Authors: Laura Lee Guhrke
Table of Contents
To Dream Again
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by Laura Lee Guhrke
Published by Laura Lee Guhrke, Smashwords Edition.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without permission of the author is illegal. The author requests that you purchase only authorized electronic editions, and that you do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted material. Thank you for your support of authors’ rights.
Cover design by Hot Damn Designs.
To my father, Bill Guhrke, the entrepreneur, the dreamer in our family—for his honesty, his kindness, and his vision. Men like him are the true romantic heroes of the world.
And for my mother, Judy, who follows him with financial statements and calculator, and whose incredible love and support have helped him make their dreams come true.
I love you both.
If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
—Henry David Thoreau
Nathaniel Chase heard the loud, rather insistent knock on the open door and the irate voice calling his name, but being rather preoccupied, he did not look up from his task. "Yes, Mrs. O'Brien, what is it?"
The stout landlady followed the sound of his voice, dodging her way around moving men, steamer trunks, furniture, and wooden crates. In the center of the room she paused, unable to find her new tenant amid the chaotic jumble of his belongings. "Mr. Chase?"
"Over here," he called.
Peeking between a tall wooden Indian and a large telescope, she saw him on his knees beneath a table, his back to her, rummaging in a box.
She cast a curious glance at the tools and machinery that littered the table before bending to peer at the man beneath. "Mr. Chase, sure did I not say to have your things off the stairs by five o'clock?"
Nathaniel stopped ransacking the box and lifted his head to reply, forgetting that he was kneeling beneath the table. He hit his head with a bang, nearly tumbling his equipment onto the floor. "Ouch!"
He caught the legs of the table to prevent it from falling. Once it was stable again, he moved out from under it and jumped to his feet. "I'm sorry, ma'am," he said, rubbing his sore head and doing his best to look contrite, "but moving in is taking longer than I thought."
"Where do you want this one, guv'nor?"
Nathaniel glanced at the two men who stood nearby holding a huge crate between them. "Ah, my trains!" He pointed to an empty space beside the table. "Put it here, if you please. And be careful," he added. "It's somewhat fragile."
He returned his attention to his new landlady. "Mrs. O'Brien, I will have my things off the stairs as soon as I can find a place to put them."
She placed her hands on her ample hips. "You said you'd be moved in by the end of the day. Other tenants will be returnin' from work soon and won't like findin' they can't get up the stairs, yer boxes and things bein' scattered hither and yon. You promised me—"
"Yes, I know," he interrupted. "By the time my neighbors return from work, my things will be out of the way." He looked around with a frown. "I don't know where I'll put them. It seems I have underestimated the quantity of my luggage."
Mrs. O'Brien was never one to miss an opportunity. "I've a cellar you could use. Only two shillings the week."
Nathaniel considered that option for a moment. These were only temporary lodgings, of course, but he wasn't certain how long it would be before he could find permanent rooms. In the meantime, he would have to use his rooms as his laboratory, and he wanted his things close at hand. Mrs. O'Brien's cellar simply wouldn't do. There had to be another solution.
He raked a hand through his hair and glanced up, then paused as an idea struck him.
"The attic is directly above me, is it not?"
"It is." The landlady frowned suspiciously. "But I don't see—"
He pointed to the ceiling. "If I put in a hole, I could use the attic."
"A hole in my ceiling? Heavens, no!"
Nathaniel paid no attention to her protest. "Yes, that would work," he muttered to himself. His decision made, he turned to one of the men who was bringing in his things. "Mr. Boggs, could you come here a moment?"
The burly, bald-headed man stepped up beside him, and Nathaniel pointed above his head. "Could you cut a hole here and give me access to the attic?"
"Mr. Chase, I won't allow it. I won't let you tear me house down!"
Mrs. O'Brien's declaration was lost on the two men, who began to discuss the project. "Very good," Nathaniel finally said. "When can you begin?"
The man rubbed his jaw. "I'd need t'get me tools and buy the goods. And I'll want me boy to 'elp. Tomorrow afternoon be all right, guv'nor?"
"Of course. Before you leave today, would you and your men bring the rest of my things off the stairs? Just pile them anywhere you can find room."
A wail from Mrs. O'Brien caused Nathaniel to turn to her. "Are you unwell?" he asked, noting her flushed face and distraught expression.
She placed a hand to her heart. "Holes in me ceiling. Oh, heavens."
She seemed quite upset to Nathaniel. This was a matter of simple carpentry, easily repaired when he moved out,
and he couldn't understand her distress—until he looked into her eyes and perceived a shrewd gleam in their green depths.
He pulled his wallet from the inner pocket of his jacket. "If I leave, I will pay to have everything put back exactly the way it was before," he assured her. "And I'll pay you half rent for the attic."
He began to count out money. "And there's five pounds to you, my dear lady, for all the inconvenience."
"Well, now," she said, brightening considerably, "that's somethin' I can agree to." She snatched the money from his hand.
Nathaniel turned and tossed his wallet toward his desk, where it landed in an open drawer. He took the landlady by the elbow and turned her gently toward the door. "Mrs. O'Brien, you are a pearl beyond price. I thank you."
"Will ye be needin' anything else, sir?" she asked, tucking the money into the pocket of her apron as Nathaniel guided her past Mr. Boggs and around a stack of crates. "Breakfast, tea, an' dinner? I'm a fine cook, I don't mind sayin'. Three meals a day for, say, two quid the week?"
"That's a tempting offer. A man does appreciate home cooking. I will consider it." He gave her his most charming smile and pushed her out the door. "I'll have my things off the stairs shortly," he promised. "Good day."
She hesitated a moment, then bobbed her head and turned to go down the stairs. "Very good, sir. If there's anything else you need—"
"I'll be sure to let you know."
"Lad's got more money than sense," she muttered as she descended the stairs and finally disappeared.
Nathaniel turned back around and caught sight of the huge crate that contained his trains. He grinned. He didn't have much money, and he probably didn't have much sense either. But he had his dream, and that was enough.
Mara Elliot walked along the mezzanine of the factory with a brisk, no-nonsense stride that bounced the ostrich plume of her straw bonnet and caused the heels of her high-button shoes to hit the floor in rhythm with the steam engines on the production floor below.
The six o'clock whistle sounded, a loud squeal over the rumble of machinery, and she turned, leaning over the rail to watch as activity ceased below. Steam engines shut down, conveyor belts came to a stop, and the deafening roar of machinery faded away. People began heading for the doors.
When she caught sight of her secretary beckoning her to come down she turned away from the rail and joined the women leaving the mezzanine.
"If me Alfie thinks of gettin' any tonight, he's off his chump," one woman declared to another, pausing on the stairs in front of Mara. “Passing me wages to a pub keeper! I won't stand it."
"Good for you, Emma," the woman beside her said.
"And shovin' me around. Who's 'e think 'e is?" Emma paused for breath and glanced over her shoulder, catching sight of her employer standing only a few feet behind them. "Evenin', ma'am," she said respectfully and moved back, pressing herself against the wall to let Mara pass. The other woman did the same, and Mara walked between them.
She had never been the sort to fraternize with her employees. She knew other small business owners who did, regarding their workers as a sort of extended family, but Mara preferred to keep some distance between herself and her staff, feeling it gave her more respect.
She was very conscious of her position. She was not the owner, she was the owner's wife. Her authority was always at risk, and she knew the best way to maintain respect was to remain cool and efficient.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, her secretary was waiting for her. "What is it, Percy?"
"Mr. Finch is waiting in your office. He needs to speak with you."
"Here?" Mara was surprised. She couldn't recall the solicitor ever coming to her office before. "I'll go immediately."
She started across the production floor, and her secretary fell in step beside her. "Did he say what he wanted to see me about?" she asked.
"No, but perhaps it's about the gentleman who was here this morning."
Mara stopped walking. "What gentleman?"
Percy also came to a halt. "I didn't have the chance to tell you earlier, but a man came this morning asking to see Mr. Elliot while you were out. He seemed surprised to find that your husband wasn't here."
Mara's brows drew together in a frown. "James is in America now. At least, I thought he was." One never knew with him. He could be anywhere. "Did the man say what he wanted?"
"No, just that he had business with Mr. Elliot and was expected. Mr. Elliot supposedly had arranged a meeting with him here."