1893 . . . Jennifer Crawford, the peacekeeper in a well-to-do Boston family rife with anger, deceit, and even treachery, was born to solve mathematical mysteries at a time when women are only beginning to venture from home and into the world of commerce and politics. Beautiful and shy, she struggles to find the courage to face a scheming mother and guide a father denying their familial dysfunction, hesitant to traverse the volatile economics banks are facing at the turn of the twentieth century. But danger threatens when she discovers the crimes of an abusive man determined to make Jennifer his own.
Zebidiah Moran, chief of staff for a new senator in Washington, is determined to uncover the lovely Jennifer’s secrets and guard her from danger. But will his sacrifices be enough to keep her safe? Will he be “Her Safe Harbor”? Find out in Book Four of the Crawford Family Series!
Some scenes of violence and potential abuse.
“What do you mean you are planning to travel again? You have just returned,” Jane Crawford said to her daughter. “No more traveling. Mr. Rothchild won’t like it. Will you, Jeffrey?”
Jennifer Crawford watched as her mother leaned forward from her place at the table in the family dining room at Willow Tree to cover Jeffrey’s hand with her own, purse her lips, and wink at him. It made Jennifer ill to think that if she were to spend her life with Jeffrey, as he and her mother had already planned, she would be subject to her mother’s ridiculous flirting and fawning over her husband, and in turn his obsequious and affected gratitude and flattery toward her mother.
“Jolene has asked me to come and help her in her new home in Washington when Max takes his seat in the U.S. Senate. She will be very busy, and Melinda will need attention. I have already told her I will come,” Jennifer said.
Jeffrey took a sip of his wine and looked at her over the rim of the cut crystal glass. “The Morgans are expecting us at their gala. I’m sure you don’t want to disappoint them.”
“I do not,” she said. “But you will have to make my excuses. Certainly, they understand what a momentous occasion this is for our family.”
“There is nothing momentous about the occasion at all! This person your sister has married is nothing! His family barely touches any good Boston society. And anyway, politicians are inevitably lowborn and crass,” Jane declared. “He is nothing to us and your sisters are dead to me.”
“Jane,” her father, William Crawford, said to his wife in a plaintive voice Jennifer was accustomed to hearing.
“It is true!” Jane said. “After everything I have done for Jolene and Julia? For them to turn their backs on their own mother?”
“Mother, please. Mr. Rothchild does not want to hear any of this.”
Jane demurred with a shrug. “He is nearly family.”
Jennifer continued to eat, staring down at her plate so she did not have to view her mother’s smug smile. When she looked up, Jeffrey’s eyes were on her.
“I have already replied to the Morgans for both of us,” he said.
“I’m sure they will not miss one lone person from the hundreds they invite.”
“This is business, Jennifer,” he said. “They are longtime customers of the bank, and if not for Harry Morgan’s introductions we would have missed out on having some very important clients. I’m sure you understand that.”
“Wouldn’t having a family member who is a U.S. senator be good for gaining new clients?” she asked.
Her mother harrumphed.
“Jennifer,” Jeffrey admonished. “It has already been decided. We are going to the Morgans’.”
Jeffrey’s lips were a hard line, and his eyes cold as he spoke. She recognized that look and didn’t challenge him or say more. In fact, no one at the table conversed, and she was feeling embarrassed by the set-down. She continued to eat and sipped her wine, willing herself to be patient until it was time to make her escape to her rooms. But what would she do if they were married? How would she escape him?
Dessert had just been served when her father cleared his throat, and every head turned to him. “If Jolene has asked for your help, then you should attend her. I will make your excuses to Harry Morgan.”
Jennifer was shocked and stared at her father, not daring to witness Jeffrey’s or her mother’s reaction, as her father rarely exerted himself on her or her sisters’ behalf. Jennifer didn’t believe he didn’t care, in fact, she felt he cared very deeply about all of them, and was mortally depressed when Jillian went to live with Julia. But he’d always stayed clear of the family machinations, believing that was his wife’s purview, Jennifer thought. And, if truth be told, she felt Julia was correct when she said in her letters that Father wanted to avoid the living hell that his wife would make of his life if he interfered. She also thought that her father was a bit frightened of Jane and her moods and maneuvers, just like everyone else in the household.
Jeffrey waved away the servant offering him a cordial. “I’m sorry I’ll be unable to stay longer this evening. There is somewhere I must be.”
“I’m so sorry, Jeffrey,” her mother said. “Must you go now before we adjourn to the music room?”
A servant hurried forward to pull back Jeffrey’s chair as he stood. “It is rarely wise to put off an important task, especially as current circumstances are not as friendly as I would like,” he said, and stared at Jennifer.
“Escort Mr. Rothchild to the door, Jennifer. It is the least you can do,” her mother said.
Jennifer walked beside him down the long hallway of Willow Tree, the sound of her slippers tapping on the marble floors breaking the silence. She watched Jeffrey as Bellings came from his position at the door to help him on with his coat and hand him his top hat and walking cane. Jeffrey was tall—taller than her by a good number of inches, and she was a tall woman. He had a handsome face, but his eyes never matched any gaiety he showed with laughter or smiles; in fact, his dark eyes were disconcerting. Frightening even, on some occasions. She’d thought him very attractive when she first met him, but with each encounter, mostly arranged by her mother, she’d felt a cold chill pass across her shoulders when he spoke to her in the way he had at the dinner table. Let alone when . . . well, she would not think of that.
Jeffrey glared at Bellings and the servant retreated toward the grand staircase that wrapped around the edge of the foyer. Jeffrey turned his stare on her.
“Do you believe I enjoy being contradicted by my future wife in front of her parents?”
Jennifer swallowed. “I did not mean to contradict you.”
“However, you did. I would have expected you to have more respect for your betrothed as I do for your mother and father.”
“I do appreciate how kind you are to my family. Especially to my mother,” she said purposefully and looked at him.
Jeffrey tapped his cane on the floor. “She is dreadful to you. I won’t allow her interference after our marriage. She is an altogether unpleasant woman in my estimation.”
Jennifer felt her heart skip a beat as he defended her and promised her protection, but she wondered if she would be exchanging one unpleasant master for another.
“I am most surprised your father chose to interfere between you and me.” Jeffrey leaned forward and spoke softly. “Let me be very clear. I will expect complete loyalty in a wife.”
Then, as if for Bellings’s benefit, he pulled her hands to his lips for a kiss and stared into her eyes with intensity and passion, speaking loudly enough that the servant would hear. “I will count the days until I see you again, my dear.”
Jeffrey went out the door and Jennifer drew a deep breath and turned, intending to go to her rooms. Jane stood at the bottom of the staircase. She dismissed Bellings.
“How clumsy you are, Jennifer. Pitting your father against your fiancé over something as inconsequential as Jolene’s imagined needs. You will stay here and you will attend the Morgan gala. I will not see you squander this opportunity that I have made available to you from the goodness of my heart.”
“He is not my fiancé. I have never said yes to his proposal and may never do so.”
“You are ridiculous! Your engagement has been discussed at parties and in boardrooms. Do not pretend to threaten me. I will not stand for it.”
Jennifer thought about her sister Jolene’s offer to have Jennifer live with them indefinitely in Washington. Perhaps that thought was enough to give her the courage necessary to be clear to her mother. “I have not accepted his proposal, Mother. I do not care what Boston society thinks of me so it will make little difference to me what is said. You had best be very careful who you announce this to, as you alone will be embarrassed in the end.” Jennifer turned and climbed the steps as her mother bellowed from the foyer.
“You are the one who took one look at Jeffrey Rothchild, had one dance with him, and promoted him in such a way that he was hired at the Crawford Bank by your father. Do not pretend now that you want nothing to do with him after you have pursued him. Your father hired him to please you, thinking to begin to prepare his soon to be son-in-law. Don’t pretend now that he is nothing to you!”
Jennifer’s hands were shaking as she approached her room. She could still hear her mother shouting below her. He maid, Eliza, opened her door.
“Good evening, miss,” Eliza said.
“Help me out of this corset. I will not be going downstairs any more this evening.”
“Please unhook it. I cannot breathe. And the necklace. Remove my necklace. Quickly!”
Jennifer dropped down onto the chair in front of her vanity where Eliza had guided her. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and hear its beat in her ears. She fumbled with the clasp of her bracelet and could not open it. She tried to pull it off over her hand, digging the gems and metalwork into her skin. Eliza stilled her hands with her own and worked the clasp until the bracelet slipped off.
“There, miss, it is off,” Eliza said. “Take slow breaths. I will have a tray sent up. A nice steamy cup of tea will be just the thing.”
Eliza pulled Jennifer’s dress over her head, undid her corset, and led her to the screen in her room. She handed her a dressing gown of thick fabric and Jennifer pulled it on over her silk chemise and drawers. Her fingers shook as she knotted the belt, and she took long, even breaths to calm the heartbeat that she could still hear in her ears. She came out from behind the screen as Eliza stoked the fire in her room.
“Your tray is on the way, and I’ve asked Cook to send some of those delicious wafers she’s been making with the icing that is so sweet. I had two myself this morning. And did I tell you about the new man working in the stables and garages? Oh my,” she said.
Jennifer relaxed listening to the lilt of Eliza’s voice and the rhythm of her words telling stories about the staff belowstairs. She was seated at her dressing table now and sipping tea while Eliza unpinned her hair and brushed it until the curls were shining. Jennifer closed her eyes and laid her hand on Eliza’s.
“Thank you,” she said. “I am fine now.”
“Of course you are,” Eliza said briskly. “Have you had any word about how your sister is faring in the Capital?”
“She has written again to ask me to live with them permanently.”
“Has your answer changed, miss?”
“No. It has not. Although I will travel there soon for my brother-in-law’s swearing in. I’d like you to come with me, Eliza. We will stay for two weeks or more.”
“Yes, miss. Do you know—”
Jennifer and Eliza both turned as they heard shouting from the hallway. Eliza hurried to the door and opened it a few inches to peer outside the room.
“Is that Mother shouting?” Jennifer asked.
Eliza nodded. “It is.”
Jennifer went to the door and listened from within her room. She could hear her father begging for restraint and her mother shouting back. It was about her, she knew, and no doubt, her father was bearing the brunt of his defense of her at the dinner table against Jeffrey. She pulled open the door.
“Mother!” she said as she walked to her parents where they stood at the end of the massive hallway where the family quarters were. “The servants will hear you. Please.”
“I will not be made a fool of by you or anyone else in this family. I will not!” Jane shouted, and suddenly bent over at the waist in obvious pain.
“Jane?” her father said with concern, and took his wife’s elbow. “Are you unwell? Shall I call the doctor?”
“Get me to my rooms, William,” a white-faced Jane said. “Call for Mildred.”
“I think you should see a doctor,” he said. “This is the second time . . .”
“I will not be badgered!” she said, and then faltered farther into her husband’s arms.
“Fetch Mildred,” Jennifer said to Eliza, and then turned to her mother. “I will help you change and get settled.”
Her mother shook her head. “I want nothing to do with you. Where is Mildred? William! Get me to my rooms!”
Jennifer folded her hands at her waist and watched as her father helped her mother down the hallway. Mildred hurried by, giving instructions to a young woman for what was to be brought to her mistress’s room. She eyed Jennifer with barely concealed contempt.