Date Published: 5/26/2021
Publisher: Indies United
About the Book:
When Hannah Reilly steps off the ship on the shores of Ellis Island in 1912 she has no idea that it is not a convent that awaits her. It is a man who finds her far too beautiful to marry God.
Hannah turns her back on the church and she and Wade settle in Jacksonville, Florida, where the world holds the promise of sunshine. They have two wonderful children before life changes and Wade insists that Hannah abort her third child. When Hannah refuses, light turns to darkness and fate unfolds before Hannah with the cruel consequences of her choices.
A story told against the backdrop of the Depression, Hannah struggles with anguish and despair highlighted by brief moments of triumph, lost love returned, deep friendship and the cruelty of laws so unfavorable to women.
Read an Excerpt:
The morning was grey and damp. Color drained from the earth, washed off by rain that would not cease, might never cease, it seemed so committed. Hannah listened intently to the wind’s menacing murmur, stirring up the ground and whatever was on it. There was a clanking sound coming from the side of the house, which she could not place, perhaps the garden tools she had used the day before. They were like cymbals with the drum of thunder, both playful and irritating. The fire in the kitchen was warm, but the chill in her veins remained. She felt her future being written by the patter and the disarray of the storm.
She could smell her father's pipe. It was usually sweet, but the dampness made it pungent, almost sour. It polluted the air like the large Irish setter at her feet, whose wet hair had a bad smell, like soiled clothes. She reached down and touched his head anyway, and the dog's cold nose brushed past her palm.
She would not argue with her father any longer. She would not beg nor plead nor weep. Her father's mind could not be changed; his absurd obsession with things that shouldn't matter was set in stone. She turned her head toward the window, and the dark wind came at her so fiercely. The windows rattled as if phantasmal lunatics were attempting to reach her, as if phantasmal lunatics were about to shatter the glass and take the very life from her.
“Brutal weather,” her father said. “Raining pitchforks.”
Hannah nodded. “Yes, I hope there won't be much damage.”
He went back to his paper and his politics, back to his unreasonable hatred of the Nationalists. None of it mattered a damn to her.
“Ay, there'll be some of it, rest assured.”
“What? Damage?” she asked.
“Rest assured,” he said.
“Yes, I suppose there will be,” she answered and turned her head back toward the window and the angry gusts that took center stage and demanded notice.
Her father mumbled over something he had just read and slammed the paper to the floor. He shook his head, cursed under his breath. “Why the hell would we go backwards?” he yelled out.
Her sister was knitting. The action of the needles seemed to calm her. Contentment nestled around her smile as if the storm weren’t taking the roof off over them. Her pretty face was placid and untroubled. She whistled every now and then, adding to the drumrolls of Mother Nature's tantrum.
“What's that you got in your head?” Hannah asked her. “'On Moonlight Bay'?”
“Will you play it for me later?” Anne asked.
“You think you'll be hearing it over all this thunder?”
Anne laughed good-naturedly. Her laughter had a melody, like violins hitting a high note.
“Well, play loudly then, and I'll sing loudly,” she called out, eager to be heard above the storm.
Hannah tried to smile, but she felt the tension in her expression, surprising her by its sudden appearance. Would there be any singing in the convent? She wondered. Hymns, of course, but certainly not ragtime. She hoped that God was not her destiny. She didn't want it, nor did she choose it. But that’s just the way it was. There was God or there was man … nothing in between but spinsterhood. Well, she would have gladly chosen spinsterhood, a future dimmed by lack of purpose, over a future dimmed by taciturnity and endless prayer.
“I don't think I will be happy as a nun, Papa,” she said slowly, though she'd said it before, a hundred times before. She knew it would make no difference. Her father's mind was made. She hadn't the discretion to choose well, the good sense to choose a man with loyalty to Britain. What unearthly difference it made she could not begin to understand but it certainly proved her inability to make wise decisions, according to her papa.
“What's that?” John Reilly asked.
Hannah turned her head away.” Nothing,” she said.
Her sister continued to knit, but Hannah knew she was holding her breath. She felt her papa's gaze from across the room, felt the complexity of his thoughts. He had heard what she'd said, she knew it.
Hannah looked at the tip of her shoe, avoiding Papa’s irksome stare. Perhaps she should have said it louder. Perhaps she should have shouted it. The gray Dublin sky gave way to a cannonade of thunderous drumrolls. Hannah felt a shiver right through to her bones. She saw her life as one might see a dark cloud descending, swallowing the sun. She shivered again and pulled her shawl closer to her.
John Reilly dismissed what he might have wanted to say, which was rare for him; he always had a response to everything. Hannah knew he wanted to tell her that what she wanted didn’t matter, wouldn’t ever matter because how could she, a mere child of seventeen, know her own mind better than he? Hannah was used to it by now, her father thought for her, as if her mind wouldn't work without him. She was grateful that this one time he had kept his mouth shut.
“You’re too independent, girl,” he finally said. “Men don’t like that. Not enough good men to go around anyway. Besides, doing God's work is a blessed thing. You should be proud. Happy too, that we've the money for the convent.”
“I am not proud,” she said. “Or happy.”
Hannah knew that if a girl wasn’t promised, she became a nun. That’s what God wanted if no man had asked for her hand. And of course, God knew best. Her father must have had daily conversations with the good Lord to know his mind so well. But had God forgotten that a man had asked for her hand? Certainly, her father wished to forget. Andy McGregor, with his fine good looks and his golden curls that fell onto his freckled brow, like a perpetual urchin; he had asked for her hand. He'd been teasing her relentlessly since she'd been a girl, too young to realize then that his teasing was boyish flirtation. When it finally dawned on her that he thought she was pretty, she was quick to acknowledge the acceleration of her heart and the flush to her cheeks in his presence. His smile had won her over long ago when he'd stood on the tips of his toes to kiss her. Now it strained her neck to find his smile. But he could never cross the threshold of her father's door again, not with his Labor Party politics. Her father had strong British Unionism roots, and Andy was showing such poor judgment, wanting independence from Britain? How dare he join the Nationalist party and hand pamphlets out around the village that spoke of a return to Gaelic roots and Irish Independence? What absolute rubbish. “You will never marry Andy McGregor,” her father had insisted. “He is a dangerous fool, and I will not have a viperous traitor in my family. I will not have us split apart by that man's absurd beliefs.”
Hannah shuddered. “Shackled would be more like it,” she said softly.
“What's that?” he asked.
“How I feel,” she said.
“You’ll make me proud, daughter,” John Reilly nearly shouted. She knew he was angry with her, frustrated that she didn't bend to his will as easily as he would have liked.
Hannah nodded in his direction. Acceptance now was all she had left. If she married Andy McGregor, he would not be proud? No, he would be ashamed and defensive and probably never speak to her again. And if she went against her father's wishes she would break his heart. Better her own should break.
“You don't like him because he's poor,” she said.
She felt her sister's eyes on her. Her father slapped the table with the palm of his hand. “Yes, you want not only to marry a poor man, but a stupid one.”
The kitchen shutter hit the window as torrents of rainwater obscured the view of Dublin’s hills. They watched as lightning lit up the sky, leaving behind a tenebrous shadow, blurred further by her tears.
“You are entitled to believe what you will, Father,” she said.
“I am more than entitled, I am deemed fit by the nature of being your father. I am wiser than you, I've lived longer.”
“Is it His will or your will, Papa, that I give my life over to a God who has never asked me directly for anything? I've received no calling except the one in my own heart.”
John Reilly did not answer. He picked the paper up and closed his eyes. “I see it as God's will,” he said.
And I have no will? she thought to say but didn't.
“You girls best be putting on the soup now, it's nearing six.”
She would say no more. If she didn't take it into her own hands it was to be her fate. She avoided her sister's glance, knowing sympathy was being offered, but it was not sympathy she needed, it was a bloody miracle.
About the Author:
Vera Jane Cook enjoys writing in a variety of genres. As Olivia Hardy Ray, Jane is author of the dark, suspenseful scifi novel, Pharaoh's Star. In the fantasy genre she is the author of Annabel Horton, Lost Witch of Salem, Annabel Horton and the Black Witch of Pau. She has numerous forthcoming titles in this genre which include Annabel Horton and the Demon of Lodun, Fox Hollow and Nobody's Road.
As Vera Jane Cook, she often explores her southern roots and complex family dynamics in her women's fiction. Her novel Dancing Backward in Paradise won the Indie Excellence Award for notable new fiction when it was first released in 2007 and an Eric Hoffer Award for publishing excellence that same year. Dancing Backward in Paradise received a five-star review from ForeWord Clarion. The Story of Sassy Sweetwater, first released in 2012, was a finalist for the ForeWord Clarion Book of the Year Award. Additionally, Jane has published the southern fiction novels Where the Wildflowers Grow and Pleasant Day. Her newest women's fiction novel, When Hannah Played Ragtime, Book One in a family trilogy will be published this year.
Jane lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her spouse, her Dachshund, Karly, her Chihuahua, Peanut, and her two pussycats, Sassy and Sweetie Pie.
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