Mary Martha Hamilton had barely entered through the front door of the Boston mansion she’d called home all of her twenty-six years when her younger sister Suzanna raced down the stairs. Suzanna was younger by seven years, but at times it felt twice that or more. “Oh, good, you’re back. You have to start planning the wedding.” Suzanna grabbed her arm almost causing a fatal accident or at least a deep scratch as Mary pulled out her long pearl-studded hat pin. “What wedding?” asked Mary her heart skittering in her throat. Had her fiancé’s ship, missing for years, finally made port? No, the ship had been lost in a hurricane. The chances of it or her fiancé returning were nil. “I’ve bought material for the dresses, but, you know, I’m hopeless with planning an event. I don’t even know where to start or what needs to be done. Papa says we must start work right away. He could only get the church for the first Saturday in June.” “Suzanna, I—” Mary tried to interrupt, but her sister was having none of it. “Other than that we should have to wait clear until August as Reverend Pritchard is determined to do mission work in the territories this summer. It would be terrible to have the assistant minister, he spits so when he talks.
Could you imagine anything worse than being spit upon when reciting marriage vows?” Had their father finally decided to remarry? He had been paying particular attention to a certain widow friend lately. Suzanna chattered nonstop as if she expected Mary to know what she was talking about. Perhaps if she needed reminding that Mary had been absent during recent developments. “I’m glad to see you too. It’s been a long four weeks.” Apparently, Suzanna would not ask about their sister-in-law’s difficult confinement or the new addition to their extended family. Mary had been looking forward to sharing her news, but Suzanna had trumped her with these marriage plans. Mary felt caught out of time. Her head was filled with images of babies and bunting. She could hardly entertain the idea that her family already had a monumental task lined up for her to do when she returned.
But the news slowly sank in. They expected her to plan a wedding in less than a month? Could it be for their brother Nathan who was engaged but hadn’t set a date last Mary knew? But his bride’s parents should be in charge of the planning. “Hurry, you have to see the material for my dress, before the dressmaker starts cutting. I suppose we shall have to contact a florist, and we’ll need a cake.” Suzanna circled. Mary secured her hat pin in the band of her large hat and handed it to the maid waiting in the entry hall of their Boston home. She wanted nothing more than a hot bath and a cup of tea, but Suzanna could barely contain her impatience. Mary slipped out of her damp coat; the carriage couldn’t kept the torrential spring rains from making everything soggy, including her. “Don’t you want to hear about the baby?” Suzanna made a moue of distaste. “We got your letter.
She sounds lovely. I wonder if David hoped for a boy.” Mary supposed if she was as beautiful as her golden-haired and statuesque sister, she might be as excited about a new dress. But Mary was short, round, and brown-haired like a wren. Fashionable dresses with their multitude of flounces rarely flattered her. Besides she liked babies. She liked cooing to them, and rocking them and kissing their dimpled little fingers. “Papa says you have to help me choose. He says I don’t have the sense the good Lord gave a duck. I don’t think he’ll ever realize I’m fully grown.
” Suzanna dragged her into the back parlor. Nobody would, thought Mary so long as her younger sister darted around like a child playing tag. Gleaming white satin, mountains of tulle, and yards of lace covered every available surface. Mary drew up short in the doorway, her heart jumping into her throat. “Won’t it be grand? It’s like a court dress.” If it wasn’t a court dress, then it was a bridal gown. Suzanna was the one getting married? Mary needed to sit down. She’d almost rather Suzanna planned to cross the big pond and be presented to Queen Victoria. There wasn’t any place to sit. Every chair was draped with satin, the tables piled high with rosettes and ribbons.
A bridal gown? For her childlike younger sister? Oh, my goodness, now Mary would have to plan a wedding and not her own, not her father’s or brother’s, but her baby sister’s. For a second Mary wished that Suzanna had made good on her regular threat to run away and live with their Aunt Lydia in England. “There you are, Mary.” Her father peered his head in and winced at the waterfalls of white. “The house maid said you’d made it home. Nothing has been the same since you’ve been gone. Dinner has been burned or cold, and no one can find my slippers.” Mary turned around and clung to her father. He gave her a brief embrace then patted her absently on the head, before shuffling out of the room with an order to direct her sister’s choices and get on with planning. Suzanna danced around waving a handful of fashion plates.
“Which one do you think? I like this one, but Papa thinks it is cut too low.” Mary finally managed to find her voice. It was squeaky like a rusty hinge. “Are you engaged?” “Yes, of course. Didn’t you get my letter?” Mary shook her head. Mail to the countryside was slower and less dependable than mail to the city. “Anyone I know?” “No. He’s very handsome.” Of course he would be handsome. Mary expected no less of her sister.
But would he be able to support Suzanna? Would he be understanding when his wife was more interested in attending a party than finding his slippers? “Yes, but what does he do? What is his name? Does Papa approve?” Suzanna smiled rather like a cat who swallowed the canary. She slowed her skip to a saunter. “Of course, Papa approves. His name is Sterling John Cooper. He says he’s from Boston, but nobody remembers him. He does know who is who though.” For half a second Suzanna looked thoughtful, but the second passed quickly. “He has dark hair and dreamy blue eyes. He’s a little old, but he’s an adventurer.” Suzanna did a quick twirl.
“I will see the world.” “Are you sure Papa knew what he was agreeing to when he gave his approval?” Mary asked. While working, their father could be so engrossed in his load manifests and plotting out his merchant ships’ voyages that he would not have any idea what he agreed to. He’d been even more absent-minded since his wife’s death from a fever five years earlier. “Yes, of course, Mr. Cooper insisted on asking Papa’s permission before he would court me. I told him he didn’t need to be so old-fashioned.” Well, that was one plus in his favor. Was her sister not comfortable using her fiancé’s given name? “The dressmaker will arrive any minute now, so will you pick a pattern?” Suzanna shoved the fashion plates under Mary’s nose again. “Whichever one you want I’m sure will be fine.
” Mary could pull the dressmaker aside and make sure the final version of the wedding dress was modest enough. But what difference did it make? Her sister was getting married. She would be choosing clothes all on her own once she became a married woman. “I must have a huge ceremony. We Hamiltons have an image to preserve and Papa agrees. Mr. Cooper thought it should be a little thing with just family, but when I told him that’s not how its done in Boston, he said he’d allow for my greater knowledge in these things. We will have the most splendid affair. I want white horses to pull the carriage to the chapel and pink roses on every pew and candles, millions of candles.” Suzanna detailed her plans for the grandest wedding to ever hit Boston, and Mary wilted at the idea of arranging everything.
Suzanna’s idea of organizing a special occasion was to state what she wanted and then just expect it to be there when she showed up. And in all the happy plans the groom never figured as more than a shadowy prop. Was her sister marrying because it would be the biggest celebration to hit Boston in a dozen years and as the bride she would be the center of it all? Finally, Mary was able to get a word in edgewise. “What does Mr. Cooper think of all your plans?” “I told you, he is letting me plan everything with the wedding.” Great. No help from that quarter then. Mary left Suzanna with the dressmaker, but as she was halfway up the stairs to change out of her traveling outfit a knock sounded on the door. She descended and pulled open the door and found herself face to face with a stranger. An absolutely gorgeous stranger.
His tall hat in held one hand, with his other hand he pushed back a wavy strand of long dark hair that had blown into his face. He smiled slowly with deep dimples that stopped her breathing. She stood there awestruck. This was the kind of man who made a woman remember she was a woman, and his eyes were so blue she could drown in them. “Is Miss Hamilton at home?” he asked. “I am Miss Hamilton.” “I guess I meant the other Miss Hamilton,” he said with just a hint of sheepishness. Oh no! She was drooling over her sister’s fiancé.