Limerick, Ireland 1867
Cara picked up the silver mirror and twisted it in her hands, feeling the designs carved into the metal pressing her fingers. She had always loved this mirror. It had been her grandmother’s before it was her mother’s, and her great grandmother’s before that. Cara didn’t know how many generations this mirror had been in her family.
She peered into the mirror to find her piercing blue eyes, full of sadness and worry, staring back at her. It was such a silly thing to be upset over. After all, it was just a mirror. Still, Cara couldn’t help but wish she could bring the mirror with her.
Well, I could, she thought to herself. It’s not very large. For a moment, Cara had an overwhelming urge to stuff the mirror into her single suitcase, but resisted. The mirror may not have been large, but it was heavy. Bringing the mirror would be impractical, and there was no room for sentimentality.
She placed the mirror down, swallowing the lump in her throat. “Alright, everyone,” she called out. “We’ve got to be leaving shortly.”
When Cara turned around, she was surprised to see her younger sister watching her from the doorway, and smiled. “I take it you’re ready to go, Saoirse?”
“I have been since last night.” Saoirse walked over and wrapped her arms around Cara’s waist. At sixteen, she was only a few years younger than Cara, but her small stature made it seem like there were more years between them.
Cara kissed Saoirse on the top of her head, the mousey, untamed curls tickling her nose. “I knew I could count on you.”
“Mam’s a mess,” Saoirse said, pulling away, and Cara could hear the same sadness she felt mirrored in her sister’s voice. “She doesn’t want to leave.”
“I know,” Cara said softly, “But we don’t have a choice.”
Cara and Saoirse made their way out of the small bedroom they had shared since childhood, each carrying a single small suitcase in their hands.
“It’s alright, Mam,” Cara could hear her brother comforting her mother, and the sight filled her with both sadness and gratitude. At eight years old, Conor was already kinder than most adults, but Cara could see how lost he felt as he patted his mother’s hand, tears streaming down her face.
“Is your bag packed, Conor?” Conor nodded up at his sister. “Why don’t you go help your brother with his? Go on, now.” Conor got up and walked to the small room he shared with Liam, while Cara assumed his spot next to their mother. “It’s time to go,” Cara said gently. “The wagon to Dublin leaves in ten minutes. We can’t afford to miss it.”
“What if we’re making a mistake, Cara?” Cara saw the begging in her mother’s eyes. “Maybe he’ll come back.”
Cara shook her head. “Pa’s gone, mam. It’s been months. If he was still here, he’d let us know.” Cara lifted her mother’s chin with her fingers. “We’ll start a new life in America, mam. One where we’re free from this suffering.”
Cara’s mother met her eyes, and Cara had the eerie feeling that she was looking at a warped mirror, her own delicate features staring back at her, only faded with time.
Cara felt her mother reach her hand up to stroke Cara’s smooth cheek and nodded. “Alright,” she said, her voice quivering. “I’m ready.”
The family rushed to the wagon waiting for them, the money for the ride already carefully counted, and was resting alongside the tickets for the boat that would lead them out of Ireland and into their new lives.
Once the family was situated, Liam resting on his mother’s lap, Cara climbed in, tucking a soft, red curl behind her ear. As the wagon began to pull away, she took one final glance at the home she grew up in, certain that she’d never see it again. She felt a pang in her stomach.
As she left her childhood home, she couldn’t help but feel that she was abandoning any hope that they’d ever see her father again. Despite what she told her mother, Cara privately wondered if he’d show up, years from now, looking for his family, without a prayer of finding them.
She shook her head, as if to clear the thought away. Pa was gone. He never would never have chosen to stay away from them, if he could help it. There was nothing left for them here, and even if there was, they were out of money. It was only through good luck and the generosity of their community that they could afford to leave at all.
The wagon ride to the port in Dublin took nearly two hours, but it felt like it was over in an instant. Suddenly, Cara stood in front of the enormous boat, holding onto Conor’s hand while her mother carried Liam through the crowds, and Saoirse tagged behind. They fought their way through the passengers and their families who had come to see them off until they found themselves at the back of the line to board. There would be nobody in the crowd waiting for them.
As they boarded the boat, Cara couldn’t help but smile at the wonder that filled Liam and Conor’s eyes as they took in their surroundings. For a five- and eight-year-old who had hardly left the countryside, this was like something from one of the stories Pa would tell them as children before tucking them into bed.
Cara led the family, checking their tickets to make sure they found the right room, careful that they weren’t split up in the crowd. Cara worried that, if she lost sight of somebody for even a moment, she’d never see them again.
Finally, she spotted the numbers, 423, and walked inside. There were six bunks lined up on either wall. As Cara checked the numbers listed on them, wanting to make sure they were claiming the right beds, she saw Saoirse wave shyly at the young parents and their infant, sitting in one of the bunks furthest from the door.
“You’ll be here Conor,” Cara indicated to one of the lower bunks. “And Liam, you’ll be here. Mam, you take the other lower bunk.”
“But Cara,” Conor whined, “I wanted to sleep on top.”
Cara shot Conor a sharp look, and he immediately quieted, his face still pouting. “You’ll sleep on the bottom. Boats rock with the waves, you know. Even ones as big as this. You’ll be safest on the lower bed.”
As each of them placed their suitcase by their beds, Saoirse and Cara taking the top bunks, another family with three young children entered, occupying the rest of the beds in the room.
It would be a crowded journey, Cara thought, as she heard the horn on the boat blaring and the engine turn on, but it was the best they could do. For months they saved every penny they had, her and mam barely eating at times, just so that they could go to America. And even then, without the kindness of their neighbors, it would’ve been another month at least before they could afford passage.
The boat continued rocking, and Cara laid in her bed. Even though it wasn’t yet dark outside, the windowless room relaxed her. For the first time since her father disappeared, she had a plan for her family.
A plan that was full of possibilities for the future.
New York, NY 1867
“Please, mom, just one more sip.” Nathan held the spoon as steady as possible, begging his mother to eat the broth on it.
She sat up weakly, her face pale, and slurped the soup slowly, before slumping down again. Try as he might to deny it, Nathan noticed how much effort it took for her to sit up, even for a moment. He placed the bowl down, barely touched, despite his efforts, and stroked his mother’s face.
“It’s alright, mom. That was good. Very good.”
“Thank you dear. I’m going to rest my eyes. Is that alright? Just for a minute.” Even though she was gravely ill, as she had been for months, her concern for him was evident in her eyes.
“Of course, mom.” Nathan smiled in a way he hoped would be comforting, and his mother smiled back, closing her eyes and drifting into an uneasy sleep. Nathan waited a moment, still holding her hand before rising to his feet, taking the bowl of broth and the empty vial from his mother’s medicine with him.
Walking into the small kitchen, without even a wall to separate it from the bedroom, Nathan slurped down the rest of the broth, wiping his stubbled chin as he finished it. He wished his mother would’ve eaten it. She needed the strength, but he was selfishly glad that he’d have something to eat that day. It was hard enough to scrape together the money for his mother’s medicine, which seemed to grow more expensive with each passing day. An abundance of food was not a luxury they could afford.
Nathan disposed of the vial of medicine and looked at the cabinet, already knowing what he’d find, but hoping he’d be wrong. One vial stared back at him. Just one.
He opened a tin can where he kept the money he earned, working any job that paid quickly, and counted the bills. He was still short, quite a bit short, in fact, to buy the next week’s supply.
Replacing the money, Nathan leaned over the sink, rubbing his eyes. He worked every waking moment he could, and every moment he wasn’t working. He was rushing to buy his mother’s medicine, or sitting by her bedside, trying his best to take care of her. And even then, it was barely enough.
Nathan stood up. He didn’t have time to waste on worrying, or feeling sorry for himself. He grabbed his jacket, brushed back his unkempt, light brown hair, and stole one more glance at his mother before walking out of the door.
The moment his feet hit the cobbled street, he felt his spirit start to rise. He may not have the answers, but it felt good to be doing something. Taking action, as inefficient as it may be, made him feel like he was working towards something.
“Nathan!” A familiar, nasal voice called out to him and Nathan slowed his pace, allowing Daniel to catch up. “Are you going to the docks tonight?”
“I sure am.”
Daniel let out a long, low whistle.
“What?” Nathan said. Although he had been friends with Daniel since childhood, he found himself growing more and more frustrated with him lately. Then again, as his mother got sicker, Nathan found that his fuse was increasingly short.
“It’s hard work, that’s all. Bringing the boats in, carrying in the fish. And don’t get me started on the smell!”
“Yeah, well, I don’t do it for the smell. I do it for the money.”
“Hey, I get it. I used to work the docks, too.” Nathan could tell that Daniel was getting at something, but he didn’t want to take the bait.
“We used to do a lot of jobs together,” Nathan responded. “We still could. I could talk to the guys, get you back in the rotation on the docks. We do other things, too. Deliveries around the city. Not just food, either. Fabrics and threads to seamstresses, equipment to different factories. All of that.”
Daniel waved his hand. “I’m not interested in that. So much time working, and hardly any money,” Daniel shook his head. “Besides, we can’t all be as strong as you!” Daniel slapped Nathan’s broad shoulders, as if illustrating his point. “There’s an easier way.”
Nathan felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “You don’t think I know that? Don’t forget who used to do those jobs with you,” Nathan thought back to their childhood, when his father recruited them to help transport stolen goods to sell, even convincing them to break into doctor’s offices to steal medicine that could be sold on the black market.
“Nobody would suspect a kid,” his dad used to say. And he was right. But when his father disappeared, abandoning him with a sick mother, Nathan found it easy to turn his back on the crime that occurred at a young age. He always thought Daniel would leave too.
“No need to get all bothered,” Daniel put his hands up defensively, but his eyes were still glowing. “I’m just saying, if you ever get tired of scraping by, you know where to find me. Brad’s kid would be welcomed with open arms.”
Nathan tried not to flinch at the mention of his dad’s name as Daniel waved and departed down a dark alleyway.
The docks were dark when Daniel arrived, the first fishing boat just pulling in, the lights from several more coming through the bay. It would be a long night, but the thought didn’t scare Daniel. In fact, he was depending on it.
By the time the sun came up in the sky and the last fishing boat had been hosed down and sent back to shore, Nathan’s back was aching, his hands raw and bleeding.
“Oy! Nathan!” The manager at the shipping dock waved him over, and Nathan quickly responded, assuming he was about to receive his pay for the night. “Before you rush off to your next job, do me a favor, huh? This crate here needs to go down to the market, and it can’t wait for the wagons to pick it up. Carry it down there for me now, alright?”
Nathan looked at the crate. It would be at least 40 lbs., maybe heavier. He paused. He didn’t want to lose favor with the dock manager by saying no.
The manager sensed his hesitation. “Well, no need to get all quiet. I’m not asking you to do it for free.” The manager took a roll of cash out of his pocket and counted out Nathan’s pay for the evening, adding in an extra $10. Nathan’s eyes widened as the manager slapped the money into Nathan’s hand. “Hurry along now, this is a rush job.”
Nathan nodded. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” he picked up the crate, and, despite the weight of it, rushed off as quickly as he could. The extra money meant he’d be able to buy more medicine today as soon as he was done delivering the seafood.
Nathan weaved through the city, just starting to get crowded as the sun rose higher in the sky. In less than an hour, he had dropped the crate off, and could hardly believe his luck when the man working the stall gave him an extra dollar for his troubles.
He raced home, entering the small apartment as quietly as possible. His mother was still sleeping soundly, and much more peacefully, than when he left her the evening before.
He picked up a towel, dipping it into a basin of water, wiping away the dried blood where his hands had cracked and the grime of the docks.
After his hands were dry, he carefully took the money out of his pocket and added it to his coffee tin stack. He counted the money twice. He had enough for at least a week’s supply of the medicine, as long as the prices hadn’t changed. That was the problem with the black-market sales; you could never count on the price.
Nathan counted the money again, leaving a few dollars behind, in case they needed it to buy food or other medical supplies. He stole one last glance at his mother before rushing out the door. He needed to hurry if he was going to purchase the medicine and bring it back before his next job.
In an hour, he’d need to arrive at the seamstress shop to get a list of fabrics and threads to pick up from the factory. He’d stop at several more shops on his way to the factory, so timing was important. Besides, he couldn’t risk losing the job. Even though they paid him weekly, and not every day, it was good pay, with consistent work. He relied on it too much.
When Nathan arrived at the street corner where Andrew, the boy who sold medicine, worked, he was out of breath and sweating, despite the early morning chill.
“Back again?” Andrew said, his voice sly. He was only seventeen years old. Five years younger than Nathan, but he had a pompous air about him. Nathan assumed it came from years working with his family to steal and sell medicine, gouging the poor for items they couldn’t live without. Nathan had nothing but contempt for Andrew, but there was nothing he could do about it. He needed him.
“Yes. I need the medicine. For my mother,” Andrew held out his hand for the money, a sly smile on his face. Nathan slapped it into his hand, watching as Andrew counted it and put it in his pocket. Andrew turned around and counted out vials before handing them back to Nathan.
“What are you on about?” Nathan tried to keep his voice calm. This was a mistake. “There are only four vials here. I paid you enough for seven, at least.”
“That was before,” Andrew’s voice mocked concern. “Price has gone up. It’s harder to get a hold of these medicines than before. I told you; you should’ve bought more when it was cheaper.”
Nathan felt his ears burning. Andrew had said that. He remembered quite distinctly the last time he purchased medicine, being warned that he should get more. As if he could afford to. If he was able, he would purchase enough for several weeks, months even, just to avoid seeing Andrew’s face so often.
“No,” Nathan shook his head. “You need to give me a week’s worth. I paid for a week.”
“You paid for four days. That’s the cost of four doses now.” Andrew’s face took on a mocking smile to go with his tone. “Of course, if that’s not to your liking, I’ll be happy to take them back and give you your money. You can go elsewhere.”
Nathan’s eyes narrowed. Andrew had him, and he knew it. There was nowhere else for Nathan to go, and nobody else sold the medicine he needed; at least not that he was aware of. He had no choice.
Nathan took a deep breath and turned around before he could say or do something stupid.
He ran back to the apartment at full speed, dodging early morning commuters on their way to work and well-dressed ladies walking down to the shops. The interaction with Andrew had taken longer than he expected.
When he arrived back at the apartment, his mother was just starting to stir, but Nathan didn’t have the time to check on her. He put the medicine in the cabinet, just four days’ worth, and bolted out the door again.
He’d need to get more medicine again in five days. Would he really be able to scrape the money together quickly enough? He’d barely been able to get it this time, and he thought that he’d be securing a week of medicine.
As Nathan arrived at the first seamstress’s shop, he tried to put on a happy face, but could tell that the kind, older woman who ran it was concerned.
He couldn’t blame her. He was concerned, too. How could he possibly help his mother if he couldn’t even get her medicine?
Castle Garden, New York, NY 1867
“O’Sullivan!” The immigration agent shouted the name, and Cara felt Saoirse slump against her again. Cara adjusted her feet, repositioning Liam, careful not to wake him up as he slept with his head over her shoulder, cradled in her arms.
They’d been waiting for hours for their name to be called, the crowd thinning around them. Not for long, Cara thought. She could see another boat in the distance. In no more than an hour, a whole new set of passengers would be joining them in this room, waiting to finally step foot in America.
The voyage across the Atlantic was a long and uncomfortable one. The baby in their room cried incessantly, although Cara could barely blame him. Her entire family was sea sick more often than not, and it wasn’t long before the crowded room smelled rancid, making her stomach turn even more. There was food, but it was hardly enough for any of them to eat. Cara found herself eating less and less, adding bits of her portions to her younger siblings’ plates. By the end of the trip, she was noticeably thinner, and could feel the way her bones dug into the mattress, making sleeping on the rocking ship even more comfortable.
She’d never been so relieved to see solid ground. But then, once they finally arrived, they were stuck in a throng again, waiting to be allowed through.
“Walsh!” Cara moved so suddenly, Liam woke up and whimpered slightly. The journey had been hard on him, too, and he’d become more attached to her than before, hardly willing to be out of Cara’s sight.
“Come, now,” Cara whispered, setting him down. “It’s our turn. Hold Saoirse’s hand.” Liam began to pout, but listened, walking closely behind Cara and pulling on the edge of her dress.
“Hello? We are the Walsh family,” Cara was suddenly aware of how different her voice sounded compared to the immigration officer. Her Irish affectation coming through clearly.
“Yes, papers?” Cara handed a slip for each of them to the official. “Alright, who is Aisling?”
Cara’s mother raised her hand timidly, and the officer stamped the paper, making a note in his own booklet.
“Conor?” Conor raised his hand, and the officer did the same, continuing until each of their names had been called.
The officer handed the papers back to Cara and motioned for them to move forward. Cara was half expecting to be led into another room where they’d wait in yet another line, but was surprised to find the sun shining into her eyes the moment she stepped out of the door. It was the most sunlight she’d seen in months.
“Who are we looking for?” Cara asked her mother.
“A pastor, Fiona sent him.” Her mother said, referring to a good friend of hers from their village who had made her way to America several years before. “He welcomed her family here when they arrived two years ago, and she assured me he’d do the same for us.”
“What does he look like?” Cara looked at the crowded streets, filled with wagons. It was hard to make out anybody.
“I’m not sure. She said he’s got white hair, and is shorter than you or I, but taller than Saoirse.” Aisling’s voice trailed off as she looked around, as if she would be able to spot the man. Cara felt herself fighting to stay calm. Would this day ever end?
“Excuse me? Walsh family?” A man’s voice with a very slight Irish accent approached them, and Cara turned around to find an older man with white hair, just shorter than her.
“Yes, we are the Walsh family.”
The pastor smiled, and immediately the gesture put Cara at ease. He had a comforting, friendly nature that she needed. “I had a feeling. You all look exactly as Fiona described.” The pastor turned his attention to the boys. “Although, you two are certainly bigger than she remembered!” The boys looked pleased with this, and it made Cara smile.
“And you must be Sir-shuh,” the Pastor said slowly, clearly taking great care to pronounce Saoirse’s name correctly and tipped his head slightly. “And Mrs. Walsh,” he took her hand, shaking it lightly. “And you,” the pastor turned to Cara, “must be Cara. Fiona warned me. She said, ‘Cara was the most beautiful girl in all of Ireland,’ but I must admit, I didn’t believe her. Until now, of course!” Cara smiled. If she wasn’t so tired, she would’ve blushed at the compliment, despite how often she heard it at home. My old home, she thought, and a pang went through her heart again.
“Well, you all must be tired and hungry, I’m sure. No use waiting around. Let’s find the wagon.”
The pastor led them to a small wagon tied to a single horse, and they climbed in clumsily, Cara sitting at the back once again.
As the wagon left the dock and began down the streets of New York City, Cara tried to take it all in. There were more people here than she’d seen in her entire life, even more than on the crowded ship. There were wealthy women in intricate dresses walking down the streets, passing by women in tattered, ill-fitting garments that clearly weren’t intended for them. There were fancy men in top hats, and sweaty workers, carrying large boxes, shirts sagging off their shoulders.
There was every kind of person imaginable—rich, poor, tall, short, dark hair and tanned, and blonde with freckles. Cara had never seen anything like it before, and she wasn’t sure if she should be excited or skeptical.
Cara didn’t know what to expect of New York when they first decided to make their way to America, but it certainly wasn’t this. Still, as the wagon moved through the crowded streets, she couldn’t help but feel as though the world had suddenly opened wide with possibilities.
“Destiny’s Dangerous Crossroads” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Cara’s world shatters when her father inexplicably vanishes, forcing her family to flee the shores of Ireland. In New York City, their dreams go sour as they face a harsh reality, and a shortage of funds. Yet, amidst the depths of despair, a flicker of hope ignites within Cara’s heart as she finds solace in the radiant presence of Nathan. However, when an opportunity to journey westward beckons, promising an escape from the hardships of the city, Cara’s family seizes it without hesitation…
Will their escape lead to the freedom they seek, or plunge them into an even more treacherous web of uncertainty?
Nathan, weathered by a life of poverty and shackled by the clutches of a criminal world, carries the heavy burden of his past. Still, deep within him stirs an unquenchable yearning for a different destiny. With courage as his compass, he sets forth on a path away from the city’s shadows. However, an unexpected encounter with Cara thrusts his carefully laid plans into disarray. In his quest for redemption, Nathan risks everything to protect the woman who holds the key to rewriting his story in a world teeming with danger and uncertainty.
Can he summon the strength to reshape his future, erasing the painful echoes of his past with the aid of Cara’s unwavering love and support?
As Nathan grapples with the remorse of the man he once was, and Cara fights with unyielding determination to shield her family from harm’s reach, the hands of fate intertwine their destinies once more. Amidst the vast expanse of danger, can Nathan rise as the valiant guardian, shielding Cara from the lurking perils that lie in wait?
“Destiny’s Dangerous Crossroads” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 50,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.