September 27, 2010
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During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, privileged Grace Wyne and Irish immigrant Nathaniel Dempsey find LOVE FROM THE ASHES.
Grace and Nate seek freedom and a new life in San Francisco, but society and forces of nature are against them. Grace joins a suffragette organization, and when she encounters scorn and violence, Nate vows to protect her. Torn by the death of his family in Ireland, he finds her spirit and strength a balm for his soul. Determined to marry for love, she is stunned by her feelings for a man far beneath her social status. There is more than one danger to face, for the earth is unstable and their forbidden love could be formula for a disaster. When the earth trembles and breaks, they search for each other amid the chaos and find LOVE FROM THE ASHES.
As Nate parked the Studebaker F-28 at the front of the Wyne Mansion, he tugged the cap down on his head and buttoned the front of his chauffeur togs against a chill wind. Clouds scuttled across the sky, and he decided to put up the top on the automobile. At least if it poured they'd be dry. He fiddled with the cover and waited for Grace to appear, wondering if he wasn't ten times an idiot for agreeing to teach her to drive. Archibald had come to the carriage house the evening before to let him know that Grace's father had given permission for her to have driving lessons.
He'd been counting on her father saying no.
But would that have stopped her? Somehow he didn't think so. One way or the other, stubborn Grace Wyne would have gotten her way.
He hoped she would change her mind. It wasn't that he thought she couldn't learn to drive. If any woman could, she would. He was angry with himself. The vow he'd made to stay away from her hadn't worked on the night of the ball.
Nate hadn't lied to her. He'd been on a walk when he'd spied her through the open doors and seen the tall man at her side. As Grace had responded to the man's smile, Nate had been disturbed deeply. He didn't want to recognize the feeling or give it credence to grow, so he shut away the memory.
Suddenly, as if thinking about her summoned her appearance, Grace emerged from the front door and took the steps down. As she walked toward him, he smiled. She wore a long dustcoat, small hat with netting in the back, and goggles.
Deep need stilled the breath in his throat. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, indeed. Even covered from head to toe with bulky garments she looked pretty. He cleared his throat and took a shuddering breath to relieve the sensation.
He couldn't believe he'd opened his big mouth and told her she was beautiful. He'd been motivated by his own needs, and the way that Cutcheon character had looked at her. Sure, and he'd never live it down. Now she knew he admired her pretty face she might take advantage of it.
Even so, when she smiled as she neared him, he couldn't help but grin back. "Top of the morning to you, Miss Wyne."
"Good morning. I'm sorry I'm late. Pressing business."
"Deciding what dress to wear?"
Her smile faded. "Really, is that all you think I care about, Mr. Dempsey?"
Nate wanted to pull her into his arms and wipe away her frown with a long, hot kiss. Instead he said, "No. I'm sorry."
She put her hands on her hips. "Good. Now shall we go?"
Her prickly tone should have irritated him, but laughter tugged at his mouth. "Climb into the Studebaker, and we'll start from the beginning."
Without argument Grace slid into the right hand driver's seat. He grabbed the door before she could close it. He moved close to her and caught a whiff of her perfume.
He instructed her again on how to start the automobile, explaining about the foot brake, accelerator and how much pressure to apply and how fast the auto could go.
"Keep the speed way down," he said, pointing with a gloved hand to the speedometer.
She nodded and gripped the steering wheel. Aye, she looked as nervous as a barn kitten. She couldn't hide it from him.
"We're going out on the street on my first lesson?" she asked.
"If you can handle the Studebaker around the circular drive, we can take the auto out onto the streets tomorrow."
Through the goggles her eyes brightened to soft brown warmth. "I'd like that."
He caught himself staring into her eyes, and had to force himself to look away. "Let us get started, then."
Nate started to move to the front of the auto, but she grabbed his arm and stepped out of the Studebaker.
"Wait. I need to learn how to use the crank handle."
Drawing his arm away from the warmth of her grip, he shook his head. "No. You saw what happened to me the other day-"
"I saw. What good is it for me to learn to drive if I can't start the auto?"
Determination thinned her lips. He knew she was right, but he didn't want her to get hurt. "Your father would have my hide."
"Even if something did happen, my father is a reasonable man. He would know it wasn't your fault."
"Have it your way." He handed her the crank handle, and she took it, stepping out of the automobile.
Then she apparently remembered she hadn't set the starter and reached into the auto. She glanced his way as if she expected him to make a comment, but he kept a straight face. Then Grace had trouble inserting the handle into the hole. He waited while she fumbled about. Crossing his arms, Nate leaned against the automobile. Making an impatient noise, she tried again to push the crank handle in and this time it worked.
Smiling with satisfaction, she glanced at him. He kept his expression neutral. He wouldn't give her any sign what he thought. Hell, if Grace knew how sweet he thought she looked with pieces of her hair escaping the hat and veil, and a smudge on her coat, she'd smack his face.
Damn, but her breasts pushed against her coat. Nate imagined them round, full, tempting-
He sucked in a breath as his loins stirred and arousal made him painfully aware of his snug trousers.
Grace looked up, brow furrowed, and he was grateful for his wool overcoat covering the blatant truth.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing. Go ahead. Crank it."
She turned the crank clockwise with a grunt and a grimace. Nate stiffened, ready to jump to her aid should the automobile kickback. To his relief, however, the auto chugged to a start. She straightened and dusted her hands off on her dark coat.
She raised one brow and smiled. "Sounds splendid." She put her hands on her hips. "Well, are you just going to stand there or are you ready to teach me to drive?"
* * *
Grace knew she shouldn't be smug, but she was.
When she'd cranked the Studebaker, she knew the automobile might kick back on her. Nervous, Grace had been propelled by the idea Nate watched her and perhaps didn't believe she could do it.
"Let's go," Nate said, going around the Studebaker and climbing in the passenger seat next to her.
Gratified and feeling in control, she waited as he showed her how to release the hand brake. As he gave her instructions of the use of the foot brake and accelerator, her nervousness dissipated.
"Go ahead, press on accelerator and turn the steering wheel slightly so we'll go around the drive. Push the pedal slowly."
Grace pushed the pedal down and the automobile puttered forward. She maneuvered around the circular drive at a snail's crawl. After several turns her confidence increased. A smile flitted over her lips. What the heck? She'd give Mr. Superior Dempsey the ride of his life.
She headed for the gate.
"What are you doing?" Nate asked, alarm edging into his voice.
"What does it look like I am doing?"
His face flushed. "Stop the automobile."
"You're not ready."
She crept through the gate, grateful for the wide berth between the pillars. She looked both ways. No one was coming from either direction.
"All clear," she said, pulling out into the wide avenue.
"Stop! Stop the auto!" Nate reached for her arm.
By this time she had started down the steep hill below them and the auto rolled quickly. "Let go of my arm! I'll crash."
Nate muttered several obscenities, some familiar and others in a language she'd never heard. His brogue thickened considerably.
"What did you say?" she asked.
He pointed to a wide place at the bottom of the hill. "Use the brake and pull over."
"The foot brake, damn it!"
"Don't yell at me!"
"If we get out of this alive, you silly woman, I'll strangle you. Sweet Jesus, stay on the right side of the road!"
"If you'd let go of my arm-"
Nate let go and she swerved slightly. Grace inhaled sharply and corrected, but not before a surrey coming from the other direction veered to avoid a possible collision. She let out a squeak as they barely missed hitting the vehicle. Seeing the wide spot he'd indicated earlier, she started toward it.
"You're going too fast!" Nate growled, grabbing the door on his side with white-knuckled intensity.
"I am not!"
She stomped on the foot brake and reached for the hand brake at the same time and the auto came to a sickening halt, the metal shrieking like demons from the depths of hell. Several people walking on the sidewalk looked at them, consternation and curiosity on their faces. Tempted to ask them what the blazes they were looking at, she instead turned to her traveling partner. She expected him to yell.