From the Battery, the Oakhursts and the Parkers boarded one of the hourly ferries to Bedloe Island. The ferry wasn’t particularly full, so they had their pick of seats. Wesley and Belle sat together toward the prow of the vessel, watching the Statue of Liberty grow closer. Belle glanced over her shoulder toward her father and Lady Frederic, who were deep in conversation several rows back.
“Was it difficult to convince your mother to come today?” Belle asked.
“After Mrs. Neal reassured my mother she would complete her tasks well in advance, my mother couldn’t refuse.”
“Your timing was impeccable. I’d just asked my father if he would accompany me here today, but he declined.”
“For him, this isn’t a vacation. He works for you, Wesley, and he wanted to make sure your needs were met.” She giggled. “Fortunately, your needs have happily coincided with mine.”
“I’m very glad. This is my first visit to Bedloe Island.”
“How can that be?”
“My father had planned to take us after the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, but he died before we could go.”
“What a shame.”
Belle glanced at Wesley. The day she’d first met him he’d been fresh from a street brawl. The warrior-like expression of the recent past had fallen away to reveal the raw emotional wounds underneath. Almost of their own volition, her gloved fingers reached out. She meant only to give his hand the briefest of squeezes, but he captured her fingers in his and held them fast. Belle locked eyes with Wesley for several seconds before she remembered to breathe. With an apologetic smile, she withdrew her hand.
“Oh, yes, I know. It’s not proper,” he murmured.
Belle stared straight ahead as she willed her heart to quit racing.
Wesley wished the warmth of Belle’s hand would not fade from his fingertips quite so quickly. I shouldn’t have done that. She’s engaged, after all. And yet… had she felt nothing, wouldn’t she have pulled away more quickly? Perhaps Belle was too polite—or too concerned for her father’s continued employment—to rebuke him openly. I’ve put her in an awkward position, haven’t I? I should be more guarded and considerate in my behavior toward her.
“I’m sorry Belle, if I took advantage of your kindness just now. It won’t happen again.”
A long silence followed his words.
“Thank you, Wesley,” she said finally.
Her response was so soft that had he been less attentive he might have missed it in the din of the general conversation surrounding them. Wesley couldn’t bring himself to look at Belle’s face, for fear he would see relief in her hazel eyes.
Duke of a Gilded Age – coming Friday, June 28th!
When American-born Wesley Parker inherits a dukedom in 1890, he must learn to be an aristocrat. Assigned to the task is his attorney’s daughter, prim Belle Oakhurst. As they travel to England together on a luxurious ocean liner, their tempestuous relationship encounters more than rough seas. Although Wesley is increasingly attracted to Belle, she is already engaged. While Belle begins to regret her hasty promise to marry, she is bound by honor and duty to keep her pledge. Furthermore, a thoughtless fabrication on her part threatens to expose her as a liar. Neither Wesley nor Belle can foresee that their voyage across the Atlantic will be fraught with peril, and will cost more than one man his life.
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