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  • A Second Chance Love for the Doctor’s Heart

Chapter 1


The cries of a woman in labor filled the Dawson house. Catching her breath for a moment in the hallway, Stella straightened her shoulders and tucked a stray blonde hair behind her ear. I can do this. I can do this.


“Clean sheets! Bring as many as you can find!” Mrs. Nelson yelled out from the front room.


“Coming,” Stella replied, grabbing a pile of crisp, neatly-folded white sheets from the hallway closet.


Having grown up on a ranch, labor and birth were not foreign concepts to Stella, but this was different. This was not a speckle-coated mama cow birthing a calf with the aid of Dr. Nelson, the local veterinarian, and Mrs. Nelson’s husband. This was a young woman giving birth for the very first time. And she was being assisted by a housekeeper and a rancher’s daughter, neither of whom were midwives by any stretch of the imagination.


Stella rushed back into the room, placed the sheets next to Mrs. Nelson, and dropped to her knees on the other side of Marie Johnson, a ranch hand’s wife. Marie was seated on the floor and had remained there, ever since she wandered over to the Dawson house, in far too much pain to move anywhere else. Her long brown hair was pulled into a messy bun, and her face was bright red with a sheen of sweat across her brow.


“Breathe, girl. Breathe,” said Mrs. Nelson forcefully, but also with a hint of kindness.


Stella picked up the damp washcloth that had fallen to the floor and dipped it into the pot of cool water next to Marie. She twisted the cloth to remove the excess water and folded it lengthwise to place it on Marie’s forehead.


Mrs. Nelson had situated a white sheet over both Marie’s torso and legs and was easing her knees apart. “Let me have a look, girl. Try to relax.”


Marie bit into her lip and let out a tiny gasp. Her worried gaze met Stella’s sparkling turquoise eyes and something about the warmth in Stella’s eyes must have soothed the laboring young woman. She reached for Stella’s hand and squeezed her fingers tightly.


“Thank you, Miss Dawson,” she whispered. “I am scared to death.”


Stella stroked the back of Marie’s hand and offered her an encouraging smile. Stella’s mother must have been afraid just like this when she gave birth for the very first and only time, over twenty-two years ago.

“First time is scary for everyone,” offered Stella. “But you’re about to do the greatest thing a woman can do. You’re bringing life into the world. A baby who is going to love you so much.”


Marie nodded and started to say something, but suddenly braced herself for another painful contraction, crying out loud and closing her eyes tightly. Stella watched the anguish spread across her face and take over her entire body. She wanted to do something or say something to make the situation easier. Yet Stella knew there was little they could offer her in terms of relief.


“Stella. Need you over here,” Mrs. Nelson said, before repeating her instructions to Marie to take deep breaths.


Stella moved quickly to sit down in front of Marie and listened intently as Mrs. Nelson described what was supposed to happen next. Mrs. Nelson had given birth to four children herself, so she did have some experience with this process. And with the only other midwife in Missoula miles away, she would have to try her best.


“Everything’s going like it’s supposed to,” she told both young women. “The baby is crowning. I can see its head. That means that you, Marie, will need to start pushing the next time you feel that pain coming on. And by push, I mean bear down as hard as you can with your lower half. Got it?”


Whether Marie understood or not was unclear, but she did manage a “Yes, ma’am.”


“I’m gonna show Stella girl what I’m talking about so she knows what’s happening. Stella, pass me a few of those sheets so I can prop her up.”


Stella did as she was told, a nervous excitement fluttering in the pit of her stomach. It dawned on her that she had never been a part of something so important before. Part of her was afraid of what she was about to witness, afraid that something could go wrong, as it sometimes did in these situations. But she shook off those feelings as Mrs. Nelson explained how she would be responsible for catching the baby on Marie’s final push.


Marie gasped in pain, overwhelmed by another contraction. Mrs. Nelson moved to her side and urged her to push as hard as she could. Stella waited and watched intently. Marie’s first push was not enough to force the baby out of the birth canal. They waited for the next contraction, then the next. Marie seemed to be slowly understanding what her mind needed to make her body do. But she was still letting her fear get the better of her.


“I can’t do this. I just can’t. I want my mama,” Marie sobbed, her cheeks stained with fresh tears. “Or Joey. Where’s Joey?”


Stella felt an aching in her chest, knowing how frightened Marie was. That even with two people by her side that she knew fairly well, it was still so very overwhelming. But Marie might as well have been asking for the moon. Her mother lived several hours away by train, and her husband Joey had gone on a purchasing trip with Stella’s father and Dr. Nelson. By all estimates, Marie wasn’t due for another month, so no one gave it a second thought when he agreed to go on the three-day trip.


Stella didn’t know where the words came from, but she meant them from her heart. “Marie, you’re doing a great job. You’re so brave. Joey would be so proud of you. Don’t give up. We’re here for you.”


Stella could sense Mrs. Nelson studying her, perhaps surprised by her calmness. She sensed that the older woman was on the brink of praising the girl she helped raise for being so strong. But of course, Marie and her baby were the primary concern for the time being.


“Stella’s right,” said Mrs. Nelson. “Don’t you quit trying. Honey, Joey’ll be here soon. But for now, we have to get this baby out of you. I promise you’ll feel so much better afterward.” 


Their encouraging words seemed to do the trick. On the very next contraction, Marie gritted her teeth, and pushed with all her might, screaming the loudest she had screamed that afternoon. Much to Stella’s wonder and amazement, out came a tiny, wrinkled little mess of a human being. Probably the most beautiful sight she’d ever witnessed.


Just like Mrs. Nelson had instructed her, Stella caught the baby, slippery as he was, and cradled him in her arms to keep him warm. Then she wiped his face clean with a washcloth and watched as the baby opened its eyes and mouth for the very first time, letting out a loud wail. 


“It’s a boy!” Stella exclaimed, tears of joy and relief running down her face. Stella immediately placed the baby into his mother’s arms. “Congratulations, Marie. He’s amazing.”


“Support his neck, honey, whatever you do,” Mrs. Nelson reminded Marie gently. “Stella, you keep an eye on her while I get something to cut the cord.”


“I sure will,” responded Stella, taking a seat next to Marie and her baby and marveling at the miracle she’d just been a part of.


“Looks just like his daddy, doesn’t he?” said Marie, rocking the baby and humming to him softly. His cries subsided.


Stella agreed enthusiastically. She patted Marie’s shoulder and reminded her how happy Joey would be when he got back to the ranch.


“I couldn’t have done this without you, Miss Stella. Thank you so much.”


Stella shook her head and tucked that same pesky piece of stray blonde hair behind her ear. She imagined that she must look like a total frazzled mess. “I didn’t do much. Thank goodness for Mrs. Nelson.”


“You did a lot though,” insisted Marie. “You made me feel safe.”


Stella smiled. “I was happy to do it. But you’re the real star of the show. And this little guy. What will you name him?”


“Joey and I already decided. For a boy, we’d call him Daniel Boyd. After both our daddies. And I think he looks just like a Danny. Don’t you?”


“He does,” Stella agreed and turned her attention to Mrs. Nelson, who had come back into the room with some additional supplies.


“Let’s get you and the baby all tidied up. Then you can feed the little squawker,” suggested Mrs. Nelson.


A few hours later, Stella and Mrs. Nelson were seated at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and appreciating the quiet in the house. Marie and the baby were resting in the spare bedroom, and the men folk were expected home soon, having cut their trip short with news of the baby’s early arrival.


“Will the baby need a doctor?” Stella asked, curious about what would happen next. “And Marie? Is she alright?”


“They’re both doing very well,” said Mrs. Nelson. “Best kind of delivery. Minimal bleeding and little Danny is feeding well. Probably won’t need much of anything, except some rest. But Marie won’t get much of that. Babies need constant attention.”


And right on cue, Stella could hear Danny let out a wail.


“Let me go check on ‘em,” offered Mrs. Nelson, leaving Stella alone with her thoughts.


What a day it had been! Stella had started with her usual routine that morning, rounding the ranch in her father’s absence, checking in with the workers who arrived early every morning to tend to the chickens and the cattle. She’d wandered over to the small barn behind the main house, which was her favorite place to visit when she felt like reading or daydreaming.


She’d fed the two barn cats, Rusty and Molly, before settling into the soft hay in the upper loft and thinking about what she wanted to do with her life. It was one of Stella’s favorite pastimes, imagining different scenarios for her future. Some more extravagant things; dancer, singer, world traveler, though her father would scoff at such ideas. And some more practical things; teacher, secretary, wife. For some reason, she always came back to the idea of being a wife.

Probably because it was already planned out by her father and his best friend, George Lankford. Stella was to marry his son, Willie, and now that she was of prime childbearing age, she couldn’t hold out much longer. Besides, Stella could do other things, too, in addition to being a wife. Maybe take a part-time job. Or continue to help her father on the ranch and Mrs. Nelson with everything in the main house.


But soon she’d have her own home to tend to. And children. She supposed it was time. Time to tell her father that she was ready.


And that’s about when Stella had spotted young Marie Johnson, hobbling down the pathway to the main house, out of breath and clutching her rounded belly. Stella had raced to the house as fast as possible and found Mrs. Nelson consoling young Marie, who was certain her baby was coming, based on her water breaking just an hour ago and the fast and frequent pains in her belly. And what happened next, is exactly how Miss Stella Dawson discovered her calling. Midwifery.


Later that night, after the menfolk had returned from their trip, Stella was anxious to share her good news. But she waited until after the celebratory cigars were passed around by her father, Bruce Dawson, after the Nelsons agreed to take the young family home, and after Stella had planted a kiss on the tiny fingers of the miracle she’d brought into the world. Yes, after she’d recounted the entire story to her father, his face lighting up and his eyes crinkling in delight at her enthusiasm, Stella told her father exactly what she wanted to do with her life.


“Papa, I know it’s not what you pictured for me, but I know it’s what I want. I want to study to be a midwife. At a real school. The best school possible. I’m fairly certain I’ve seen an advertisement at the library for a midwifery program in New York City.”


And then she waited, with her heart beating as fast as it ever had in her entire life, for his reply. All of the other futures she’d ever imagined for herself faded into the background.

Chapter 2

Bruce Dawson was one of the most respected men in all of Missoula. When he was seventeen years old, his parents passed away and left him with the ranch, which he had successfully extended over time.

A year later, he married the prettiest girl in town, Estelle Greenwood. Two years later, Estelle gave birth to a beautiful baby girl with golden hair, brilliant turquoise eyes, and a bright smile. Bruce decided to name the baby after his wife. Tragically, she died giving birth to baby Stella.

It was a devastating loss, and as smart and capable as Bruce was, most of the town folk doubted his ability to raise a daughter on his own.

The community elders had urged Bruce to remarry, but he resisted that idea for two reasons. First, he was still grieving the loss of his wife. Second, he couldn’t bring himself to trust anyone else to raise his precious daughter except for Mrs. Nelson, who’d had a hand in raising him.

Some people assumed Stella had her father wrapped around her little finger. However, it wasn’t as simple as that. Their relationship came with a bit of give and take, and Stella didn’t always get her way, not without strings attached.

When she was twelve years old and a pregnant cat showed up on the doorstep of the main house. She pleaded with her father to let her keep the cat and two of its kittens. He’d agreed on the one condition that she takes full responsibility for their care.

Would twenty-two-year-old Stella get her way with her dream of studying to become a midwife? For once in her life, Stella didn’t know if she and her father would be able to arrive at a compromise.

“Papa? Did you hear what I said? I’d like to go to New York City. To study midwifery.”

“Yes, I heard,” Bruce replied. He wasn’t giving anything away with his expression.


“And I’m not surprised,” he admitted.

“You’re not?”

“Well,” her father began, “I knew you’d want to leave this town. Eventually.”

“It’s not that I want to leave this town. Not forever,” Stella said softly. “Just long enough to achieve this goal I’ve set for myself.” She reached across the space between them to take hold of his rough and weathered hand.

He smiled down at her. “I’m glad to hear you say that. I don’t want to lose you. Not forever.”

Stella hugged her father with all her might. She could tell he was holding back tears. It was a big thing for her to talk about leaving home. Although her father was a busy man, overseeing the ranch and ensuring its continued success, they saw each other every day. Stella was almost beginning to second guess her decision.

“Unless you think I’m being too rash,” she wondered aloud, though she knew deep down that becoming a midwife was her calling.

“No, I think you should go. I’ll help you get on your feet and support you however you need me, as I always do.”

Now Stella was on the verge of happy tears. This was wonderful news. She was floored by her father’s support and generosity.

“But you must come back to Missoula after you graduate.”

“Yes, Papa,” she replied without hesitation. “There’s a need for midwives here, so I can’t see any reason not to come back.”

“And upon your return, you’ll give serious consideration to marrying George’s son, Willie. Just as we discussed?”

Stella looked up at her father. His icy blue eyes conveyed a couple of things; pride in his daughter, but also a sternness that showed that he was serious about her upholding her side of the bargain. “Yes,” she promised reluctantly, crossing her fingers behind her back. It was a silly gesture on her part, one from her younger days. Because of course, if she made a promise like that to her father, she would have to keep it.

“Then it’s decided,” declared her father, and just like that, the father-daughter negotiations were concluded.


Two months later, Stella found herself misty-eyed, waving goodbye from her tiny train cabin window to her father, the Nelsons, the Johnsons, baby Danny, and a handful of other friends and acquaintances she’d known her whole life. This was a huge step for Stella, moving across the country to pursue a dream that was still relatively new to her.

As the train began pulling out of the station, Stella made eye contact with her father. She mouthed the words “thank you.” He nodded in response and blew her a kiss. She was fortunate to have his support to go to New York. Yes, it had come with a promise Stella wasn’t sure she could keep, but four years was a long time. Maybe something would change, and she wouldn’t have to marry Willie.   

Going above and beyond, Bruce had commissioned the most talented seamstress and cobbler in Missoula to create a brand new wardrobe for Stella. He reasoned that she would need clothes fitting for a young medical student. Smart blouses and skirts and two fitted winter coats, along with new shoes, gloves, scarves, and a few hats for those famously cold New York winter days. Stella couldn’t imagine the cold weather being much different from what she was used to in Missoula. Then again, no need to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Bruce told his daughter that he wanted her to fit in as much as possible and warned her of the highfalutin city folks who might look down on her country roots. Stella hadn’t given that any thought, being proud of her upbringing and fond of her hometown. She would arrive in New York a few days before the start of the semester. The head mistress of the dormitory would meet her at the train station and accompany her to the place where she would transform from the daughter of the local rancher to a professional midwife. Her life would have a new purpose. Everything was coming together, and though Stella would miss the ranch and her friends terribly, she was ready to come into her own.

She didn’t even mind that it would take another five days on a train before she could start her new life. Stella passed the time by reading through a few of the medical texts the librarian had gifted her. For her meals, Stella visited the club car and got acquainted with other travelers, listening to their plans and sharing hers.

The days passed quickly and Stella took in as many sights as possible during her trip across the country. Snow-covered mountains, rolling hills, fields of cattle and sheep, cities and towns of various sizes. But nothing could prepare her for the grandeur of New York City.

The conductor announced that the train would be at the station in fifteen minutes. From her cabin, Stella could hear the cheers from other passengers. She was delighted as well. As the train neared the outskirts of the city, Stella caught sight of the massive stone buildings, neatly placed, like tokens on a chessboard.

There was something magical about New York City. Maybe it was the way the building exteriors seemed to shimmer from the reflection of the Hudson River. Or maybe it was because she’d always thought of New York as a place that represented endless possibilities.

The train passed between a row of tall buildings, and Stella noticed how the shadows and the light changed. The buildings were much taller than any of the two-story structures in downtown Missoula. They were the perfect backdrop for all of the hustle and bustle going on in the streets. Stella couldn’t make out the faces of the people in the crowds below the railway, but she could tell they were doing important things. Why else would they be dressed so nicely and moving so quickly? Soon, it would be Stella walking down those same streets, perhaps on her way to take in a show or to dine at a fine restaurant. Surely she’d make an acquaintance or two in her dormitory and go exploring soon. As long as she kept up with her studies, of course.

This is really happening. I’m really here in New York City. I can’t believe it.

These were Stella’s final thoughts as the train slowed to a crawl and then stopped. She glanced through her window at the crowd of people waiting for the train’s arrival and spotted a middle-aged woman holding a sign that read “Miss Stella Dawson.”

Stella let out a happy yelp as she slid on her white gloves and brand new wool coat. She patted the back of her bun to make sure her hair was in place. After gathering her suitcases and hat boxes, Stella squared her shoulders and headed for the train exit, ready to take on the adventure that was awaiting her.


The first few days of her new life were a whirlwind getting settled in her room, meeting some of her fellow students, and touring the campus. Stella ventured out only once with another girl from her hall, Sally Tucker from Philadelphia. They treated themselves to a light dinner in a small cafe near campus. Sally was more than happy to help her new acquaintance, who wasn’t so accustomed to city life, find her way around.

“You’ll love it here,” the young woman gushed. “So much to do. And our school is the best in the country for midwifery.”

“I’m thrilled to be here,” Stella told her. “It’s a far cry from life on a ranch.”

“Indeed. Now, if you don’t mind me prying, did you leave a sweetheart back home?”

Stella nearly blushed at the question but composed herself quickly. “Why, no. Not really. Never had time for such things.”

“Really?” asked Sally. “But you’re gorgeous. Your father must have had to beat the boys away with a stick.”

Stella giggled. “They knew better than to come around.”

“There must be someone,” Sally insisted.

“No, not really.” Her thoughts turned to Willie Lankford, her potential future husband. Willie was the son of a rancher and quite a catch by Missoula standards, but not anyone Stella wanted to think about. “I need to stay focused on my studies right now.”

“That’s no fun,” teased Sally. “Though you’re right. We should be getting back to the dormitory, what with curfew and all.”

“And class tomorrow,” agreed Stella, glancing down at her watch, a gift from the Nelsons. “I’d like to stop by the library tonight.”

“The library? I’ll walk you by there, but I have no intention of setting foot in that place until I have to,” Sally said, rolling her eyes.

“I understand,” laughed Stella, and the two young women paid for their meals before walking over to the library. Stella had always felt at home around books, and she knew it would be one of her favorite places.

After telling Sally goodbye, Stella climbed the steps to the entrance of the library and opened the massive doors, marveling at the interior of the vestibule, a gorgeous white marble with swirls of dark gray. She walked past the circulation desk and into the main area of the library, where she encountered the largest collection of books she’d ever seen. There were rows upon rows of leather-bound books, hundreds more than what she had access to in the Missoula library. 

“Impressive collection, isn’t it?” said a smooth voice behind her. Stella turned around and realized that the voice belonged to a man. A rather handsome man.

“I suppose so,” she said shyly, unsure why this handsome man had decided to strike up a conversation with her.

“Can I help you find something?” he offered with a slight smile, and Stella paused for a moment to try to figure out why she found him so appealing.

Perhaps it was a certain kindness she detected in his eyes, which were a unique olive green. He was well-groomed with short brown hair neatly combed, clean-shaven, and dressed in a crisp white button-up shirt and black slacks. Stella wondered if she appeared to be lost, or even worse, like a foolish country girl.

“No, thank you,” she replied curtly. “I’m starting classes tomorrow and wanted to have a look around.”

“I see,” the man nodded.

“Do you work here?” she asked.

“No, but I know this library quite well. I graduated a few years ago, started my own practice, and now I’m working on my Ph.D. I have an assignment due tomorrow for my advisor.”


“Believe it or not, I didn’t learn everything there is to know about medicine in four years. The field is constantly evolving, which you will soon learn. Medical school isn’t for the faint of heart,” he added with a grin.

“I’m sure it isn’t, but I grew up on a cattle ranch. There isn’t much I haven’t seen.”

The man laughed warmly at her reply, and Stella decided that his laugh was just as attractive as his smooth voice. She was intrigued by this handsome stranger but she knew it was getting late. Aside from that, she hadn’t planned on making any new friends tonight, certainly not strikingly good-looking ones who might be a distraction. On the other hand, getting to know a graduate of the medical school who was now an experienced doctor might not be a bad idea. He knew the ropes.

“Am I boring you, miss?”

“Pardon?” asked Stella, shaken from her thoughts.

“You became quiet. I wondered if I was boring you.”

Stella fluttered her eyelashes at the man, feeling coquettish, which was not the way she normally behaved. There was something about this gentleman that she found intriguing. “I’m not bored, I promise. Just concerned about making my curfew. And you can call me by my name. I’m Stella. Stella Dawson from Missoula.”

The man smiled back at her, extending his hand in her direction. Stella accepted it, her heart beating rapidly. This was a sensation she hadn’t experienced before, having only ever mildly fancied a boy or two during her grade school days.

“Very pleased to meet you, Stella Dawson from Missoula.” He clasped her hand gently while introducing himself. “I’m Tomas Rudd. From New York. And if you’ll allow me, I’d be happy to walk you to your dormitory.”

Stella wanted to say “yes” as quickly as the question had left Tomas’s soft parted lips, but she knew not to appear over eager.  “Pleased to meet you as well, Tomas. I must ask. Is this a service you provide to all of the new students?”

“You’re the first,” he leaned down to whisper in her ear.

Stella felt a light tingle run down her spine, yet she didn’t want to let on that she was both excited and flattered by Tomas’s attention. “And what about your assignment?'' she reminded him.

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to settle for turning it in late. Just this once.”

Stella smiled and accepted his offer by linking her arm with his. She knew as they walked out of the library and into the crisp, winter New York air, that her new adventure was already taking an unexpected but surprisingly pleasant twist.

Chapter 3

Looking across the table at Stella, Tomas couldn’t believe four years had passed since they’d first met. Even after their long courtship, his enchantment with her was still as strong as ever, as strong as the day he’d spotted her from across the library, bright-eyed and beautiful, timid yet fearless.


“Cheers to you, my love. Only two days until your graduation ceremony. I’m so proud of you,” Tomas said, raising his glass of wine and waiting for the gorgeous woman across from him to do the same. As Stella clinked her glass against his, Tomas noticed the slight blush on her cheeks.

“Thank you, my darling,” she replied before taking a sip from her glass, then giving him one of her dazzling smiles.

Tomas would never forget his first encounter with the love of his life, Stella Dawson from Missoula. Somehow, he’d sensed that Stella was not from New York City, though she certainly looked the part in her long navy pleated skirt, white lace blouse, and almost perfectly coiffed sandy blonde hair. He remembered wanting to reach out and tuck a stray wisp of hair behind her ear, but he’d known that would be too forward for their first encounter.

Fortunately, Stella had accepted his offer to walk her back to her dormitory, and they’d had a chance to get better acquainted.

Tomas was doing his best not to overwhelm the young woman with too many questions, but,  he wanted to know everything he possibly could about her. He had traveled to many cities and countries though never to Missoula, Montana. He’d also courted his fair share of young women, mostly at his mother’s insistence, but no one piqued his curiosity as much as Stella did.

She had shared some basic information about herself. He’d learned that she was the daughter of a rancher, and had been inspired by a recent experience to go to medical school.

Stella had a melodious voice, with a slight country twinge to her accent. Tomas could tell how intelligent she was but knew she’d have to overcome the bias that people from the country, women, in particular, weren’t as cultured or smart as city dwellers. As they neared the women’s dormitory, Tomas wished he could have stopped time and continued conversing with Stella.

He remembered fondly how Stella had looked up at him, grinned sweetly, and thanked him for escorting her back. He remembered catching her hand in his and lifting it to his lips to place a kiss on her soft skin. She had blushed and mumbled something about forgetting to put on her gloves. He complimented her delicate nails, telling her he hoped to see her again soon.

As luck would have it, he did see her again, the very next afternoon in the library. It just so happened that they were both in pursuit of a quiet corner to focus on their assignments. They agreed to share a table. After her first day of classes, Stella seemed a bit overwhelmed. Tomas was quick to reassure her that the first semester would be the most difficult in terms of adjusting to the pace of study.

After that encounter, the pair became practically inseparable, studying nearly every evening together, even on the weekends. Eventually, Tomas figured they could use some fun and wanted to take Stella around the city to see the sights. Of course, he did need to secure her permission first.

It was one thing to study together in a public setting, and it was another thing to be seen out and about in the city with a gentleman friend. But he wanted to be clear that he was interested in more than just a friendship with Stella he wanted to begin courting her. Much to his relief and delight, she had replied to his offer by saying, “Courtship? Why I thought you’d never ask.”

For their first more formal outing together, he picked her up a few blocks from the campus in his electric-powered carriage. Stella had asked that they meet up somewhere away from her dormitory, explaining that the head mistress might be in cahoots with her father. He would not be pleased if he found out she was seeing someone when she should be focusing on her studies.

Tomas understood completely, and in fact, he had his concerns about being seen with Stella. And it was not because he was ashamed of her or that didn’t think she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever met.

It was because he was well known in the prestigious circles of Manhattan, and he didn’t want gossip being spread, certainly not to his mother and sister. He had already gained the reputation of being an unattainable bachelor and had failed to meet his family’s expectations of settling down and starting a family. Stella knew about some of this. He’d revealed certain details about his relationship with his family the more they’d gotten to know each other while studying in the library.

She didn’t seem to mind that he took her to a small, hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant instead of somewhere lavish. The atmosphere was just right for quiet conversation, and the food was the best he’d ever tasted.

Stella seemed to enjoy his company and the meal. They concluded their outing with a walk-in Central Park, hand in hand, under a moonlit sky. Somehow, they’d gotten onto the topic of birthdays. Stella was telling him a story from her childhood about her father trying to bake her a cake without any help from their housekeeper. As she had predicted, it ended in disaster.

Tomas admired the way Stella spoke fondly of everything from back home. He admired everything she spoke about. Even her fascination with learning in class and her passion for becoming a midwife. Tomas knew he was falling for her, faster and harder than he ever had for anyone before, and he hoped that she felt the same way.

Stella had insisted that she didn’t have time for romance or a relationship, yet she’d found a way to spend as much time with him as possible, and she’d accepted this offer of courtship. Tomas very badly wanted to demonstrate his feelings towards Stella but he wanted to be respectful of her wishes at the same time. He slowed his steps and gently pulled Stella towards him, waiting until she looked up at him.

“I suppose this sounds rather old-fashioned, but I’d like to kiss you right now.”

Stella batted her sparkling turquoise eyes at him, smiled sweetly, and responded with his favorite phrase of hers. “Why, I thought you’d never ask.”


Stella had always appreciated Tomas’s thoughtfulness as long as she had known him. She was especially touched that he wanted to take her out to dinner to celebrate her upcoming graduation. He’d picked the perfect place. The cozy Italian restaurant where they’d been the first time they went out together. It was hard to believe that four years had gone by so quickly. Four years of challenging herself towards a rewarding career and four years of being in love with the perfect man.

Sadly, their current situation was far from perfect. They’d had a courtship in the shadows, both of them preferred to keep their relationship a secret from the rest of the world. It made things exciting, for a while, until Stella began to ponder her future and wonder how to keep Tomas in her life.

She felt guilty, as though she’d been leading him on this whole time, knowing she’d be returning to Missoula eventually to serve her community and honor her father’s wishes.

Her father wouldn’t make it into New York for her graduation due to an extended illness that had taken hold of him right before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, he’d come to visit Stella the summer before her final semester. She’d been so tempted to introduce him to Tomas, certain they would get along. At the same time, she feared her father would judge Tomas for his “easy wealth,” though he was doing well enough in his medical practice to move out of his parents’ townhouse.

Sometimes Stella wondered what his family would think of her. According to Tomas, they wouldn’t even give her a chance since she was not from an elite New York family. Her greatest fear was that Tomas had spent the last four years leading her on, using her as a way to rebel against his high society upbringing.

But that can’t be true. He loves me. I know from the way he still holds my hand. And the way he strokes my forehead right before he kisses me. And I love him just the same. There must be a way we can be together.

“You’re being awfully quiet, my dear,” Tomas observed, his fingers dancing along the sleeve of her green coat, the one he’d bought her as an early graduation gift.

They were seated in his carriage, which he had parked a few blocks away from Stella’s sorority house. The night was still young, but they both had early starts the next day. Stella figured Tomas wanted to talk for a bit and drive her home afterward. There was no head mistress at the sorority house, and none of the girls in her sorority monitored anyone’s comings and goings. Only Sally, who Stella had remained close to, knew about Tomas, and she wouldn’t breathe a word to anyone.

“Stella, are you alright?” he asked after she’d failed to respond to his first comment.

“Yes, my love. Just lost in my thoughts, I suppose. Did I tell you Marie Johnson had another baby? A little girl. There was a midwife with her this time, and everything went well. Marie told me she’d wait to get pregnant a third time until I get back to Missoula.”

“Right,” chuckled Tomas. “Though who knows when that will be.”

“Who knows,” Stella said wistfully.

“Anything else on your mind?”

“I’ve been thinking about the future and all of the unknowns,” she confessed. “Our courtship hasn’t exactly been traditional.”

“I know it’s been difficult keeping our relationship a secret. It certainly hasn’t been easy for me.”

“I suppose not.”

“Well, it hasn’t been easy for either of us,” Tomas clarified, perhaps sensing the chilly nature in Stella’s tone.

“No, it hasn’t.” Stella sighed. She was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding their relationship, and the thought of having to leave Tomas for good was even more upsetting. “I don’t know what to do. What do you think?”

“Hmmm. How about a nightcap?” Tomas grinned and pulled a bottle of champagne out from under his seat.

A nightcap? Stella fumed silently. Here she was, trying to be serious with him, and he wanted to continue celebrating. “No, thank you. I’m feeling rather tired. Maybe we should call it a night.” Stella turned to look out the window. She didn’t like to be annoyed with Tomas, and so rarely was, but instead of being on top of the world right now, she felt like her world was falling apart.

“As you wish,” he said quietly, When they arrived in front of her sorority house, Stella gave Tomas a quick peck on his cheek. “I love you, Tomas Rudd. I hope you know that. I’m not sure what’s supposed to happen next.” Stella didn’t give him a chance to respond or help her out of the carriage. Instead, she hurried to the entrance of the house and didn’t look back. She wasn’t sure what hurt more, seeing the pained expression on Tomas’s face when her hand slipped from his grasp or the fact that he didn’t come after her.

placing the bottle of champagne back under his seat.

Chapter 4

“Stella! Mail!” Sally called out from the first floor of the sorority house. Stella finished applying her lipstick and picked up her coat and purse before heading downstairs. It was a few days after graduation, and Stella had arranged to go out with Tomas. Though things were still uncertain about their future and she’d been abrupt with him the night of their last meeting, he’d come calling the next day with two dozen roses and a card that read: “We’re in this together. Don’t give up on us.” Tomas had also taken time off to attend her graduation ceremony, which meant a great deal to Stella.

She and Sally were allowed to stay in the sorority house post-graduation as long as they paid a weekly stipend, which they could both afford to do, thanks to their part-time jobs at a local hospital. But how long would Stella remain in New York? She knew she needed to make some decisions sooner rather than later. Her father would be anxiously awaiting her return, as would the Nelsons and a few other friends she’d kept in touch with during her time away. Stella would always be nostalgic for home and the simpler life on the ranch she had once cherished. But being with the man she loved felt like the right place for her, too.

Sally handed her the letter. “Thanks,” she said. “I bet it’s from my father.”


“Yes, the postmark is from Montana,” replied Sally, checking her hair in the mirror by the door. She too was dressed up for a night on the town. “I’m sure your father misses you. When will you go back home?”

“Oh, Sally. Don’t remind me,” she groaned.

“Sorry, honey. We can talk about it later. I’m meeting someone.”

“Alright. Have fun tonight.”

“You too.”

Stella took a seat on the sofa and inspected the envelope. It was indeed from her father, and she tore it open, eager to read what he had to say before Tomas arrived to pick her up.

My dearest Stella, the letter began. I’m happy to report that I’m back in good health, just sorry I missed your graduation. Words can’t begin to express how proud I am of you. Everyone is excited about your return. I know you mentioned extending your stay in the city to earn some money, but you needn’t let that keep you from coming home. I’ve always taken care of you, and I always will. That is until someone else comes along to do so.

I had dinner with George Lankford the other day. He always asks how you’re doing and wishes you well. He tells me Willie is doing a fine job taking care of the family ranch, only that he still hasn’t found a suitable wife. I told George that maybe his luck will change soon.

Mrs. Nelson sends her love. She misses you like crazy, and so do those old barn cats of yours. I do, too, of course.

Drop us a line and let us know your plans, dear daughter. I hope this is the last Christmas you spend away from home. Love, Papa

Stella clutched the letter to her chest. Although she was not particularly pleased to hear that Willie hadn’t settled down, she could tell how much her father wanted to see her and have her back home. It made her heart ache, so much so that she thought about breaking her arrangement with Tomas. But then she realized it would be better, to be honest, and let him know how torn she was feeling. Stella folded the letter and placed it in her purse. She’d write her father back as soon as she was able.


Tomas was beyond happy to see Stella when she opened the door. Her lips were painted a soft red, and she was wearing her hair in soft curls that extended down her back. This was his favorite look on her, as he liked to imagine how Stella appeared when she was back home on her ranch, hair whipping in the wind as she strode about her father’s ranch, ensuring that everything was just as it should be. He never said anything about this to her. She probably wouldn’t like him to think of her as anything less than the dainty and classy woman she’d become in New York. Still, one of the things he loved most about Stella was the fact that she could be anything and do anything she put her mind to.

Tomas didn’t want to lose her. Now that Stella had graduated, he feared that their time together was slipping away. Both of them had foolishly put off important conversations about their future. He planned on talking to Stella about his concerns over dinner and hoped she would be willing to share her thoughts with him. He had made a reservation at one of his favorite restaurants. It required membership for entry and had a strict dress code. A full tuxedo for the men. After greeting one another, Stella commented on his appearance.

“You look fancy tonight. Am I underdressed?” she asked, smoothing down the front of her maroon gown with her white silk gloves.

“You look beautiful, as always,” Tomas replied, knowing that any other answer would be unwise. Besides, it was the truth. “You’ll turn heads, for sure.”

Tomas knew he was taking a big risk by bringing Stella to a high society restaurant. What if someone were to see them and report back to his mother? It was a risk for sure, but sooner or later, this would be their reality if they were to remain a couple.

“Where are we going for dinner?” Stella inquired once they were seated in the carriage. Tomas leaned over and placed a kiss on her forehead.

“I’m taking you to a French restaurant, Chez Nous. When I was younger, my family used to go there almost every week. The food is delicious, and the atmosphere is lively. I hope it won’t be too distracting. I’d like to talk a few things over with you.”

Stella seemed pleased with his plan. She leaned up to place a chaste kiss on his lips. “Sounds perfect,” she told him, before resting her head against his shoulder.


As they neared the restaurant, Stella realized they were in an area of the city that was quite affluent, evident by the way people were dressed and the lavish carriages being driven around the streets. She felt a nervous knot form in her stomach, putting two and two together and realizing that Tomas was attempting to bring her into his world at last. She wished he’d told her ahead of time so she could have worn her most fancy dress.

As he helped her out of the carriage, the reassuring smile he gave her calmed her nerves. Tomas linked their arms together and whispered, “I’m quite lucky to have such a gorgeous woman by my side.”

Stella relaxed the tension in her shoulders. A maitre d’ greeted them as soon as they stepped inside the restaurant. Tomas’s description of the lively atmosphere was accurate, and the decor was warm and inviting; red and gold-trimmed walls and small chandeliers hanging over every table.

“It’s lovely,” she cooed as they were escorted to a small table in a corner.

“I’m glad you think so,” he replied. “I was hoping you’d feel comfortable here.”

Once seated, Tomas proceeded to order a bottle of chardonnay for the table. “Stella, may I also order your meal?”

“Yes,” she told him and was impressed when he placed their order in French. She loved seeing this side of Tomas and sometimes wondered if he hid it from her to not remind her of the differences in their upbringings.

“You mentioned on the way over about wanting to talk about something?” She gently reminded him, thinking about the letter from her father in her purse.

“Yes, I do. About us. Our future together. I think we’ve both been avoiding this topic. I’m not proud of myself for waiting so long to have this conversation with you, knowing that you’re expected home. Perhaps I thought if we never talked about it, we could continue to be together.”

Stella knew exactly what he meant and appreciated Tomas sharing his thoughts. “It’s so hard. I have a life waiting on me back in Missoula, and I have a life here with you, too.” She looked down at her hands and noticed a chip in the nail polish on her index finger. “We haven’t been honest with our loved ones about our relationship. We haven’t been honest with ourselves either.”

Tomas nodded, and his tone was full of regret. “This whole time, I’ve wanted you to be a part of my life, to be in every part of my life. But I wanted to respect your wishes to keep things secret and to shield you from any nastiness.”

Stella knew what Tomas was getting at, and she loved him for wanting to protect her. She was afraid of not fitting into his world, and Stella had obligations back home. So how would they figure this out? There wasn’t a clear answer.

The waiter arrived with their meals. Tomas had ordered roasted duck for each of them. Stella wished she had more of an appetite and merely picked at her food. Tomas asked if they could continue their conversation. Stella nodded.

“In these four years we’ve been together, you’ve only gone back to Missoula twice.”

“Yes, that’s true. And I missed you terribly,” Stella recalled.

“And I missed you too. Have you considered staying here a few more months? At least until we figure things out,” he asked with a hopeful glimmer in his eyes.

“Yes, of course, I have. My father expected me home on the first train after I graduated, but I can’t bring myself to leave.”

“So you’ll stay a while?”

Stella picked up her napkin from her lap and folded it nervously, trying to explain the predicament she was in. “Tomas, I truly don’t know what to do. I love you so,” she said quietly, biting back tears.

“What’s holding you back then? Is it me? Is it the way I’ve been a coward about our relationship?”

Stella’s eyes widened, fearful that this conversation was leading them down a fruitless path. “You’re not a coward, Tomas. I’ve never thought that. We’ve both been bound by circumstances beyond our control.”

Before he could respond, the waiter appeared to take their dessert order. Tomas ordered crème brûlée for both of them. Once the waiter was gone, Tomas reached across the table to hold Stella’s hand. “Honestly, I don’t understand what’s so complicated. We love each other. Let’s go to Missoula and tell your father about our relationship. Then you can move here permanently.”

Stella’s heart fluttered at the thought of Tomas being so bold as to go meet her father face to face and proclaim his love for her. Yet, he wasn’t offering her anything more than what they had at the moment. And yes, she had accepted the way things were up until now, but if she was going to falter on her promise to her father and abandon her plan to serve as a midwife back home, she needed more.

“Let’s say I move here permanently, then what?” she challenged him.

“Then…” he started to respond as the waiter arrived with their crème brûlée. Tomas dug into his piece. Stella pushed the small dish of golden-brown custard away from her.

“I don’t see why you can’t move to Missoula,” she said flatly, folding her arms across her chest and watching his reaction.

Tomas appeared to choke on his bite of dessert. “You can’t be serious.”

“Why not?”

“My medical practice is here. You don’t expect me to leave that all behind and live on a ranch, do you? That life’s completely foreign to me.”

Stella couldn’t believe her ears. It was fine for Tomas to ask her to give up everything for him, yet when she’d asked him to do the same, he reacted like she’d made some kind of joke. “Tomas, I know you didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but you did. And I know the mature thing would be to continue talking about this. I just can’t right now. I’d like to go home.”

“Home? To the sorority house or Missoula?” he asked in a slightly snarky tone.

“You know what I meant.”

“Fine,” he said quietly. “Just let me take care of the bill.”

Hearing the disappointment in his tone, Stella relented, sorry that she’d given up so quickly. “Wait, Tomas. Finish your dessert. Let’s keep talking.”

He shook his head and motioned for the check. “No, it’s alright. We can try to revisit this conversation another time.”

Stella’s heart sank. Why couldn’t she be honest with him and tell him about the promise she’d made to her father? It wasn’t his fault that she’d kept a secret the whole time they’d been together. Tomas, always a gentleman, paid for their meal and came around to her side of the table to escort her to his carriage. Stella wanted to ask for his forgiveness and suggest they take a walk down Fifth Avenue. All of the shop windows would be decorated so beautifully for Christmas. She and Tomas had a tradition of buying hot chocolate and taking in the sights at least a few times around the holidays. But Stella could tell from the defeated look on Tomas’s face that their evening was over.

They had let the complexities of the situation get the better of them. On their way out, both were too downtrodden to pay much attention to their surroundings. Stella wouldn’t have recognized the young woman with two long chestnut brown braids seated in the opposite corner of the restaurant, but Tomas would have. It was his very own sister, Rose Rudd. Having their secret relationship discovered by Rose was the very last thing Tomas and Stella needed right now.

Chapter 5

Tomas took Stella back to the sorority house. Their farewells were brief and devoid of any warmth. On his way home, Tomas reflected on the fact that in all the time he had been courting Stella, he’d never been cross with her. He had been frustrated, yes, but never angry.

A year or so into their relationship, she had started arriving late for their regular weekend meetings, which was a big inconvenience since they would meet a few blocks away from the campus, and Tomas didn’t want to be seen milling about. She always apologized for keeping him waiting, and eventually, he told her how much it bothered him.

Stella had been taken aback at first, as it was rare for him to aim any sort of criticism in her direction. She agreed that he had been right to say something, but she offered a reason for her lateness, her desire to be presentable took extra time. She needed to look her very best in case they ran into anyone from his family’s high-class social circle.

Tomas immediately realized the extra pressure Stella was putting on herself to fit some ideal, and it only further convinced him to separate himself even further from those very circles she had mentioned. In doing so, he began to spend even less time with old friends and at home. His mother and sister often made comments about his frequent absences. While he was working on his Ph.D., Tomas had the excuse of being out late to study. There was also his medical practice that was taking up quite a bit of his time.

Both were reasonable excuses, but lately, his sister Rose had been pestering him about why he hadn’t been at the latest social gathering.

A few weeks ago, Rose had cornered him in the hallway and told him how frustrating it was to make excuses for his absences, time and time again.

“Well, then don’t,” he’d advised her. “People change, Rose. They find new interests. That’s life.”

Although it seemed that Rose hadn’t changed one bit from the self-centered, spoiled child, who his mother had been coddling since she was a toddler. Rose did whatever her mother wanted, dressed, and acted however her mother deemed proper, and as Tomas would find out later that night, after taking Stella back to her sorority house, Rose also did his mother’s dirty work.

She was waiting for him when he returned to his family’s townhouse, perched on the leather sofa in the drawing-room, like a cat waiting to pounce on her prey. It wasn’t terribly late, though Tomas figured that his mother had already retired for the evening. He was surprised to find Rose at home and not out on the town with her friends. She was dressed in a light green dinner dress that made her pale skin almost ghost-like.

He felt sorry for Rose and her lack of desire to do something more with her life. Tomas hung up his winter coat and paused to greet her, though he had no intention of having a long, drawn-out conversation. He wanted time to reflect on his conversation with Stella and how he might have handled it differently. How he would do a better job of conveying what he wanted with Stella. To marry her if she’d have him, and figure out some compromise to bring their two worlds together.

“Did you have a nice evening?” Tomas asked politely, pausing to admire the twelve-foot Christmas tree in the center of the room. He had to give his mother credit for the tasteful and festive Christmas decor. He thought immediately of Stella and how much she loved the holidays, the merriment and joy, and here he was, spoiling it for the both of them.

“I had an interesting evening, brother,” Rose replied, pursing her thin lips together as she twisted one of her braids between her fingers.

“Well, as long as you were entertained. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.”

Tomas started towards the staircase when his sister called out to him, “My dinner at Chez Nous was quite entertaining.”

He stopped in his tracks, wondering if he’d heard her correctly. “Where did you say you…”

Chez Nous. I hadn’t been there in a while. Something told me I should go and have a bite.” She stood up from the sofa and stepped towards him. “I guess someone else had the same idea.”

“Well, yes, I…”

“Who is she, Tomas?” Rose asked with an accusatory tone while poking her finger into the lapel of his jacket. Her long braids swayed back and forth behind her shoulders like two serpents.

“My personal affairs are none of your business.”

“But aren’t they? Mother expects honesty in this house. She always has. And Father, well, whenever he bothers coming back from London, he’ll be equally curious about the no-name piece of trash you’ve taken up with.”

Tomas pushed his sister’s hand away from his lapel and scolded her sternly. “Never speak that way about Stella again,” he warned. Tomas could barely believe the audacity of his sister, first for spying on him, and second, for passing judgment on someone she’d never even met.

Rose was smirking back at him, and Tomas was convinced she was loving every minute of the miserable situation she had created for him. Tomas knew she was jealous of the freedoms afforded to him as the older male child in the family. It didn’t have to be that way. Tomas wanted to have a healthy relationship with his sister, but they were so different in temperament.

“Stella, is it? Well, now that I know her name, I’ll refrain from calling her no-name trash.”

“Rose, you’re being very disrespectful right now and for no reason!”

“I’m being disrespectful? Well, let’s see, I believe you’re the one spending time with someone you haven’t introduced to our mother. And it’s obvious she’s not from a pedigreed family. I could tell from that outdated frock she was wearing and the way she styled her hair. Perhaps she was trying to show some class, for your sake, but not with much success.”

“What are you even talking about? Stella is a beautiful woman, and she looks stunning no matter what she’s wearing.”

“You’ve been out of high society life for too long, brother. Everyone can tell who’s authentic and who’s faking it. And your Stella is a fraud.”

Tomas was growing tired of his sister’s rantings. Before he dismissed her completely, he needed to know something. Had she already spoken to their mother about seeing him with Stella? And if yes, Tomas wondered if he should deny everything and make up a cover story. Perhaps Stella was a recent medical student graduate that he had agreed to mentor? Or maybe, Tomas rationalized, this was all for the best, to have everything out in the open?

No. I won’t ask her if she’s told, Mother. I won’t give Rose the satisfaction of knowing I care what she has to say on the matter.

“Again, I must insist that you not be disrespectful towards Stella. I’d like to believe that deep down, you are concerned about who I am seeing because you want what’s best for me. So I will leave it at that and say goodnight.”

“Suit yourself,” shrugged Rose. “We’ll see what Mother has to say about all this,” she threatened before returning to the sofa and picking up a magazine to read.

It came as no surprise to Tomas that Rose planned to share this information with their mother, and while it twisted his insides to imagine her reaction, he refused to continue discussing his love life with his baby sister. Tomas retreated to his room and readied himself for bed. Now he had two issues to contend with patching things up with Stella and dealing with the fallout from his secret relationship being revealed.


The next morning, Tomas woke up with a splitting headache, likely because he hadn’t slept very well, tossing and turning with worry over his current predicament. He supposed it was time to face the music and he knew that his mother and sister would be waiting downstairs at the breakfast table to interrogate him. Upon descending the staircase and entering the dining room, Tomas’s suspicions were confirmed. The two women were sipping their morning coffee when he walked in, both of their eyes fixed on him.

Tomas noticed an extra place setting at the table. Without thinking, he blurted out, “Is Father home? Will he be joining us for breakfast?” His father wouldn’t likely approve of his relationship either, but he’d at least hear Tomas out. Also, it had been months since he’d been home, and Tomas did miss having him around.

He could tell he’d guessed wrong by the pained expression on his mother’s face. Her mouth was curled into a tight snarl as she responded, “What a silly question. Your father won’t even be home for Christmas this year. So typical of him.”

Rose patted her mother’s hand and glared across the table at Tomas for bringing up the subject of their father in the first place.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” Tomas apologized out of habit, though he hadn’t done anything wrong. “Who is the extra place setting for?”

He glanced over at Rose who was grinning mischievously and looked over at his mother for a response.

“Why I thought you might want to invite your lady friend over to join us for breakfast,” his mother said in her most mannered tone. “Rose was telling me all about her. What a joy for you. Though it’s a shame you couldn’t be bothered to tell us first. We had to find out by random coincidence.”

Tomas was fuming on the inside, disgusted with his sister’s behavior, and was grappling with the shame of having his secret relationship made public to his mother. In a sense, he had failed his family. He’d failed Stella as well by hiding her as though she wasn’t good enough, thereby affirming his family’s prejudices.

“I have been courting someone,” he admitted in the most casual voice he could muster. “Her name is Stella Dawson. She just graduated from Bellevue Hospital Medical College in midwifery. She is a very bright young woman.” He paused to gauge his mother’s reaction. She was staring back at him blankly.

He continued, acknowledging the charade his mother and sister were putting on. “However, I don’t believe she’ll be able to join us for breakfast. She has a shift at the hospital today.”

“What a shame,” she responded. “Dawson. Dawson. I don’t know of any upper-class New York families with that last name. Where does your dear girl hail from?” his mother inquired.

Tomas cleared his throat. “Missoula, Montana. Her father is a prominent rancher there.”

“A country girl then? I don’t believe anyone in our family has ever had the experience of courting a low-class type before.”

Tomas cringed at the way his mother was phrasing things and pushed back. “She’s not a low class at all. You haven’t even met her, how do you know?” he protested.

“You should have seen her, Mother,” Rose whined. “She was practically wearing rags at Chez Nous. The spectacle of it all! I can’t believe Tomas would take her to such a fine establishment. The Richardsons were there. And the Wakefields. How embarrassing for our family! Honestly, Tomas. Don’t you even think about us? Our reputation?”

Tomas pushed his chair back and stood up abruptly, throwing his napkin onto the table. His sister had no right to speak to him this way, nor to say such horrible things about Stella. He’d had enough of her nasty attitude, and part of him wondered if she hadn’t been following him around, waiting for an opportunity like this.

“If you will excuse me. I need some air.” He didn’t wait for their replies, and he wanted so badly to storm out that he even forgot his winter coat on the way out. He needed to feel free from the suffocating weight of his family’s expectations and the shock of everything in his world crashing down. Tomas walked in the unwelcoming, bitter cold for a few blocks to clear his head and try to pull himself together. His first inclination was to take his carriage over to the hospital and tell Stella what had happened, though he knew, sooner rather than later, he’d have to face his mother and her disdain. The only silver lining to all of this was the fact that Stella wasn’t a secret any longer. Tomas wasn’t sure what it would cost him to keep her in his life, but he wasn’t willing to give her up, come what may.

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