When seventeen-year-old seamstress, Josephine Nimetz, agrees to take care of a WWI amputee in a remote Alaskan lodge, there’s enough friction to melt the Mendenhall Glacier. Her position is only until June, and it pays well enough to overlook the hardship of managing a rustic home and a shell-shocked veteran.
Geoff Chambers makes it clear that he isn’t too fond of the “runt” sent to take care of his needs, nor of her painful mistakes. Dealing with a depressed and addicted veteran, pushes Josephine to the brink of leaving, if not for the money her salary brings.
But Josephine is a perfectionist, determined to get Geoff back on his feet—figuratively...Although, sending a rich, handsome veteran back into society may cost Josephine the man she has grown to love.
Juneau, Alaska, September 1918
Josephine Nimetz slipped into a perfect replica of a wool coat, one she had drawn, designed, and patterned on old newspaper. She tucked a rectangular box under her arm and tiptoed across the living room toward her mother who slept in an oversized chair. Laying a gentle hand on her mother’s swollen knuckles, she whispered, “I’m off to the Chambers Estate.”
Her mother’s eyes fluttered open. “I thought you delivered Mrs. Chambers’s gown yesterday?”
“Yes, but Ann forgot to put the gloves and embroidered handkerchief in the box. I don’t want any complaints from our best customer.”
“Your sister can’t seem to think about anything these days. Anything, that is, except men.”
Josephine stepped toward the door. At seventeen, the last thing she wanted to discuss was her sister’s courtships. There had been too many stories of lonely miners with gold rush dreams.
Her mother coughed and leaned forward.
Josephine halted. “Do you need your medicine?”
“At night dear. Only at night.” Her mom sat back and closed her eyes.
Clenching her teeth, Josephine crossed over the woven rug and rested a hand on her mother’s forehead. No one should suffer in order to save money. “I’ll steep us some tea when I return.” She stroked her mother’s hand.
Using Mrs. Chambers’s package to shield her cheeks from the salty sting of brisk Alaskan air, Josephine scuffed along the walkway bordering tiny, wooden row houses. The homes, nestled on the side of a mountain, were one earth-shattering jolt away from plunging into the Gastineau Channel.
She stopped briefly in town to inspect the fashion ensemble in the department store window. The same dusty, shipped-in gown from the previous month clung to the dressmaker’s dummy. Good. No new arrivals to compete with this week.
Trudging past the stained glass Russian Orthodox Church and up the hill toward Juneau’s elaborate homes, she spied the Chamberses’ mansion with its gabled roof and large bay windows. One day, she hoped to own a big home with a formal dining room and a sizeable porch; a place where her mother could survey comings and goings from outside the front door—rain or drizzle. “Someday,” she sighed. Definitely, not now.
As she neared the Chamberses’ gardens, a man staggered in her direction. His limbs flailed like a drifter kicked out of the Red Dog Saloon at closing time. A cap shaded his face except for his days-old beard, but she knew that uneven gait. Ivan? Couldn’t be? Her stepfather worked on Douglas Island—at the mine. Lately, on days off, he stayed on the island with his paycheck.
“It’s about time.”
Josephine’s pulse quickened. She recognized her stepfather’s sharp sarcasm.
Ivan’s calloused hand engulfed her shoulder as the stench of Skagg whiskey accosted her nostrils.
“Where’s the money?” His words slurred together.
“What money?” She cradled Mrs. Chambers’s box against her chest, grateful for the distance it put between them.
Seizing her collar, Ivan curled the fabric into his fist. “Mrs. Chambers pays you fourteen dollars for those fancy dresses.” His grip tightened. “You’ll give me the money.”
“It’s gloves.” She fumbled to open the top of the package. “I don’t have any money.”
Scarlet capillaries streaked her stepfather’s bulging eyes. “I need it.”
Words stuck like cotton in Josephine’s throat. “But…but your pay from the mine? You got paid?”
He lifted her lapel closer to his face. His sour breath tainted the air. “Don’t hold out on me, girl. That pay’s gone.”
What of mother’s medicine? Heat flushed her cheeks. She dropped Mrs. Chambers’s accessories and clawed at his forearm, easing the pressure on her neck.
“Look for yourself. There’s no dress. That money paid off our credit at the store.” She avoided Ivan’s hazel-eyed glare.
“That’s not your place, girl.”
Sing-song laughter sliced through the pine trees.
Mrs. Chambers. Thank God. Josephine strained to see her customer.
Ivan cursed and released her collar. His ragged fingernails gouged her neck. A burn like booted-up campfire embers sizzled along her throat. He bent to pick up the box. The crushed corner revealed embroidered cotton.
“These worth something?”
“No. Not to you.” Her words came out in an almost-shout. She lunged to collect her work.
“Josephine?” Mrs. Chambers’s inquiry held a hint of concern.
Ivan pushed off to flee. His stiff-armed thrust sent Josephine tumbling backward. Her head struck something hard. Searing pain sliced into her scalp while vibrant bursts of light blurred her vision. A glacier-ice chill crept over her flesh. I need to get up and deliver the gloves. Mother needs her tea.
When she opened her eyes, darkness greeted her. Instead of the hard ground, silk sheets caressed her skin and mounds of soft pillows buffered the pounding rhythm in her forehead. Moonlight peeked under tall curtains and revealed the outline of claw-footed furniture. The scent of Mrs. Chambers’s rosebud and lily perfume hung in the air. How did she get inside the Chamberses’ house?
A deep undulating moaning crept into the bedroom, followed by a panicked scream.
Josephine sprang upright. Her head spun, the room spun, everything spun. She massaged her throbbing temples. Did her mother know where she was and what Ivan had done?
A man’s cries filled the hallway. The hair on her arms rose to attention like fur on a hissing cat.
She wrapped a pillow around her head to drown out the moaning. Linen grazed her neck. What happened to her long locks? Reaching back, her fingers discovered chopped-off hair and a stitched bump covered with greasy ointment. The mat in her hair was round like a bird’s nest. A cap would be in order to cover this mess.
Rolling to the side of the bed, she slowly stood. Pain ricocheted through her face. She braced herself with a hand on the nightstand and fumbled her way to the door, trying not to trip on the length of her borrowed night dress. Someone had changed her. She stiffened. She needed to find out whom. She needed to find out what had happened. She needed to find out if Ivan had bothered her mother.
As she opened the door, light from engraved sconces in the hallway illuminated her room. Crystal glasses glimmered on the nightstand. A small R, larger C, and a small J were embossed on the matching pitcher. She ran her fingertips over the grooved letters. Reynold James Chambers. He owned land, lumber mills, and gold mines, and his wife paid top dollar for one-of-a-kind gowns. Even the bows on Josephine’s night dress were a special order.
“Water,” a voice pleaded. “Some water.”
She held her breath and listened.
The pitiful sobbing from down the hallway made her injury seem insignificant.
Was Mr. Chambers ill? His son had recently returned from the war. Perhaps he or a servant suffered. Certainly, someone would comfort the man.
The crying stopped. Raspy shouting for a drink took its place.
Curious about what was going on, Josephine peeked down the hallway. A woman paced, head down, hands folded, outside a door at the other end of the hall. Her measured steps were precise as a wind-up toy. It looked like Mrs. Prescott, the Chamberses’ housekeeper. After a couple of laps, Mrs. Prescott scurried off. The maid’s footsteps clamored on the stairs.
Josephine turned and stared at the pitcher of water by her bed. The Chambers had taken care of her injury. Returning a favor was customary. After all, Father Demetriev had preached, ‘do unto others’ at mass.
She poured a glass of water and swerved down the hallway, steadying herself with a hand to the wall, and careful not to spill on the plush rug. She stood in front of the door. Muffled sobs came from inside. Her heart plummeted to her belly. Her mother cried like this when her joints flared with pain. Suck