As Manhattan approaches the twentieth century, a milliner launches her new line of “modern” hats. From glitz to grit–Fifth Avenue to the Bowery–readers will follow a determined Emma Ludwig as she muscles her way into society in order to sell hats. All the while, two men vie for her attentions. Paul Kelly is the infamous leader of the Five Points’ Gang. Guy Rogers is a cartographer with dreams to move West. In this period piece set against the vibrant backdrop of New York City, a young woman discovers what it means to be a truly “modern” woman.
New York City
Emma boarded the ferry launch and hurried to the bow for an unobstructed view of The Statue of Liberty. The boat lurched from the dock. Emma grabbed the rail and leaned over to catch the spray of the bay against her cheek.
A sudden gust of wind caught the brim of her hat, wresting it from its pinnings and sending it flying from her head. She spun around and ran after it. With its egret plume flapping, the hat flipped and twirled, pirouetted off the shoulder of a surprised passenger. An advantageously positioned man lifted his hand and calmly snatched it, as if he had absolutely expected her hat to land in his hand.
The crowd pushed Emma pleasantly against him. His chest pressed upon her shirtwaist.
Without thinking, she grabbed his arms to catch herself. “That’s my hat.”
“Standing room only,” he said, smiling at her. “Most fortunate for me.”
She wanted to see his face again but to peer into his eyes when he was standing so close would be awkward. The man had an impressive figure, tall and slim with perfect posture. The one glimpse she saw of his face surprised her. Why couldn’t he have been an elderly gentleman with graying hair? Instead, he was quite the opposite. His hair gleamed like the bolt of russet satin in the shop, and his jaw lines angled down perfectly to accent the dimple in his chin. His face appeared exactly as she might have stitched it.
She stepped aside; he stepped with her. She moved backwards; he moved forward.
He laughed and positioned his arms for a waltz. “May I have the honor?”
With this request, she caught a glimpse of his unusual eyes, the color of a slate roof. His hair falling this way this way and that about his head, and the ruddy glow of health and exuberance on his face, reminded her of a young boy caught in the act of stealing a cookie. She resisted glancing back at him, wondering if she had mistaken his pleasant expression for admiration when it only amounted to common cordiality.
Emma lowered her eyes. In one hand, the man held her hat. In the other, he held his.
Sir, my hat.” That was it? The only words that came to mind. Her cheeks flamed with heat. She touched her hands to her face to cool it.
“In this crowd, how can I be sure it is your hat?” He winked with a confident, perhaps arrogant, air.
“You saw me chasing it.” She reached for her headpiece and reshaped it. A breeze with the scent of ginger, peppermint and fresh laundry passed between them.
“So I did. And, it was most pleasant.” He scrutinized her boldly, not wavering when her eyes met his.
Emma feigned interest as the ferry passed The Statue of Liberty. With her eyes focused on the attraction, she said, “You find my misfortune humorous.”
“I find it serendipitous.”
“I’m afraid I underestimated the wind.” His eyes had not strayed from hers. She imagined her hair a rat’s nest.
“Perhaps I should introduce myself,” the man said. “Guy Rogers.”
“Emma Ludwig.” She noted his white cuffs, secured with a single black-pearl link, peeking out from under his perfectly tailored pepper-and-salt suit. A gold watch chain dangled from his vest pocket. “Thank you for rescuing my hat.”
“You’re quite welcome. It becomes you.” The ferry dipped in the wake of another boat, and he wrapped his hand about her arm to steady her. “It’s a fine hat. I wonder if you could tell me where you purchased it.”
“Actually, I made the hat myself. I have a shop.” She noticed again the unusual slate color of his eyes. A spray of wrinkles fanned out from his lids. They were not crow’s feet exactly, and her mind raced to other types of birds. A handsome species would be more accurate, perhaps cardinal’s feet. He was certainly handsome, with his cocoa-colored hair parted slightly left of center and an expertly trimmed mustache.
“A millinery shop? Then I am in luck. My mother wears hats.”
She covered her mouth with her hand to hide her giggle. “Fortunately for me, most women do.”
“Now it is you who finds me humorous.” A ray of sunlight had found its way to his eyes. “Perhaps I can accompany you to work and see your hats?”
“No!” She answered too quickly. “I have other business this afternoon.” She had exactly one hour to reach City Hall.
“Then, I would be happy to escort you.”
“I’m sure you have other obligations.”
“Nothing that would prevent me from accompanying you.”
“I would prefer to attend to my errands alone.” As the words spilled from her mouth, she realized they sounded harsh. “Perhaps you could stop by later,” she added quickly. “6th Avenue and Eighteenth Street, in the Ladies’ Mile. Emma’s Fine Hats.”
“Well, Miss Ludwig, I most certainly will.” He took her hand. “It’s been a pleasure.”
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About the Author
Diane Owens Prettyman is the author of two novels, REDESIGNING EMMA, winner of the Colorado Romance Writers Heart of the Rockies Contest and THIN PLACES, winner of the Pacific Northwest Writers Contest. Her third novel is due out in the summer of 2014. Diane has also published numerous articles and blogs. She is an active contributor to LiveHealthyAustin.com. Diane is also a physical therapist and healthcare administrator. She lives in Austin with her husband and quirky standard poodle.