The tranquility of Nantucket Island offered poor but proud Lucie McNeil refuge, a place to dream about a better life. Her quiet existence as companion to an elderly couple was a blessing for the tragedy-haunted Irish immigrant. But all that changed when her employers' handsome, elegantly attired son stepped ashore. For she recognized him instantly as the owner of the Boston factory where a terrible fire had scarred her forever.She knew she should hate Gabriel Hunter, yet she could not. She found herself drawn to the caring soul she sensed behind the ruthless faeade he showed the world. And she could not help dreaming that such different people--a poor servant girl and a wealthy merchant prince--might somehow make a life together
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Seaside Cinderella by Anna Schmidt
Lucie McNeil noticed the yacht's approach as she swept the front steps of the large Queen Anne-style house positioned high on a bluff overlooking Nantucket Bay. The Hunters' home had originally been built as a spacious summer cottage for the then-prosperous Hunter family. It was near enough to town to allow shopping for supplies to be convenient, yet far enough away that it offered privacy and solitude.
She glanced across the yard to where sixty-year-old Emma Hunter sat under the lone tree that broke up the spare landscape. Her employer suffered from heart palpitations and shortness of breath, which often left her so weak she could barely stand without assistance. A quilt frame dwarfed her as she sewed row after row of tiny, perfectly matched stitches across the face of the gaily colored quilt.
At the far side of the pasture, Emma's husband, Colonel Jonathan Hunter, worked on the repair of a fence, his snow-white hair blowing in the gentle breeze of the unseasonably warm May morning. In just three months Lucie had come to think of him as the father she'd never had--not that she hadn't known her father or lived in his house back in Ireland. But he had been cruel and self-centered. Jonathan Hunter was not only a gentleman-- he was a gentle man, at peace with his world and God and wishing the same for anyone he met.
Lucie put the broom aside and crossed the yard to Emma. She adjusted the lap robe that covered the older woman's increasingly useless legs.
"Now, y'all just stop fussing over me, Lucie," Emma chided in the sweet Southern drawl that had not disappeared in spite of over forty years living in the North.
"Yes, ma'am," Lucie replied, but adjusted the cover anyway.
Emma frowned. "Now, Lucie, we have discussed this enough. I am Emma--not 'ma'am' or 'Mrs. Hunter' or any such nonsense. I stood on ceremony growing up in Charleston and even after the colonel and I were married, and where did it get me, or anyone else for that matter?" She let the threaded needle drop to the stretched fabric as she collapsed against the pressed back of her wooden wheelchair.
Still unused to these energetic outbursts of conversation, often followed by sheer exhaustion, Lucie knelt next to Emma's chair. "Would you like to go inside?"
"I met my Jonathan on a morning like this," Emma said dreamily, as if Lucie hadn't spoken. "It was at the end of the war and he was a naval officer for the Yankees. Daddy had a plantation overlooking the Charleston harbor and when I saw the deep blue of the man's uniform and the sun glinting off his gold officer's buttons, I just knew he was about to change my life."
Accepting the fact that she might as well sit and make herself useful by helping with the quilting, Lucie pulled an extra needle from the unbound edge of the quilt top and threaded it. As she knotted the thread, she glanced toward the harbor and saw that the yacht was not passing as she had assumed, but had moved closer and seemed prepared to drop anchor. Emma was oblivious to the possible approach of visitors as she continued her story. "Mama insisted that I mind my manners and offer the gentleman a cool drink and a seat on the veranda while she sent Sudie, our house slave--our servant--to fetch Daddy. 'Be sweet,' she told me." Emma sighed. "Mama was weak--maybe it was the war. It had made her so afraid..." Her voice drifted off and Lucie glanced over to see if the older woman had dozed off, as she often did.
"Not me," she mumbled. "The war had made me stronger--and angrier," she added and returned to her quilting as if she'd never begun the story. "Did you say we are to have seafood chowder for the noon meal, my dear? Colonel Hunter will be famished."
"I'll just go stir the chowder." When she looked back, Emma was fast asleep. Lucie smiled, guessing that having begun the story, Emma would dream of her first meeting with her beloved colonel. Emma's dreams always seemed to bring her such pleasure. Not at all like the nightmares that haunted Lucie's own sleep. She glanced out to sea as she walked back to the cottage. The yacht bobbed in the light, choppy waters of the bay. Perhaps it was an outing for some rich city dwellers after all.
After checking on the chowder and the bread she had placed in the oven of the old wood-burning kitchen stove, she returned to the porch and her sweeping. She kept her eye on the yacht, now part of a seascape against a background of the deep blue waters of the bay and the translucent blue of the sky. She shaded her eyes against the morning sun and watched as a dinghy with a single occupant was lowered into the water by the yacht's crew. The man began to row toward the shore.
Lucie fingered the small silver cross that hung from a thin chain at her collar as she watched the man drag the dinghy to a spot high above the tide line and start hiking across the beach. A thick field of sea oats at the crest of the dunes parted as he kept coming.