Love's Gold is a passionate, fast-paced story of two lovers that nothing can keep apart. Sabina Burke-White's father hopes to marry her off to a rich husband to pay his gambling debts. Bryce Parkman is engaged to the daughter of a wealthy Bostonian to save his family from financial ruin. Nothing can keep Sabina and Bryce apart, following each other cross-country and across the ocean to find happiness in each other s arms.
Sabina rolled her eyes. Going through the yearly cattle call of young girls and women infuriated her, especially since she knew that no young gentleman would ever want her, given the financial circumstances of her family.
She had received offers. At the time, she had been confused at the salacious content contained in those offers from young men of families she held in high regard. A few years ago, a supposedly moral, church-going, reputable gentleman made his intentions perfectly clear.
“I will pay you.” He named a figure that would have placed the Burke-White family estate in the black again.
At the time, a younger and much more innocent Sabina had stared incomprehensibly at him. She was, after all, the daughter of widower Desmond Burke-White who, although he may have experienced some financial troubles, was an upstanding and well-known member of Boston society, who had married into the well-known Bradlee family. Sabina had slapped the young man’s face. He laughed. Over the years since then, she had learned the truth of her family’s financial circumstances.
“Iris, please!” Sabina stood gripping her oak bedpost while the past-her-prime, gray-haired Irish maid pulled at the ribbons tightening the whalebone corset around Sabina’s already tiny waist. They stood in Sabina’s elaborate bedroom filled with burgundy fabric and oak furniture, surrounded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler paintings. They both panted in exhaustion.
“You’re not sixteen anymore, Miss Sabina,” Iris stated. She gathered the ribbons of the corset and pulled each through the eyelet.
“This is useless! I’m not going to find a decent husband!” The pain she’d felt at Harry Adams’ words so many years ago remained fresh in her memory, especially when her father insisted on parading her in front of Boston’s eligible husbands-to-be, none of whom she wanted. She desired the man she couldn’t have, a man above her station, the man she met years ago and who she wished would find her now, but dreaded that he never would.
Oh, Bryce! If only I could see you again, could know that you care, even if only a little.
Sabina’s stomach flip-flopped at the beginning of each debutante season and settled only after the end of the season in late July. Young ladies of upstanding families were shown like prize breeding horses to the males of likewise upstanding families. The goal, of course, was a marriage that would combine the finances and reputations of each family, and include offspring to ensure the continuation of refinement and wealth. For Sabina, the offers had at first abounded. However, once a family fell out of favor—almost always relating to a decline in wealth—upstanding Boston society members turned on the out of favor like vultures on a fresh carcass. Only money could regain their place in society. Sabina knew this wasn’t a possibility for her family.
For the past seven years—much too long for any respectable debutante—her father had insisted on the annual parade in hope of marrying off his beautiful daughter. Desmond and Sabina knew time was running out. Although beautiful beyond compare, with long black hair and an oval face with a perky nose, potential eligible bachelors were quickly married off to young ladies with family respectability and wealth. At this point, Desmond wasn’t concerned with advanced age or possible infirmities, his only concern was the promise of enough cash to settle his own gambling debts and an annuity to live comfortably in his Whiteglen Hall.
Desmond hadn’t meant to squander his own and his wife’s fortune. After Lucy had died of influenza, Desmond fell into a great depression that only drink and gambling seemed to alleviate. His two young daughters tried to carry on with the business of running a household and the family shipping business, while Desmond’s swelling debts and disinterest in his daughters quickly ate at his money and soul. Now, he had neither money nor soul and hoped only for periods of intoxicated respite. Yet, year after year, he had managed to finagle a season’s worth of invitations for his eligible daughter.
“Your sister found a good husband,” Iris countered. She pulled the final ribbon tight, then plopped on the bed, exhausted.
Sabina knew Jacob was certainly not that. His flagrant trysts and sour disposition were ameliorated only by his tremendous wealth. Jacob granted Malina’s every wish—furniture, carriages, clothes, jewels, servants. He only held back his kindness and affection, and enough money to fully pay her father’s debts.
“A life without want is a blessed life,” Iris countered. She slipped the chemise over Sabina’s head, smoothing the fine fabric over the corset.
“You’re right, Iris.” Sabina frowned. “I’ll try my best.”
* * * * *
True to her word, Sabina smiled brightly and curtsied low to prospective husbands-to-be, most of whom were years younger and had already been warned off the beautiful but penniless Sabina Burke-White. This year’s season began, as usual, at the vast Miller estate on Beacon Street. The Miller’s tastes matched their wealth. A small chamber orchestra of violins and piano played yet another Strauss waltz and Sabina yet again remained rooted to her chair against the wall.
Tall, leafy saplings potted in blue and white china containers large enough to hold small children, both crowded and obscured the dancers’ view of the wallflowers. Debutante heels click-clacked round and round on the Italian marble floor. Another happy couple danced past. Sabina wanted to scream. She saw her life passing by and she couldn’t stop the movement of time.
She jumped up, picked up the flouncy skirt of her dress to a scandalous six inches above the floor, then elbowed her way around the dancing circle of hopeful soon-to-be engaged couples, and escaped onto the empty rear terrace. Sabina walked to the far end, out of the glow of the lights, and leaned against the carved marble balustrade. Acres of lush garden lay before her. Sycamore trees, oak, and maple cast dark shadows on the pathway. Patches of low plants, sans flowers now that fall had arrived, were contained by neatly pruned hedges. Sabina wondered if she would ever have a house this magnificent, then shook her head, trying to get that fantastic thought out of her mind. She knew her father was only a few months, perhaps even weeks, away from selling the house and all its contents to pay his debts.
Whispered voices startled her. Sabina slipped deeper into the shadows.
“Please, Bryce, let’s announce our engagement tonight!” The woman’s exuberant tone countered Sabina’s somber mood.
Then a man’s voice. “Not tonight, Prudence. Not on the first day of the season. Let’s wait for the Whittier Fall Ball in a few weeks.” To Sabina, he didn’t sound nearly as excited as his new fiancée.
“You’re right,” the woman replied. Then silence, as the woman disappeared and the man began walking toward Sabina.
Sabina stepped into the circle of light, still looking at the grassy lawn.
“Who goes there?” the man asked.
Sabina jumped. “Just me.” She placed her hand over her throat, shying away from the tall figure advancing toward her.
“What are you doing here?”
Sabina stiffened. “I am one of the debutantes, if that’s what you mean.” She might be past prime marrying age, but she wasn’t a spinster yet, and she certainly belonged among the elite of Boston society.
“I meant on the terrace. You should be inside dancing and flirting with the young lads.” He walked slowly into the light. Taller than average, his broad shoulders filled his well-fitted jacket. An impeccable white shirt and cravat shone brightly in contrast to his tanned skin. He had a handsome face, with sharp cheek bones, square chin, and dark eyes. His hair was neatly slicked back, but a bit too long, so it curled slightly at the collar. Sabina nearly swooned. Her heart fluttered and air rushed out of her lungs.
“Warm,” was all she could say.
He stared at her, his dark eyes penetrating. He stepped toward her once, then again, his eyes never leaving Sabina’s face. The small crinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened as he smiled a gentle, playful smile.
“You are still as beautiful as everyone says.” He continued his slow steps toward her. Sabina felt rooted to the terrace, unable to move. She knew better than to be unescorted in the dark with a man she to whom she hadn’t been properly introduced. Her family had forbade her to have anything to do with Bryce. There was not enough money in that family to save the family fortune.
Instead he said, “My name is Bryce Parkman, of the Essex County Parkmans.” He remained less than an arm’s length from Sabina, his eyes never leaving hers, burning into her.
She smiled at his formality as her heart fluttered. Years of empty debutante balls waiting for Bryce, hoping he would find her, ask her to dance, ask for her hand. They saw each other only from afar, glimpses from carriages, long looks when strolling at opposite ends of Boston Commons, wishing for each other. Money kept them apart.
“You’re shivering,” Bryce said, his deep voice lyrical.
Sabina slowly gathered her wits. She wavered between fear of tarnishing of her reputation and the primal urge to be held. Her head rather than her heart prevailed.
“Yes. I’d better get inside to join the others.” She turned toward the door, then looked back over her shoulder at him. “Congratulations on your engagement. I promise I will not tell anyone.”
“Wait.” It was a plea. In one step, Bryce was at her side, touching her arm. Even through the heavy silk she felt his warmth. “I can’t marry Prudence. That’s the reason I put her off.” He stared down at her, his eyes searching Sabina’s face. “I’m not in love with her.” His head bent toward Sabina, his lips found hers, and pressed gently. She relaxed in his arms, leaning her head back, cradled by his hand, his arm wrapped around her waist.
His tongue slipped between her parted lips, exploring her mouth, tantalizing her senses, and sending sparks of desire through her body. Sabina caressed Bryce’s hair, running her fingers through the thick strands, then holding his face, memorizing the feel of him. The outside world disappeared while they remained locked in each other’s arms.
Crash! The tall French door smashed against the ivy covered wall of the building. A group of young ladies and men pushed through the small opening, giggling and taunting each other, running toward the garden.
Bryce pulled Sabina into the shadows, pushing her into the dense ivy, standing in front of her to shield her from the boisterous group. Luckily for their reputations, the happy group hadn’t noticed the embracing couple.
Bryce rubbed his forehead. “I apologize. I shouldn’t have kissed you like that.”
“How should you have kissed me?” Sabina replied.
Bryce threw his head back and laughed. “I finally found the woman I could love, but…”
Rather than embracing her, Bryce stepped away, letting his hands fall to his sides. He ran his fingers through the hair that only moments before Sabina had caressed. “Oh, Sabina! This is wrong. I should not be here with you.”
Sabina hung her head. “I understand.”
Bryce grabbed her shoulders again and pulled her to him. “No, you don’t. I have my family name and responsibilities to think of.”
Sabina pushed him away. Responsibility! Sabina had enough of being responsible for the family name and fortune, and she was about ready to tell Bryce so when he interjected.
“My family is nearly ruined.” He peered deeply into her eyes and she saw his anguish. “My father…”
“I know about errant and irresponsible parents,” Sabina said sadly. They clung to each other, trying to shut out the world. The sounds of lively Strauss waltzes flowed from the dance hall. Gas lights flickered, casting shadows of dancers on the lawn, like nymphs twirling in the air. A sudden roar of laughter erupted from inside, then spilled outward as if the entire city were happy at the opening of the new debutante season.
“I want to go home,” Sabina said.
Bryce nodded. “I’ll get your carriage.”
“My carriage is rented by the hour.” Sabina looked down at her lace-gloved hands and mumbled, “I was to ask one of the ladies to take me home.”
Bryce wrapped her in his arms. “Oh, Sabina. I would give you the world if I could.” They stayed locked in each other’s arms until another round of revelry erupted from inside. They discreetly left the terrace at different times; to be seen together returning from a dark, unchaperoned terrace would surely have sent high society tongues wagging. They met again outside the front door. Still much too early for young debutantes to head home, the large circular drive was empty, save for the odd horse and carriage waiting to take their masters and mistresses home.
A jolly young man jumped down from the seat of one of the carriages and opened the door for Bryce. “Evening, sir. Home early tonight?” Discretion being the best quality of a servant, he looked only at Bryce, touching his hat to acknowledge the woman he pretended not to see.
“Kieran, we’re taking this young lady directly to her home,” Bryce told him.
“What young lady would that be, sir?” Kieran replied.
Bryce smiled, “Thank you, Kieran.”
Kieran tipped his hat. The couple settled neatly inside the enclosed carriage, Bryce next to Sabina, holding her hand. The carriage rocked back and forth along the cobblestones of Beacon Street, lulling the couple into a moment of quiet, mutual relaxation.
Bryce finally spoke. He told Sabina of his father’s gullibility and relinquishing of their family’s expansive farm land in Parkman’s Village near Salem as payment for a gambling debt to a swindler named Ronald Shaw. Not until later, after Shaw had absconded for the west coast, did Bryce’s father realize Shaw had used marked cards. The shock sent the elder Parkman into a violent attack from which he had not yet recovered. Now, forlorn and inconsolable, Nicholas Parkman merely mumbled irrational phrases and drooled spittle.
Like Sabina’s, his family was near destitute. Only the recovery of the land deed, or marriage into a wealth family could save the Parkman lineage.
“Oh, Bryce, what are you going to do?” Sabina squeezed Bryce’s hand.
“The family hired a Pinkerton detective, but thus far, they have found little information about this Shaw character or where he might be.” Horse and carriage turned onto Louisburg Square, jostling the occupants, pushing Bryce and Sabina together. He pulled her close, shielding her against the hard walls of the wooden carriage.
“What if…” She stopped herself, not wanting to think about their sad futures when they had these moments together.
“The worst part,” Bryce stated, “is that my older brother, Zachary, left for California last year to find Shaw and I have not heard from him since.”
Sabina again squeezed to his hand.
“For all I know, Zachary could be dead.” Bryce hung his head.
The silence inside the rolling carriage was deafening. Sabina squeezed Bryce’s hand again, the only gesture she could use to console him. She knew too well the pressures of family and responsibility and society.
Damn them all! Sabina reached across the carriage to slide open the small window behind the driver.
“Yes, ma’am?” Kieran asked over his shoulder.
“To the Parkman home please,” Sabina stated. “Quickly.”
A few lashes of the whip and the horse trotted home to Parkman Manor on Charles Street.
“What are you doing?” Bryce asked.
“I love you, Bryce Parkman. Do you love me?” Sabina asked. The neatly spaced gaslights shone through the windows of the carriage, lighting Sabina and Bryce intermittently like the newfangled photographs that recorded a split second of time.
“I want to go to your home…” Sabina answered “…with you.”
“Do you know what you are saying?” Bryce asked.
“I want to be with the man I love and who truly loves me,” Sabina whispered into Bryce’s ear. Bryce jerked his head back, shocked. He stared intently into Sabina’s eyes. An act such as she suggested would surely denounce her forever in Boston upright society, but Bryce saw only love and longing in her bright green eyes. Sabina kissed him. They stayed wrapped around each other, their mouths touching, until the carriage pulled into the circular drive of Parkman House. Kieran discreetly knocked on the door of the carriage before opening.
“Thank you again, Kieran.” Rather than pull the carriage to the front of the house where his servants would be waiting to take hats and cloaks, Kieran pulled around to the stables in the rear. Bryce and Sabina could stealthily enter through the back entrance, bypassing the servant’s quarters and kitchen, then go directly to the second floor.
A few moments later, the two soon to be lovers faced each other in Bryce’s bedroom. Since the servants had not expected him, the fire had not been lit nor the bed drawn for the night. Bryce lit a small candle. The lone flame flickered, making their shadows dance on the wall.
Bryce jerked off the heavy brocade spread and fluffy down duvet with one swipe of his arm, exposing pillows and smooth sheet underneath. He looked at Sabina again, confronting her with the physical representation of her words.
“I-I have never done this before,” she whispered. Afraid but eager, Sabina wanted this night, knowing it might be her only chance at true happiness. She knew that eventually her father would find some monied character to whom she would be married, and by that time Bryce would be committed to his betrothed, Prudence. At least she could have the memory of one night with the man she loved.