A Lady in Attendance
By Rachel Fordham
“You two looked rather friendly,” Ina said when Gilbert was out of earshot. “What were you whispering about?”
“We were only jesting about the red ear of corn.” They were being flippant, weren’t they? She looked around the barn, searching for women with red hair. Hers hardly counted. It was brown with a mere hint of red, but she saw no one with more red than she had.
Ina raised one eyebrow. “So, you were talking about kissing?”
“No . . . well . . . yes. But not like you’re thinking.” Hazel’s eyes wandered to quiet, kind Gilbert. She hadn’t planned to feel anything for him. Not only was she his attending, but he was nothing like the men she’d chased in the past. Gilbert was supposed to be safe. Her heart wasn’t supposed to feel anything when he was near her, yet it did.
“I don’t know why you deny an attraction. He’s handsome and has a decent job. He seems kind, and that’s more important than prestige. What’s not to like about him?” Ina asked. “I only wish I had someone half so ideal.”
“I saw everyone watching you when you entered.” It was true, the girl in the beautiful dress had drawn many eyes. But Hazel had watched, and they’d turned away when they’d looked at Ina’s face. “Don’t give up,” she reassured her friend. Then, grabbing her hand, Hazel pulled Ina toward the center of the barn. “Look, they are about to start the next contest.”
“Men, this time you’ll be given a basket. Husk the corn, see how many you can fit inside. Man with the most gets first pick of partners for the waltz,” Mr. Stoddard shouted to the eager participants. “Anything that topples over or falls out doesn’t count.”
The flag waved and corn husks flew. Hazel tried not to stare at Gilbert, but her eyes kept finding him. Bent over, tearing into the corn, he moved swiftly. Muscles she’d never noticed in him flexed as he tore the outer sheath from the ears.
Other men could be heard shouting their own accolades, boasting and sneering as they went. But Gilbert worked silently. It wasn’t a virtue she’d ever recognized before, but there was something dignified about a man who did not have to drag another man down or puff himself up to prove his own merit.
“Do you stare at him all day like that?” Ina asked.
“Don’t be silly. I’m just watching to see if he wins,” Hazel said without looking away from Gilbert.
“Of course you are.”
The pile of corn in Gilbert’s basket grew. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead, but he did not flinch. He was in constant motion—like a clock, all the gears moved in perfect rhythm.
And then all motion ceased. Gilbert was no longer a clock with ticking gears. Instead, he became a perfect statue.
Hazel watched, wondering what had changed. His basket was not so full that it could hold no more. She took two steps closer, trying to discern what had happened. And then she froze.
A red ear of corn rested in Gilbert’s strong hand. Without saying a word, he raised it high enough for the crowd to see. The people nearest noticed, their murmuring slowly dying down and causing others to turn their heads. And then Mr. Stoddard saw.
Mr. Stoddard whistled, then shouted again. “Folks, stop where you are. We have another red ear.” A hush followed as everyone looked at Gilbert.
Hazel’s heart raced, pounding in her chest so loudly she was certain others could hear it. Gilbert pivoted and walked across the barn in slow, calculated steps that brought him closer and closer to her. He did not zigzag or weave through the gathering. He didn’t glance at anyone else or put on a show. And then there he was, inches away from her. The rest of the barn may as well have disappeared, because she saw only him.
“It matches your hair,” he said, his voice a husky whisper. Holding the ear near her head, he smiled. “Perfect.”
Heat crept through her, moving from the tips of her toes all the way to her ears. Her whole body became warm and tense. She’d been kissed before, but never had she felt such fire before even being touched. This meant nothing. She knew it was a silly tradition, but her logic could not calm the flutter in her stomach.
“Kiss her! Kiss her!” the crowd shouted—softly at first, then louder and louder.
Hazel met Gilbert’s gaze, only to find a fervor in his eyes. He leaned closer. So close the stubble of his face tickled her skin. Senses she’d not known she possessed came alive as she waited. And then his lips brushed against her cheek, pausing only momentarily as they pressed against her skin. It was the briefest of kisses, a mere touch of his lips.
He pulled away, and there was space between them again. Her face burned where he’d touched her, shouting and pleading for more. It’d been brief, too brief, almost unreal. And yet she could feel it still.
Putting a hand to her cheek, she let her eyes meet his again.
“If I ever see Eddie, I’ll tell him I made use of a red ear.” He stepped back, putting even more distance between them.
She let a tense chuckle escape her lips. “I’m glad I could help you redeem yourself.”
“We do make a good team,” he said before walking back to the pile and the competition.
Ina began saying something beside her, but Hazel could make no sense of it. The words were background noise to the flood of emotion awakened by his kiss.
“Hazel! Are you even listening to me?”
“I’m sorry.” Hazel forced herself to focus on Ina. Her inner questioning of why was not important. No matter the answer, there was nowhere for her feelings to go. Her heart was closed and must stay that way forever, or at the very least until her slate was clean.
Ina laughed. “I was just saying that now you can say you’ve been kissed. It was so romantic too. He walked right for you. I always assumed him to be shy, but he seemed so determined. Was it everything you’ve ever dreamed of in a kiss?”
“I didn’t say I’d never been kissed,” she whispered to Ina. “I never said that.”
“You’ve been kissed!” Ina’s face fell. “I thought you and I were the same.”
“I wish we were,” she said. How much simpler life would be if the only lips to ever touch her had been Gilbert’s. “And we are in many ways.” She looped her arm around Ina’s. “Tonight let’s wander around this barn and see if someone catches your eye.”
Rachel Fordham, A Lady In Attendance. Revel, a division of Baker Publishing Group. June 1, 2021. Used by Permission.
A Lady in Attendance
by Rachel Fordham
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction/Christian/Romance
Five years in a New York state reformatory have left a blemish on Hazel’s real name. So when she takes a job as Doctor Gilbert Watts’s lady in attendance in 1898, she does so under an alias. In the presence of her quiet and pious employer, Hazel finds more than an income. She finds a friend and a hope that if she can set her tarnished past in order, she might have a future after all.
As Gilbert becomes accustomed to the pleasant chatter of his new dental assistant, he can’t help but sense something secretive about her. Perhaps there is more to this woman than meets the eye. Can the questions that loom between them ever be answered? Or will the deeds of days gone by forever rob the future of its possibilities?
Rachel Fordham pens a tender tale of a soft-spoken man, a hardened woman, and the friends that stand by them as they work toward a common purpose–to expunge the record of someone society deemed beyond saving–and perhaps find love along the way.
“A Lady in Attendance draws you in from the first page and leaves you captivated until the oh-so-romantic conclusion. A poignant and beautifully written story of faith, forgiveness, and the healing power of love.”–Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author
About the Author
Rachel Fordham has long been fascinated by all things historical or in the words of her children “old stuff”. Often the historical trivia she discovers is woven into her children’s bedtime tales. Despite her love for good stories she didn’t attempt writing a novel until her husband challenged her to do so (and now she’s so glad he did). Since that time she’s often been found typing or researching while her youngest child naps or frantically writing plot twists while she waits in the school pick-up line. In addition to her passion for storytelling she enjoys reading, being outdoors and seeing new places. Rachel lives with her husband and children on an island in Washington state.
Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, October 11
Guest Post at Novels Alive
Tuesday, October 12
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit
Wednesday, October 13
Excerpt at I’m Into Books
Friday, October 15
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Saturday, October 16
Review at Reading Is My SuperPower
Monday, October 18
Review at Novels Alive
Tuesday, October 19
Excerpt at Heidi Reads
Thursday, October 21
Interview at The Book Club Network
Friday, October 22
Review at Ms. Darcy Reads
Monday, October 25
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Tuesday, October 26
Excerpt at Reading is My Remedy
Wednesday, October 27
Guest Post at Chicks, Rogues, and Scandals
Thursday, October 28
Review at McCombs on Main
Friday, October 29
Excerpt at The Tea Queen
Monday, November 1
Review at Bookoholiccafe
Wednesday, November 3
Excerpt at Bookworlder
Friday, November 5
Review at Passages to the Past
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