rich enough to afford the rental price; a privilege Jack hoped to provide for Alaina someday. Of course, they would need to be members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club first. But he held little doubt that as soon as he completed his invention, he would make that dream come true, too.
Jack turned his head and relished the bright sunshine that cast diamonds on the lake. Several boathouses squatted along the shore, waiting for the influx of summer club members to open their creaking doors and indulge in a little boating. Again, the sting of his inability to afford such luxuries stoked his determination.
Pushing his thoughts aside, Jack squinted toward the end of Lake Conemaugh, where a wide road crossed the breast of a tall dam. The view from the dam into the valley was breathtaking, one of Alaina’s favorite spots. Satisfied with the location he had chosen, he inhaled to steady his nerves and returned his attention to the dark-haired beauty.
Alaina’s steps brought her closer to him. Lily held her left hand, the three-year-old boy her right. Behind her trailed the twelve-year-old, trying to appear aloof from his siblings and “nanny.”
Jack grinned. At twelve he would have done the same thing. He stepped out from beneath the tree and into the waning sunlight.
Thomas, the toddler, saw him first. He tugged Alaina’s hand, pointing and drawing her attention to where Jack stood.
When she met his gaze, her expression softened, and she gave him a shy smile.
Jack laughed as Lily barreled into his legs. Her small face tilted back. “You bring me candy, Jack?”
“Lillian!” Alaina frowned. “Didn’t I just say no more candy?”
“But Robert brings me candy.” Lillian pouted.
Alaina’s eyes flicked to his. She flinched, then glanced back to Lillian and held out her hand. “And you know how many times I’ve told Robert not to do that.”
Jack tensed as he watched the flush creep up Alaina’s neck. Robert. Again.
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