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Authors: Ann Collins

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Romance, #Victorian, #Historical Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #United States, #Historical Romance

A Matter of Marriage

BOOK: A Matter of Marriage
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A
Matter
of Marriage

 

 

ANN COLLINS

 

 

Compass Point Press
 

 

This book is a work of
fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue have come from the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is
coincidental.

 

A MATTER OF MARRIAGE.
Copyright © 2013 by Ann Collins. All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may
be used or reproduced without written permission from the author except in the
case of brief quotations for reviews. Copying and distributing this book without
the author’s permission is an infringement of the author’s copyright.

 

For permissions and
information, email Compass Point Press at
[email protected]
or go to
Compass Point Press
.

 

ISBN: 978-0-9636558-1-3

 

Cover design by Ann
Collins.

Body of woman photo ©
Oleksandr Shevchenko - Dreamstime.com

Woman’s head ©
coloroftime - istockphoto

All other photos © Ann
Collins

Tall ship
Californian
,
Maritime Museum of San Diego

 

 

This book is dedicated to all the people
who have cared for and kept alive historic sites across the United States,
including the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California.

 

Acknowledgments

 

Writing fiction is not an easy or
solitary process for me. Alex and Julia’s story has been a long time coming,
and many people have helped me along the way with my historical research and
storytelling. They know who they are, and I am grateful to all of them. Special
thanks go to Janet Wellington and Cheryl Howe for their insights.

 

 

Historic
American Buildings Survey Sketch by E. S. Moore, Crocker and Company,
Lithographers 1888 LITHOGRAPH OF CORONADO. Repository: Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Prologue

 

San Diego
, California

November 1897

 

Julia
Fairbanks swallowed hard and buried her hands in the folds of her black
mourning skirt. What wasn’t Mr. Byrnes telling her?

The
lawyer sat across from her, behind his expansive oak desk. As he continued
avoiding her gaze, a sheen of perspiration broke out over his balding head. He
nudged his spectacles higher on his ruddy nose.

Julia’s
heart thudded. As her father’s only living child and heir, she had expected the
reading of his will to be nothing more than a formality, something to endure
while she coped with her grief. But this meeting was not going as expected.

“What
are you keeping from me, Mr. Byrnes?”

He
patted his folded handkerchief against his head. Outside the office window, a
wagon clattered by on the San Diego street.

“Nothing,
Miss Fairbanks. I suspect you already know your father updated his will last
year, after the death of your stepmother.”

Julia
drew a quivery breath and tried not to think about her stepmother’s passing.
Harriet had suffered for months, wasting away. After she passed, an emptiness
had spread through Julia, almost as vast as the desolation she had felt when
she lost her mother years earlier. Now, her father was gone, too.

“No,”
she managed to say. “I did not know.” She also didn’t know why her father would
have changed his will. Or what the changes would have been.

“Oh,
well, not that it matters, I suppose.” He shuffled through several loose
papers. “Let me just say again how sorry I am for the loss of your father. I
know it must have been a shock, his heart suddenly giving out like that.”

“Yes,
it was,” she whispered. He had seemed so robust. One minute he was demanding
she leave hotel matters to him, and the next, he had dropped to the lobby
floor, never to move again.

Julia
blinked at the scalding tears in her eyes. Would her father still be alive if
she hadn’t been so determined to help him run the hotel?

Mr.
Byrnes cleared his throat. “Uh, why don’t I just get to it. The final wishes of
Lloyd Alwin Fairbanks are as follows.” He started reading, outlining what would
happen to the four-hundred-room Hotel Grand Victoria—her home.

She
tried to listen, but her mind drifted back in time to her happiest memories. As
a fifteen-year-old girl, Julia had watched the resort hotel grow from a sandy
patch of scrub-covered land on Coronado Island to a fairy-tale castle of
red-roofed turrets and towers.

The
interior had been her mother’s domain. Lillian Fairbanks’ tasteful touch was
everywhere, from the framed hunting pictures in the Men’s Smoking Room to the
silk draperies in the Ladies’ Billiard Room. Julia always felt pride in the final
choices because she had helped make them. She and her mother had spent
countless cherished hours together as they looked over sample fabrics and
wallpapers.

“We
will be sharing our home with the world, sweetheart,” her mother had said, “and
we want it to look its best.” Two years later, having become pregnant against
doctor’s orders, her mother had died the day after giving birth. She had never
stopped trying to give her husband what he wanted most—a son. She had
disappointed him again, though, her final effort having produced another girl.
Lloyd Fairbanks had shown no interest in his newest child, and little regret
when she passed.

As
the lawyer droned on, Julia struggled to subdue a sob. Despite having lost her
entire family, she told herself she wasn’t truly alone. She still had the Hotel
Grand Victoria.

“Did
you hear me, Miss Fairbanks?”

She
glanced up to find Mr. Byrnes finally looking her in the eye. “I’m sorry. What
were you saying?”

He
pursed his lips and laid the papers on the blotter. “I will speak as plainly as
I can. Despite your being his only surviving family, your father placed a
condition on your inheritance. In order to obtain legal ownership of the Hotel
Grand Victoria, you must marry within the next six months. Five months and
twenty-eight days, to be precise.”

She
stared at him. A highly inappropriate and unexpected laugh bubbled up her
throat. She tamped it down. “Excuse me?”

He
sniffed. “I believe I was clear. You must wed in order to inherit the hotel.”

His
serious manner and words penetrated her disbelief. “Mr. Byrnes, there is
obviously a mistake. I have no wish to marry. My father knew that.” As a girl,
she had dreamed of marriage, dreamed of being loved and having a family, but after
witnessing the heart-wrenching, harsh realities of childbearing, losing her
mother first and then her baby sister, Julia had grown up. She had also
realized how much power the husband wielded in the marriage relationship. She
preferred to hold the reins of her own life.

“Yes,
he did know,” Mr. Byrnes said. “Hence, the stipulation. Due to his wives’
failure to provide him with a male heir, he has bequeathed that duty to you.
There is no mistake.”

“But—”
She jumped up from the cowhide chair. “No! This is wrong. How could he do this?”
And yet, Julia knew it was just like him. Even dead, Lloyd Fairbanks was brandishing
his power like a king lording it over his subjects. He intended to use her,
just as he had used her mother and stepmother in his quest for a male heir who
would one day rule the Hotel Grand Victoria in his place.

Mr.
Byrnes tucked his head into his shoulders, having the grace to look abashed. He
said nothing though.

“What
happens if I don’t comply with the stipulation?”

“The
hotel will be sold at auction. The proceeds will pay off the mortgage, and the
remaining money will be placed in a trust fund for any male offspring you may
eventually produce.”

She
whirled away from the desk. A hollowness opened inside her, painful enough that
Julia gasped for air. To Lloyd Fairbanks, she was a means to an end. Nothing
more. As hard as she had tried to earn her father’s approval, she had never
been good enough for him. He hadn’t wanted a daughter, even one who had learned
everything she could about running a world-class hotel. What a fool she’d been!
As big a fool as her mother had been to keep trying to give him a son.

“Miss
Fairbanks, please calm yourself and sit down.”

“I
don’t want to sit.” She could not let her father’s final maneuver pin her in
place. Why had she never let herself see the truth that had always been in front
of her?

She
sighed, knowing the answer. He was her father, and she loved him no matter what.

“I
know this is difficult for you,” Mr. Byrnes said. “To be honest, I don’t
approve of your father’s methods, but he was my client and I had to do as he
wished. If you don’t marry within the specified period, you will be left
penniless and homeless.”

And
the Hotel Grand Victoria would be left to the whims of a new owner, someone who
cared more for profits than the constant care the enormous wooden structure
needed. And what about the employees? Many of them had shown her father nothing
but loyalty since the hotel’s opening nine years ago. A new owner might dismiss
them, bringing in different staff. Julia had to stop this, but how?

She
paced in front of the window, ignoring the buggies and people passing outside.
No one cared more for the Hotel Grand Victoria than she, but her father had
dismissed her feelings until now, when they suited his purposes. She imagined
him laughing, utterly pleased with himself for having the last word,
manipulating her from his grave in order to get a grandson. Her shoulders
sagged with her disappointment in her father. He knew she could never bear to
leave the hotel. He also knew that her greatest fear was to lose a child.

Julia
felt herself caught up in a breaking wave, the ocean’s power tumbling her in
the foam and depriving her of air. She desperately needed to find the sandy
bottom and spring to the surface, saving herself. “I’ll contest the will.”

Mr.
Byrnes sighed as she kept pacing. “I am sorry. At your father’s explicit
request, I made sure there were no loopholes. Any attempt to circumvent his
will would only be a waste of precious time. Miss Fairbanks, you need to begin
your search for a husband immediately.”

A
husband she didn’t love and who didn’t love her. A man who would have charge of
her and the Hotel Grand Victoria. He would have the right to consummate their
marriage.

Julia
shuddered. Marriage meant pregnancy and all its inherent risks. Coming to a
stop, she stared at her reflection in the window. Under the brim of her black
hat, a lock of her ash-blond hair had come loose. She let it be, looking beyond
herself to the scene outside. A young woman pushing a baby carriage strolled
by. Tiny feet peeked out, batting aside a blanket. The woman smiled and
stopped. Leaning down, she tucked the blanket back into place.

Julia
felt her stomach twist as her buried dream of having a child of her own rose
from deep inside her, but then she remembered the pain of losing Lily, her baby
sister. Her fears crowded back in, along with thoughts of her father’s scheme.

As
the woman and baby continued along the street, an idea struck Julia, a possible
way out of her predicament.

She
pushed the stray lock of hair behind her ear and stepped back from the window. “Mr.
Byrnes, did my father’s will say anything about the marriage being consummated?”

“Not
specifically, just that you must marry within the next six months.”

“So
nothing about me producing an heir?”

“Well,
no.”

Her
father had not been as smart as he thought. He assumed that once she married,
the children would come. But what if she married a man who conveniently
abandoned her after the ceremony? She would have satisfied the will’s
stipulation, and the Hotel Grand Victoria would be hers. No one could ever take
it from her, and she would never have to worry about losing a child because she
would never have one.

Mr.
Byrnes picked up his fountain pen. “Miss Fairbanks, I know this is a lot to
take in, but there are several other matters that need our attention. First and
foremost, a manager must be hired to take your father’s place.”

“That
won’t be necessary, Mr. Byrnes. I will be taking over as manager.”

His
jaw dropped. “But women don’t operate businesses the size of the Hotel Grand
Victoria.”

She
fought an urge to roll her eyes. Mr. Byrnes was no different than every other
man who believed women incapable of doing more than keeping house. Well, her
house just happened to be a lot larger than the average home. “Then I shall be
the first. I love the Hotel Grand Victoria, and I will care for it with
everything that is in me.”

Mr.
Byrnes removed his spectacles and rubbed his fingers against his temples. “This
is not what your father had in mind when he made you his beneficiary.”

“I
am sure it wasn’t. Is there any stipulation prohibiting me from being manager?”

“No.
There is, however, a matter of marriage to settle.”

“Rest
assured, Mr. Byrnes, before the seventh of next May, my name will no longer be Fairbanks.” She ignored the dissenting voice in her heart that urged her to think hard
about what she would be giving up. If she followed through on her plan, she would
never be able to marry for love.

BOOK: A Matter of Marriage
7.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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