Today I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from A. B. Michaels’ novel The Art of Love as part of a blog tour hosted by The Coffee Pot Book Club. The Art of Love is a tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age. It is the first book in The Golden City series.
May 1896 – The Klondike
Gus could hear Annabelle’s cries three houses away. His little blonde girl was as pretty as her mama; the only things she seemed to have inherited from him were her dark eyes and the tiny cleft in her chin. Unfortunately, her nature seemed to mirror Mattie’s as well. Gus was big and he was strong. The roughness of life in the Yukon gold fields suited him fine. Mattie, and now Annabelle, well, they were a different story altogether. But they would adjust. Eventually.
He set his shovel and packages outside the door, pausing to crack the thin layer of ice that had formed on the basin of water left out for him to use. With the sliver of lye soap next to the basin, he lathered up as best he could, splashing water along the back of his neck and up his arms before grabbing the towel left on a nearby hook. A woman’s touch, he thought with satisfaction as he dried off, a reminder that despite the surroundings, they were all civilized human beings.
“Is there a little Annabelly in here?” he announced as he entered the small front room that served as both kitchen and parlor. Annabelle stopped fussing as soon as she heard his deep voice.
“Dada!” she cried, waving her hands in the age-old sign language of children that said Pick me up! Gus put down the two presents he’d brought in and scooped his sweet-smelling baby daughter into his arms. He bussed her neck loudly, causing Annie to squeal with delight. He leaned over to kiss Mattie hello as well; she gave him her cheek and turned abruptly, wiping her hands quickly with the towel she had tucked into her apron.
“Sit yourself down for supper,” she said.
Gus sighed and sat down with Annabelle on his lap. After two years of marriage, he could sense Mattie’s shifting moods even when she tried to hide them. Unlike him, she wasn’t good at keeping her emotions locked up. She was easy to read, and generally Gus liked that about her; it took a lot of time-wasting guesswork out of their relationship. The problem was, when it was bad, you couldn’t dance around it for very long. But maybe, on account of it being Annabelle’s birthday, she’d keep it to herself for a little while—at least long enough to enjoy the party. “So, did you invite Marybeth and the kids over to celebrate?”
“No, it’s just us,” Mattie said. She put a bowl of rabbit stew in front of him, along with a plate of sourdough bread. Wiping her hands again, she sat down across from him, then jumped up to get him a glass of water. She sat down again, but was up once more, gesturing to him to give her the baby. Annabelle strained to go back into Gus’s arms, but Mattie held her tight.
“Aren’t you gonna join me?” Gus asked.
“No. Annie and I already ate.” She handed Annabelle a wooden duck and walked back and forth, bouncing the baby slightly to keep her distracted.
“You’re as jumpy as a frog, Mattie. What’s eatin’ you?”
Mattie took a moment before answering. “Annabelle and I have got to go.”
The stew settled like a lump in the bottom of his stomach. “What do you mean, ‘gotta go’? Where to?”
“Seattle.” She sat down and bounced Annabelle on her lap a little too forcefully.
“Here, give her back to me.” Gus said, taking Annabelle again in his arms. “I told you we had one or two more years here before this plays out.”
“Yeah, I know, but it’s not working, Gus. It’s not the life I thought it would be. I don’t know. It’s just …”
It was Gus’s turn to stand. “Just what, Mattie? Just too cold? Just too hard?” He walked around the small confines of the cabin, using his protective instinct with Annabelle to keep his temper in check. He told himself, Mattie’s only nineteen; she was just a girl when we got married. “You knew what you were getting into. I told you what it would be like before we left. You said—”
“I know what I said,” Mattie snapped. “And I tried. I truly did. But having a baby out here was too hard, and knowing your ways, I’d be having another one before too long. Annabelle coughs all the time. I think she’s got the croup. And there’s nothing but ice to play with.”
“Now there’s where you’re wrong,” Gus said. Taking a small, blue-checkered quilt from Annabelle’s crib, he spread it on the floor and placed his daughter on it. He got his friend Shorty’s sack and knelt in front of the baby. “Happy birthday little Annabelly,” he crooned. “See what Uncle Shorty made for you.” He drew out a small block, painted with letters and numbers, parts of a tree and parts of a house on each of the six sides. There were twelve in all. Annabelle immediately picked one up and put it in her mouth. She then flung it away and picked up another, happy for the moment with her new toy. “You see?” Gus said to Mattie, hating the wheedling tone he could sense in his voice.
“Annabelle’s going to walk any day now, Gus. Just look at this place.” Mattie gestured around the small room. “Where is she gonna go once winter hits and it’s too cold to step outside for more than a minute before freezing to death? What if one of us leaves the door open and she wanders out? And why wouldn’t she? There’s nothing to do here!”
Annabelle had tired of throwing blocks and began to crawl off her blanket. The wooden floor was cold and wet in spots where Gus’s boots had tread. He put Annabelle back on the quilt and handed her the present he had bought. “See what Daddy brought you,” he said softly. He helped her unwrap the package to reveal the blonde-haired doll. It was dressed in a faded blue gingham dress and its eyes, which had once opened and shut, stared permanently straight ahead. He sat back down to watch his daughter.
Mattie let out a sob. “Where did you get that?” she demanded.
Gus frowned. “Fannie sold it to me. Why?”
“That’s little Janey Fortuna’s doll, isn’t it?”
Mattie stood. “It is! Jesu, Gus! Billy’s so down on his luck he has to sell his own daughter’s most favorite thing in all the world? What is it with you miners? You get the gold fever and you’re willing to do most anything, sacrifice most anything, even your families, to strike it rich!” Mattie shook her head. Her tone turned weary. “Maybe I could have stuck it out, but it’s no place for little ones.” She looked at Gus, tears pooling. “You know I’m right.”
Hell and damnation, she was right. Despite her assurances when they’d married, he’d feared she wouldn’t cotton to life in the north. Why would she? She was young and pretty and deserved someone a lot better than him. But he’d traded on his strength and appeal, and the promise of riches down the road. Her ma had died and she had no family, so she’d bought in. But babies, they made a difference. And she was right about that too; given his appetites in that area, he wouldn’t be able to keep more from coming. They sat together in silence for several minutes, the only sound Annabelle’s cooing and chirping as she continued to examine her new acquisition. She put the porcelain doll’s arm in her mouth and Mattie gently reached down and took it out.
“You said the Milfords are heading down?” Gus asked. “When?”
“They’ve got passage for the beginning of June, soon as the river thaws.”
Gus nodded. “Yukon should be broken up by then. They going to Seattle?”
“Yes. They said I could stay with them until I found work.”
“Well, since you’ve made your mind up already, I guess that’s it,” Gus said gruffly. “I’ll see about getting you passage with them.”
“And you’ll follow like I said, right?”
“I don’t know, this might be the strike,” Gus countered, knowing full well it wasn’t panning out any more than the others had. “Tell you what, I’ll work the tailings ’til the end of summer, and then come Outside to meet you. And we’ll take it from there. Is that all right?”
Mattie smiled and took Gus’s hand across the table. “Yes, that’s all right. You’ll see. Somehow we can make it work.” She got up and busied herself with Annabelle. “Come on, little birthday girl. Mama made you a sugar cake. Mama’s big girl is one today.”
Gus stood looking at his wife and daughter, the full meaning of what she’d told him finally beginning to sink in. The family he’d wanted so much and thought he’d created was going away, and if he wanted them, he’d have to give up a dream he’d had for a very, very long time. It didn’t seem right, and it didn’t seem fair. But right now, there was nothing he could do about it.
Your Journey to The Golden City begins here…
A tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age, The Art of Love will take you on an unforgettable journey from the last frontier of the Yukon Territory to the new Sodom and Gomorrah of its time – the boomtown of San Francisco.
After digging a fortune from the frozen fields of the Klondike, August Wolff heads south to the “Golden City,” hoping to put the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter behind him. The turn of the twentieth century brings him even more success, but the distractions of a hedonistic mecca can’t fill the gaping hole in his life.
Amelia Starling is a wildly talented artist caught in the straightjacket of Old New York society. Making a heart-breaking decision, she moves to San Francisco to further her career, all the while living with the pain of a sacrifice no woman should ever have to make.
Brought together by the city’s flourishing art scene, Gus and Lia forge a rare connection. But the past, shrouded in mystery, prevents the two of them from moving forward as one. Unwilling to face society’s scorn, Lia leaves the city and vows to begin again in Europe.
The Golden City offers everything a man could wish for except the answers Gus is desperate to find. But find them he must, or he and Lia have no chance at all.
A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.
Book Title: The Art of Love
Series: The Golden City, Book One
Author: A.B. Michaels
Publication Date: 4th May 2014
Publisher: Red Trumpet Press
Page Length: 360 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction