Sponsored Content: Heart on the Line, Prologue
by Karen Witemeyer
The cheerful tinkle of a bell alerted Grace Mallory to the arrival of a guest. Immediately setting aside the ladies’ magazine she’d been perusing, she rose gracefully to her feet, smoothed the front of her bodice, then put on a welcoming smile. It wouldn’t do for a patron of the Oxford Hotel to be kept waiting.
It had been hard enough to get this job in the first place. Her father had to call in a favor with one of the investors to get her on staff, and she wasn’t about to give her supervisor any excuse to let her go. Thankfully, the predominately male clientele of Denver’s most progressive hotel seemed to enjoy conducting business with a young female telegraph operator once they deemed her skill satisfactory.
But this man didn’t have the look of her usual client. He was still wrapped in a snow-dusted overcoat, scarf, and hat, as if he’d come in off the street rather than from one of the guest rooms.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she said to his back. He’d yet to turn around. “How can the Western Union office serve you today?”
He closed the door and turned the lock.
Grace’s throat pinched and her heart thundered in her chest. “What are you do—?”
The words, along with her fear, died away when the customer turned. A pair of familiar brown eyes gazed at her from above the striped blue scarf that covered half his face.
He grabbed at the scarf with frantic hands as if it were choking him. “Have to send a wire. Now. The rumors are true. All true.”
“Calm down.” Grace rushed around the counter to help her father unwind the scarf and brush the snow off the shoulders of his coat. “What rumors?”
“The Haversham estate. There’s another heir,” he said as he pushed away her helping hands and marched up to the counter. “A child by the first wife. A girl.” He pulled his fogged-over spectacles from his eyes and rubbed the lenses clean with the edge of his scarf. “She’s the rightful owner of Haversham House. Not the son.”
Grace gasped. There’d been talk of another heir ever since Tremont Haversham died three months ago. Whispers, innuendo, but no name, no proof. Grace had assumed the rumors were built on wishful thinking by the miners’ families.
When his father’s health declined a year ago, Chaucer Haversham had taken over the running of the Silver Serpent Mine in Willow Creek only to have it plunge into ruin after President Cleveland repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the bottom fell out of the silver market. Whether it was stubborn pride, blind ambition, or even a noble desire to keep his father’s company in operation, Chaucer refused to close the mine. Instead, he demanded longer work hours from his miners with no additional compensation as he switched from mining silver to the more commonplace min-erals of lead and zinc. Conditions were said to be deplorable, but with so many out-of-work miners, no one dared com-plain for fear they’d be replaced by one of their neighbors.
“Quit your woolgathering, Gracie.”
Grace dashed back around the counter and grabbed a telegraph blank. Herschel Mallory was a scholar by nature. Quiet. Kind. A bit absentminded. She couldn’t recall the last time she’d seen him so worked up.
“Who do you want to wire?” she asked, pencil poised.
Grace hesitated. “But doesn’t Chaucer Haversham have a pair of Pinkertons on his payroll to keep the miners in line and prevent strikes? Wouldn’t they support his claim, no matter what proof you’ve uncovered?”
“I want you to wire the Philadelphia office. A Detective Whitmore in particular.”
She jotted the name down on her form, needing no further explanation. Tremont Haversham had grown up in Philadelphia and married his first wife there—a woman of whom his wealthy family did not approve. At least that was the version of the tale Grace had heard. The woman died in child-birth. The baby, too, or so it had been believed. Brokenhearted, Haversham returned to his family and within a year took a second wife, a woman of means and social standing this time. One who knew how to push her husband into a position of power, leadership, and great financial triumph. One who had given him a son.
“Found your report to Tremont Haversham dated October 12, 1892.” Her father slung his satchel up onto the counter as he dictated his message. The bag thumped against the wooden shelf with the sound of heavy books. “If female still alive, she is rightful heir to Haversham fortune. I have doc-uments to prove her claim. Need to dispatch to you immedi-ately. Please advise. Herschel Mallory.”
Grace finished scribbling the message then looked into her father’s frantic eyes. “What did you find, Daddy?”
As a scholar and professor of literature at the University of Denver, Herschel Mallory had been hired by Chaucer Haver-sham to catalog his father’s extensive library in the family’s Denver mansion. A mansion Chaucer had inherited but nev-er visited. From what Grace had heard, he avoided Denver altogether, preferring the estate in Boston where his mother maintained a residence.
Tremont and Caroline Haversham had lived apart for the last decade, Caroline seeing to the raising and education of their son while Tremont oversaw the mining operations. Apparently the situation suited both parties, a state Grace had always considered rather sad. She’d never met Chaucer Haversham, but she couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for the young man who’d been separated from his father during the very years he was coming of age. She would have been lost without her own father. He meant the world to her—his love and acceptance never in question.
Grace’s mother had been her mentor, teaching her to pick out the dots and dashes of Morse code as a child in her telegraph office, then guiding her in the ways of womanhood and domestic responsibilities. But when she died two years ago, the shared grief of that loss had bonded Grace and her father as tightly as if the broken halves of their hearts had been melted down, reshaped, and forged into an unbreakable, interlocking design.
It was that closeness that had her senses on full alert when her father fiddled with his satchel strap instead of answering her question.
She reached out and covered his fidgeting gloved hand with her bare one. “Tell me, Daddy. What did you find?”
“Proof, Gracie.” His gaze met hers, and the mix of dread and determination in his eyes set her stomach to cramping.
“Proof that Haversham’s first child didn’t die with her mother. Proof that Haversham tried to find her. Proof that the odd wording of his will makes his daughter an heiress and his son simply a business owner.”
“You found this proof in the library at Haversham House?”
Her father nodded.
“But if the documents are Mr. Haversham’s property, what can you possibly do about it?”
He dropped his gaze.
He jerked his hand away from her touch and paced away from the counter. “The documents were Tremont Haversham’s property, and he’s dead. If Chaucer’s not the true heir of the Denver mansion and its contents, then the documents don’t really belong to him, do they?”
The knots in Grace’s stomach twisted. “What did you do?”
“Nothing you need to concern yourself about. I just borrowed a couple books from the collection. Chaucer plans to sell them off anyway. It’s what he did with the art—had an appraiser come in a week after his father’s funeral, then sold the finer pieces at auction by month’s end. He has no respect for his father beyond the price to be fetched from his belongings.” Herschel paced back toward the counter. “The books I took were ordinary editions. Nothing of monetary value. He won’t miss them.”
Suddenly, the full satchel on her counter held a whole new significance. “You can’t just take them!”
Her father’s face hardened. “I can’t stand by while an in-justice is perpetrated, either. Tremont Haversham was my friend, Gracie. More than a friend. If it hadn’t been for his influence, the university would have let me go during that dark time after your mother passed.”
Grace dropped her head. She remembered that time. Both of them steeped in grief. She’d been young with no real responsibilities, and her father hadn’t noticed or cared if the house went uncleaned or if dinner had burnt. But the melancholia had brought Herschel Mallory to the brink of unemployment. Papers and exams had gone ungraded for weeks. His clouded mind turned his organized lectures into meandering, meaningless forays. Students had stopped attending. Parents had complained. Board members had threatened. Only Tremont Haversham had spoken on her father’s behalf. Had taken him aside and reminded him of his responsibilities, made him see that destroying himself would only dishonor his wife’s memory. He had to pull himself together for his daughter’s sake.