It was a warm day for Chicago with the sun shining brightly upon it, the kind of weather that inspired picnics and impromptu outings city-wide. People strolled arm and arm through the streets, calling happily out to one another as many of the working class in the city got off work precisely at the stroke of three.
Elsie Jameson didn’t notice any of this, of course. She had taken advantage of the weather much earlier in the day, grabbing the new novel she was so invested in and wandering outside for what she had assured her mother would just be an hour or two. That had been before noon, though, and despite all of her promises, she was still nose-deep in the book she had been reading, curled up on the garden bench at the end of the walkway with her book raised nearly to her chin as she devoured the page in front of her.
The heroine was in the middle of a daring dash across town, off to save the hero, and Elsie couldn’t help but imagine herself in such a scenario, as often happened when she enjoyed such a book.
Elsie knew it was the first thing Rose Beuregard and Madeline Maine saw when they walked up to the house, the two girls sharing a knowing look after catching sight of the brunette curled up with her book. After all, it was hardly an unfamiliar sight.
Rose was the first to roll her eyes, her lips lifted in a smile despite such, clearing her throat pointedly as the two other girls came to a stop in front of Elsie. Elsie didn’t seem to notice either their shadows on her or the sound of her friend clearing her throat.
“Elsie, really,” Madeline complained, throwing herself down on the bench next to Elsie with a huff of indignation. “What if we had been untoward fellows of some sort come to hassle you? Are you telling me you can’t pry yourself away from your reading for two seconds to notice your surroundings?”
Elsie jumped at the first sound of her name, pulling her book to her chest and looking at the two other girls with wide blue eyes as she blinked owlishly at them. “I- what?” she stammered, seeming to take a second to really take in her surroundings. “I’m sorry, Madeline, I didn’t hear either of you.”
Rose laughed, sitting gracefully down on Madeline’s other side and folding her skirts primly about her knees. “That’s because neither one of us said anything,” she reassured Elsie, jabbing her elbow lightly into Madeline’s arm.
“You cleared your throat!” Madeline disagreed, clearly the more outspoken of the two.
Elsie only smiled at her friends, carefully bookmarking her page and finally shutting the book with one last wistful look at the page she had been on. “I was just in the middle of a good part,” she tried explaining, hefting the book as if that alone spoke for her.
“You’re always in the middle of a good part,” Madeline complained, though she was smiling to herself by that point.
“Well, that’s the point of reading, isn’t it?” Elsie countered. “If it wasn’t good, it wouldn’t be worth it.”
“You missed Talia Mayburry’s tea party,” Rose pointed out gently, her lips twitching as Elsie looked around her in surprise.
It was a surprise to Elsie, who hadn’t thought she had been outside long enough for her to have missed the time. Looking up at the sky though she could see how many hours had gotten away from her, her smile turned into a slight frown.
“Well, I hadn’t meant to do that,” Elsie murmured, disappointment welling within her for only an instant before her frown was replaced by a smile. “I’ll make it up to Talia, though. I’ll send her something nice and drop by tomorrow.”
Elsie was notorious for loving tea parties. However, it was obvious which came first between that and her love of reading.
Rose and Madeline shared another knowing look, Madeline shaking her head as Rose smiled in bemusement.
“Elsie, John Horton was hoping to see you today, remember? I told you….” Madeline trailed off self-importantly, skewering her friend with an even more pointed gaze.
“Oh, John can see me any day,” Elsie dismissed with a wave of her hand, readjusting on the bench she had been curled up on so that she could better face her two friends.
“He wanted to do more than see you,” Rose giggled. “He wanted to see you,” she stressed while even Madeline laughed along with her.
“Really, Elsie, he’s such a good prospect. I really don’t see why you won’t give him a chance,” Madeline pressed, honest curiosity burning in her brown gaze.
“He’s barely five foot seven, he looks like someone’s leftover dishwater, and his personality is equally as enticing,” Elsie fired back, sparing no expense for the dull boy’s feelings. She could have, very probably, forgiven him for being boring. John also had the unfortunate characteristic of being overly condescending, though, on top of being rather rude to his serving staff publicly. Neither of those offenses endeared him enough for Elsie to forgive him.
Rose burst into giggles almost immediately. Madeline, however, looked almost offended, sighing as she sank back into the bench and shook her head again. She was so easily exasperated by Elsie’s straightforward nature. “This is what comes of all of these books that you read,” she muttered, pointing accusingly at the book resting in Elsie’s lap. “You expect prince charming to ride up on some golden chariot, and that just isn’t how life works.”
Rose’s giggles dried up, her nose scrunching slightly. Like Elsie, she, too, was a romantic. But then, Madeline had always been the more practical of their friend group. “Prince Charming rides a white horse,” she pointed out, her voice soft.
Elsie’s laughter burst from her at the correction, her blue eyes sparkling as she looked back at an even more exasperated Madeline. “Rose is right, you know,” she breathed out through her laughter. “And anyway, it isn’t unrealistic to set expectations.”
“It is when you set them as high as you do,” Madeline sighed.
She was saved from whatever retort Elsie had ready by the arrival of a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman coming up the walkway the same way the two girls had only a handful of minutes before.
He had graying, brown hair and intelligent gray eyes all set above a twitching auburn mustache that hugged lips all too ready to smile. And smile he did as he approached, sweeping his hat off his head and nodding to the three girls on the bench.
“I should have known I’d find you three together after your tea party this afternoon,” Mr. Jameson teased, stopping in front of them and adjusting the briefcase he carried to fit it under one arm.
“A tea party only two of us attended,” Madeline pointed out, looking over at Elsie even as Mr. Jameson followed her gaze.
His smile grew more fond, his mustache twitching further as one eyebrow rose marginally higher than the other. “Time get away with you again?” he teased. “Does your mother know yet, or are we trying to hide this from her?”
Elsie chuckled, holding her book up enough to indicate what had really happened. “Oh, Papa, please, like you ever hide anything from Mama,” she sighed. “I don’t suppose she knows whether I went or not… She might have assumed that I left earlier….”
“How long have you been out here reading?” Rose exclaimed, looking at the book in surprise.
Elsie thought that the bookmark being as near the novel’s end as it was was self-explanatory, but she only shrugged with a sheepish smile. She couldn’t rightly give any of them an accurate time frame.
“I’m sure you’ll make it up to Miss Mayburry,” Mr. Jameson dismissed, holding his arm out for his daughter to take as she stood up from the bench. He was echoing her sentiment to her friends from before, something that both of the other girls laughed about.
Mr. Jameson was nothing if not pragmatic. Like Elsie, he was also well thought of, which ensured that such a statement was even possible for them. They were fortunate in how people around town thought of them and even more so in their connections, something that Elsie knew she needed to be more grateful for.
It was just a hard thing to be forced to consider when it had been that way for as long as she had ever known.
“I reckon if I take her a gift tomorrow to apologize for my absence, it should be forgiven,” Elsie murmured, glancing at her father from the corner of her eyes and biting back a smile.
Mr. Jameson snorted, looking down at his daughter with a soft shake of his head while her friends hid their giggles. “And just how much is said gift going to cost me this time, Elsie?” he teased, leading their group up the walkway to the house.
“Nothing you cannot afford, Papa,” she promised, sure of her answer. Considering their family’s wealth and standing, it wasn’t a very hard promise to make.
If Mr. Jameson cared about her evasive answer, he didn’t show it, only smiling wider as he opened the door and stepped back for his daughter and her friends to enter. “Just be sure to let me know,” he laughed, following them into the house.
Despite how well the Jamesons did for themselves, the house was more comfortable than anything else. Personal touches were strewn through the sunroom they had entered from the back porch.
A woman who bore a striking resemblance to Elsie stood in the kitchen just beyond the sunroom, an apron cinched about her narrow waist and a ready smile on her lips as she turned to greet the three girls and her husband.
“Oh, what impeccable timing the lot of you have,” Mrs. Jameson cried gaily, a cloud of white puffing about her hands as she dusted them off over a baking dish. “I was just finishing with this cake!” The smell of said cake filled the room, light and decadent somehow at the same time.
Mrs. Jameson stopped, her grin turning into a half frown as she paused. “Oh, but you’re just getting back from that tea party,” she murmured as if having only just considered the fact.
Mr. Jameson, Rose, and Madeline all laughed, causing Mrs. Jameson to pause further. Her brow furrowed, she looked between the four before her, one eyebrow slowly rose.
Elsie cleared her throat delicately, mock glaring at the three traitors around her as she guiltily shifted the book tucked under one arm. “About the tea party, Mama….”
Even as she trailed off, comprehension seemed to strike her mother, the older woman sighing with a more exasperated but fond sort of amusement like her husband before her. “Elsie May Jameson, are you telling me you’ve been reading this whole time in the garden?” Mrs. Jameson exclaimed.
“Well, Mama, I didn’t tell you anything really,” Elsie hedged, skirting away from her mama’s swatting hand just in time to go to the other side of the counter. She didn’t exactly need the distance between them, she knew, but she was going to capitalize on it anyhow.
“And we may have been at the tea party, Mrs. Jameson,” Rose broke in, standing on her tip-toes to look eagerly over at the cake cooling out of the cake pan, “but I, for one, can always go for a slice of your cake.”
“Oh, me too,” Madeline agreed eagerly, “you’re a much better cook than Mrs. Mayburry anyhow.”
Just as quickly as Elsie had begun being lectured, the room was all laughter again, an easy comfort settling over the grouping as warmly as the heavenly scent of the cake wafting about. Elsie, looking around, couldn’t help but feel lucky, even if she knew she hadn’t heard the last of it from her mama.
There were times Madeline was right, and Elsie dreamed of adventure and far-off-places from Chicago… but days like the one she was having now, which far outnumbered any other, were what made her happy with her lot in life. Dreams were dreams. Her reality was fine the way that it was.
Everything was beautiful, and the sunshine only made it more so. Or, at least, that was how Elsie felt walking home with the wind in her hair and the sun shining on her way back from taking an apology present over to Talia Mayburry. Her opinion, of course, was helped by the open book she held in one hand as she returned home.
It was one of the rare few books she had read lately that she hadn’t been able to predict the ending of, and being on the last page of the book, she was feeling somewhat nostalgic about the story as a whole. If it made her cheeks brighter and her smile wider, that was just a happy occurrence.
It was also how she missed all the signs that her parents had company leading up to her being just inside the entryway of her home, her nose still in the book right up until she finished the last word on the last page. The distinct sound of voices could be heard as she closed the novel, her face lifting in a surprised sort of confusion as the door to the sitting room next to the entryway was pushed even further open.
In the doorway stood a young man about her age. He had dark hair cut close to his scalp and blue eyes that moved with obvious intent over Elsie’s frame as she paused like a deer in the lantern light where she had stopped in the entryway.
“Elsie,” the young man greeted, his lips stretching into a familiar, pleased smile. “I was beginning to fear that I was going to miss seeing you,” he continued, opening the door further to reveal the room beyond.
Elsie stifled a frown, forcing a polite smile onto her face as her parents and John’s, were revealed in the sitting room beyond him. Her parents and the Horton’s were all sitting down, teacups in hand, smiling pleasantly over at the pair framed in the doorway.
Elsie had to further repress her frown. “I was just coming back from Talia’s,” she murmured by way of explanation. Madeline’s exclamation about how John had been hoping to spend time with her rang again in her head. She was just as uninterested in the prospect now as she had been the day before.
“Did she like your gift?” Mr. Jameson asked from within the room, leaning forward to look around John with a teasing smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “What did you decide on getting for her anyways?”
“Oh, I got her a book set,” Elsie answered, her own lips twitching at her father’s amused chuckle. “And some flowers and a bracelet I knew she’d been eyeing at the shop. It was a kind of ‘see yourself to tea’ basket,” she joked.
Everyone laughed politely, but Elsie could see that only her parents understood the situation’s humor.
“Well, come in and have a seat, dear,” Mrs. Jameson urged, sharing an all too knowing glance with Mrs. Horton. “John here has been asking about you and that charity you were trying to set up. Who better to explain it to him than you?”
Elsie watched the two women share another glance before covering their smiles with their teacups, and she had to forego the wince she wanted to answer with. She may have been known to ‘have her head in the clouds,’ but she wasn’t blind. She could recognize this visit for what it was.
“I’m sure John would rather talk about something else,” Elsie hedged, nearing the doorway but still not getting close enough to John to pass him and enter the room entirely.
“Not at all,” John cut in, his grin widening even further as he leaned in.
Elsie was sure that it was meant to be a charming gesture. She could see her mother hiding her amusement behind her teacup, and all the adults in the room were eying them fondly. It was like a show being put on in front of them, the families being such long-standing friends that it was just assumed.
“I think it’s admirable the work you do for the charities,” John continued when Elsie didn’t immediately and enthusiastically jump into an explanation for him. “Why I was just telling your mama that if I could help at all-”
“You can,” Elsie interrupted before she could think it through. “You can donate money or volunteer time. Either one of them would be appreciated.”
Mr. Jameson chuckled behind them, but John blanched slightly, a nervous look taking over his features as his smile slipped somewhat. “I’d be glad to,” he promised, sounding anything but. “If I knew what it was, I was giving money or my time to,” he joked, quickly recovering his charming demeanor.
“It’s for the children in town who can’t afford schooling,” Elsie replied quickly, gentling the sharpness that wanted to creep into her tone as she lifted her chin pointedly. “There are those who are of school age and should be attending but can’t, due to whatever familial reasons.”
“Most often that their work around the house, farm, or ranch would set the family back,” Mr. Jameson commented thoughtfully, shaking his head slightly.
“Or they’re helping care for younger siblings during the day,” Elsie added. “It doesn’t matter what the reason is, there’s a plethora of them, but I believe our goal should be to ensure that every child can attend school regardless.”
“Well, how’re you gunna do that?” John asked laughingly as if he wasn’t quite taking her seriously. “Hire hands to go out and work for their families or let them bring the young’uns to school? I don’t see old Ms. Jones going for that….”
“Then maybe she shouldn’t be teaching,” Elsie added seriously, not laughing along with him like he’d obviously expected her to.
John seemed taken aback, and Elsie could feel her mother’s warning glance on her, but the subject at hand was one that she actually cared about.
“That’s the whole point of the fundraiser,” she insisted, including the elder Hortons in her gaze as she spoke. “It’s reaching out, finding out what we, as a community, can do to better foster their ability to attend school, and making the moves necessary to allow them to.”
“It’s a fine goal, certainly,” Mrs. Horton said politely, shooting her son a glance similar to that which Elsie could still feel her mother leveling at her.
“It’s just an impossible one,” John said loftily, obviously missing his mother’s cues.
Elsie said nothing, staring at the boy before her with something bordering on contempt. John Horton had never been her favorite person, though she couldn’t say she’d ever actually been upset with him either… She knew the designs their parents imagined for them. She knew that John was sweet on her as well…
He was just irritating.
Elsie had no interest in furthering any romantic connection, and looking at him right then, she was reminded all too well as to why that was.
“I need… I need to get some air,” Elsie mumbled, ignoring the fact that she’d just come in from outdoors in order to excuse herself from the situation. She took a step back before anyone could disagree.
“I’ll accompany you,” John offered awkwardly, but Elsie quickly held her hand up and shook her head.
“There’s no need,” she insisted. “Really, you stay here and enjoy your tea. I’ll be back after I’ve had a moment….” To compose herself and keep from saying all of the things she knew her mother would find irritating that were on her mind.
If she were very lucky, the Hortons would have already left by the time she came back inside.
It was almost a wish as she stepped out into the garden, glancing over her shoulder once to make sure John wasn’t being silly enough to follow her. She wouldn’t put it past him. He was tenacious when he wanted something; despite their incompatibility, it seemed he wanted her.
If only she had a way to discourage him from such nonsense.
She glanced over her shoulder again, imagining him coming out after her, and headed for the garden gate with a sigh. She had only said she needed a breath of fresh air. She hadn’t specified where she would be going to get it. So, technically speaking, going on a short walk wasn’t totally out of the question.
She just felt trapped, all of a sudden, knowing what awaited her back in the sitting room.
It didn’t help that her parents meant well. The Hortons meant well… Even John himself meant well.
Elsie just wanted nothing to do with the future that they imagined for her.
He would want a wife to throw parties and host things with, someone to look as pretty as they spoke, and all other ambitions and plans end there. It wasn’t what Elsie wanted. He wasn’t who Elsie wanted. It didn’t matter that she didn’t have another name in mind to replace him with. She only knew that he wasn’t it.
No amount of her friend’s teasing on how it was her overly romantic nature could sway her from such knowledge either.
For a moment after the voice rang out, Elsie froze, horrified at the thought of John following her from her house to walk with her regardless of her dismissal of him before. It was only the second time the voice sounded that she heard the hooves accompanying it, forcing her to turn.
A tall man with his face shrouded in shadow from how high he sat above her on his horse approached, his coat a nondescript gray and all that Elsie could see of his features being a genial smile.
“Apologies, ma’am, I didn’t mean to alarm you,” he drawled, drawing his horse to a slow stop next to her. His features were clearer, although only barely. Nothing, in particular, stood out like his coat. “I was riding along this road, looking the Masons’ place… but I can’t seem to make hide nor hair of the directions they gave me.”
Elsie offered the man a smile, relaxing as she heard the familiar name. The Masons were a good bunch, an older widower and his son and daughter-in-law who lived not too far down the road from Elsie’s family on the way out of town. “You haven’t quite reached their place yet,” she explained with an amused tilt.
“So I need to go a bit further down the road?” the man asked, sounding dubious as he looked off.
Elsie nodded, looking away from him and towards the road herself so she could gesture roundabout while she spoke. “It’s just another few minutes down that way,” she assured him. “You ride along until you see the old maple tree, and then-”
Her voice was caught in the back of her throat as something caught her about her shoulders. The harsh grip dragged her feet up from the ground and turned her about so quickly that her head spun with it.
She’d barely had time to gasp before something was shoved into her mouth, the roughness of the fabric making her squirm even as something else was put over her head. The scream she tried to release was held back by whatever had been used to gag her, making the noise muffled and useless even as she felt her body twist and turn.
The man on horseback made quick work of manipulating her limbs so that not only was her head covered, but her hands were tied as well.
He did this so quickly and efficiently that even her struggles seemed to be in vain.
“You try opening that mouth again, girl, and I’ll knock you over the head so fast you won’t know what hit ya,” he grunted as the ground seemed to give way beneath Elsie. His voice was suddenly harsher, lacking the charming nonchalance of before.
Elsie could barely think to process what was going on, much less answer him with a gag in her mouth.
All she knew was that she was on horseback, bound and with her head covered, and the horse that was carrying them was running at such a speed that she doubted it would matter soon even if she could scream.
“Her Last Chance At Freedom” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Elsie Jameson always dreamed of a fairytale relationship that would whisk her monotonous days away. Though she longs for adventure, she never expected she would be kidnapped from Chicago’s backstreets and held for ransom with her life at risk. Having lost all hope, a brave man, Theo, appears out of nowhere and comes to her rescue…
Can Elsie trust Theo when she finds her bravery and faith tested with every turn?
Theo Thomas has made his life mission to catch his father’s murderer and avenge his death. While he chases down clues to the murderer’s location, he stumbles upon a tied girl in the woods, Elsie, who is about to change his fate forever. Seized by his plight for justice, he is determined not to spare time for love, but his heart speaks louder than his mind for the first time…
Can Theo make the right decision when he finds himself at a crossroads?
Racing against the danger of the two men who want them both dead, Elsie and Theo are forced to evaluate their emotions. Even if they can overcome the circumstances of their meeting and all of their differences, will they ever be given a chance to act on their feelings? Or will the villains pursuing them outsmart them and rid them of ever admitting to their love?
“Her Last Chance At Freedom” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.