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THE ROAD TO FREEDOM
Mail-Order Romance Book 2
BY DONNA SCHLACHTER
A young woman runs from her past, straight into the arms of a stranger. Was she going from bad to worse? Or did God hold her in His hands?
A death-bed promise, a family legacy, an unexpected wife–how can he turn his back on them to fulfill a vow?
Saturday October 5th, 1895
Riverside, a suburb of Chicago
Grace Grimaldi, wrapped in the finest satin that Cosa Nostra’s illegal money could buy, stood at the top of the massive staircase leading to the main floor of her mansion—correction, her husband’s mansion—and surveyed the gathering below. Anybody who was anybody was present tonight. The mayor, the state’s two senators, the governor. The head of the transit system. The leaders of the stevedore, railway, and teamster unions. The district attorney. Business owners. Financial leaders. Journalists from competing newspapers.
Nobody dared turn down a summons from her husband or his family.
Except JP Morgan. And he turned down almost everybody except personal friends.
Which her husband wasn’t but desperately wanted to be.
A muscle at the back of Grace’s neck throbbed. Her headache hadn’t subsided. And while she’d begged Michael to excuse her from the party, he’d refused. As usual. Many would notice her absence. The media might play on that fact, drowning out the demonstration of his power and importance.
And that would never do.
Grace played with the pearl and diamond choker resting against the base of her throat. A wedding gift from Michael. A constant reminder of how much she owed him.
His words. Not hers.
She’d done her part. Well, most of it. Played hostess. Flattered fat old men. Beguiled them with her beauty and attention. Failed in only one area, so far as she knew.
Now she wanted to leave. Begin anew. But Michael would have none of it. Even after twenty-five years of marriage, she’d produced no heir. And it must be her fault, if such were ascribed. Michael had several children by mistresses. In this still deeply Italian family, guilt and shame were heaped on like coals on a cold winter’s night.
What was wrong with her? His succession of mistresses had no trouble dropping their offspring like a dog shedding fleas. Not that she blamed them. They had as little choice as she. Chosen from a young age by Michael’s father, married when she was fifteen to a man seventeen years her senior.
She drew a deep breath for courage, gripped the polished oak handrail, and descended the stairs. A single lock of hair slipped from its place in the French twist she’d spent an hour on. Her husband loved her waist-length blonde hair loose in the privacy of their suite, but in public, he insisted she restrain it in a modest style. Was he worried the sight of her tresses would cause men to lose control in her presence? The male species was still a conundrum to her.
Michael appeared in the foyer and looked up at her. A flash of disgust, clear in his down-turned brow and pinched lips, instantly replaced by the seemingly genuine smile that had captivated her heart for a short time after their marriage. A very short time. Until she saw him for who—and what—he was.
Michael garnered the attention of everybody within earshot. “Okay, folks, here she comes. My beautiful bride. Join me in welcoming her to our celebration of twenty-five years of blissful marriage.”
Grace pasted on a smile, taking in all present, dipping her head in acknowledgement of their presence. But she knew the truth. Every man in the room would take her in a moment as their own, simply to stake their claim in the hierarchy of crime whose shadow they all lived under.
And the women? Hated her. Because she was beautiful—which wasn’t her fault. If she could, she’d dress in rags and hide in the shadows. But Michael would have none of it. Because she was rich—ill-begotten gains, none of her own doing. Because she was Michael’s—she’d trade with any of them if she could.
Loved and hated for what was out of her control.
She paused on the third step from the bottom. As Michael had instructed. Wait. Wait for his signal. A nod. She continued, and the guests parted like waves before a ship. She accepted Michael’s hand, smiled when he brushed his lips over the back of her fingers, then slipped into step beside him.
Her headache inched up another notch.
Would this night never end? Would she never escape?
Yes. She would. Her life depended on her continuing the subterfuge. For a few days more, at least. Until then, she’d play her part. Do what they expected.
And then she’d surprise them all.
Oh, if only she could be a fly on the wall when Michael—and the rest of his family—realized she was gone.
A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter.
Links to Donna’s website, blog, books, etc.
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Question: Would you consider applying as a mail-order bride back in 1895?
Thanks, Donna, for sharing your book with us!
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