Author Mary Kubica on writing

My article appeared in the Hudson Hub-Times July 3, 2017

Hudson – A best selling author kept her writing secret from everyone but her husband, who wasn’t allowed to read it until her first book was published.

Author Mary Kubica June 28, shared her writing experience with more than 50 readers of her “chilling psychological thriller” at the Hudson Library and Historical Society.

“Every Last Lie” is a widow’s search for the truth after her husband’s tragic death in a car accident that may not have been accidental.

She writes in first person because “I felt like I was outside with a third person perspective.”

“Every Last Lie” is written from two points of view, Clara and her husband, Nick, before he dies.

Kubica said she writes each point of view separately and then merges them like a deck of cards being shuffled.

A New York Times and USA Today best selling author, Kubica has written “The Good Girl,” Pretty Baby” and “Don’t you Cry.”

“The Good Girl” was an Indie Next, received a Strand Critic Nomination for Best First Novel and was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards in “Debut Goodreads Author” and “Mystery & Thriller.”

Kubica began writing as a young girl and lived vicariously through her characters. She didn’t dream of sharing her stories.

“I was shy about writing and kept it private,” Kubica said. “I was passionate about writing but didn’t want to be an author.”

Instead she became a history teacher, but after the birth of her children, she resumed writing.

“I was quickly consumed by it,” Kubica said. “I felt guilty not doing other things [chores].”

She learned by trial and error and found her voice with mysteries.

It took Kubica five years to write “The Good Girl.” She sent it to nearly 100 agents and was rejected by every one. When the rejections arrived in the mail, she rushed out to retrieve them before her husband saw them.

“It was so demoralizing,” Kubica said.

Two years later, an agent contacted her about the book for publication.

“It was a dream come true,” she said.

She was contracted to write a second book,” Pretty Baby” but her first proposal was rejected.

“I had only one idea,” Kubica said. “I was under deadline and losing time. I needed a new idea.”

She had an image of a teen holding a baby and wrote the first chapter, Kubica said.

“It was not inspiration,” she said. “It was desperation.”

Kubica answered questions from the audience and signed books afterwards, giving fans a chance to meet their favorite author.

Hudson Library and Historical Society offers programs every month on a variety of subjects, including wellness, walking tours, music, book clubs, cooking, genealogy and culture. For more information, visit


Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP


Ready for publication

I have finished the edits on my fourth novel, “Impending Love and Capture.”

Here is a sneak preview at the blurb:

When Jessica Beecher stops to help a wounded soldier on the Gettysburg battlefield, Confederate Major Morgan Mackinnon enlists her skills to nurse his sister.  Unable to escape, she waits for Union forces to attack the retreating Confederate Army.  But the delay forces Jess to look beyond the gray uniform to the man who has captured her heart.

Morgan can’t let Jess leave when she overhears Lee’s army is retreating during the night.  She’s a dangerous woman and not because of the knife she pressed against his throat or the revolver hidden beneath her skirt.  The battlefield angel has a face no man can forget, especially when facing death. 

You are hearing a big sigh of relief, but it’s a bit like your child graduating from school. You’re proud of the achievement, but a little sad your role is over and your creation is going out into the world for better or worse.

I have a creative side and an analytical side. I blame it having a right-handed father and a left-handed mother. I like to track the progress of my manuscript.

As I look back, I started “Impending Love and Capture” in March of 2016 with naming the problem and completed 100 pages by May. By December I had finished the 300+ word manuscript and sent it to my beta reader for any suggestions or glaring errors to correct.

In February 2017, I sent my manuscript to my editor at The Wild Rose Press with a synopsis and cover letter. In April, I received my contract and the work began.

I filled out the information for the front and back of the book as well as my ideas for a cover and began the edits.

In May, I submitted my blurb (read above), updated biography, and the excerpt for inside the cover.

Through May, I sent two rounds of edits on a word document, and then the copy editor made a few changes before I went through three rounds of edits on the galley version.  I made 163 galley edits.

When I edit, I read my manuscript from beginning to end, looking for any missed punctuation, inconsistencies, or word choices. I hate repeating a word in the same paragraph so that’s my main culprit when I’m making final changes.

I also believe in logic. I hate stories that don’t make sense or have a glaring flaw in the actions or thoughts of the character. Sometimes this takes reading through a passage several times to notice. I also use the search or find feature in word to make sure names, ranks, and other repeated items are consistent.

I had a colonel listed as a general in one spot. A leftover from the initial version. I also changed a character’s name and searched to make sure it had been changed in all the locations. Because it is a Civil War story and has several letters, I had to change a closing phrase that was too much like another.

I know there are still some minor errors. Even the best writers have them, but I don’t sign off until I’m confident the story is the best I could create and has the fewest flaws.

I hope you enjoy my writing.


Review of Cowboy on the Run

Cowboy on the Run by Devon McKay

The story crackles with sexual tension and memorable imagery from beginning to end as Nate Walker, quick to run from trouble, returns to Jessie Calhoun, the woman he left behind but still loves.cowboyontherun_w7754_300

Their mental and emotional battles take the reader on a roller coaster ride that is intensified by near fatal accidents.  Past problems and new surprises keep the reader turning the page to find out how the fire and ice couple resolve their feuding love life.

Will Jessie forgive Nate and trust him not to leave again or will she accept Alan, the man who doesn’t hide his love but may hide a darker secret?

The characters are interesting and the situation believable. The prose is easy to read and the story moves at a quick pace.  I highly recommend this romance.


The value of book clubs to a writer

The column appeared in the Jan. 29, 2017 edition of the Hudson Hub-Times at

by Freeman of the Press

A Hudson book club, with a little prodding from Barbara Bos, read my first book, “Impending Love and War” in my Impending Love series.  Barbara is a trustee for Case-Barlow Farm, and we share a love of history and old barns.

Barbara invited me to join a dozen ladies in the club for their meeting in January to discuss my book.

Hudson has several book clubs, but this was my first time talking to one about my book.

I confess, I was excited to talk about my writing. Wouldn’t any writer?ImpendingLoveandWar_w8676_300

I read my book, which I had written in 2014, to refresh my memory and gathered some visuals to share.

We met at the home of one of the members and upon talking to some of the other ladies in the club, I learned Barbara had the reputation for picking books no one liked. Oh no!

For many of the club members, this was their first historical romance novel and were under the misconception it was a bodice ripper, a term used for novels written in the 1970s. Instead of violent confrontations between the hero and heroine, modern romance novels emphasis an equal relationship with a clever first meeting and problems more complex than how to land a husband.

Although the romance genre is identified with a happily ever after ending, women’s literature, doesn’t guarantee romance or a happy ending. I explained that women’s lit emphasizes a woman’s voyage through a trial, disease or life altering even and doesn’t guarantee a happy ending to clarify the difference.

My writing combines romance, history and suspense and many genres are blended in modern books to appeal to a larger audience of readers.

The Hudson residents enjoyed the emphasis on local history. The story takes place in the fictional town of Darrow Falls and one club member guessed Darrowville inspired the name and at least one building in the book.

They asked an assortment of questions, including where I came up with ideas for the book.

As a reporter I covered a story at the library about the Underground Railroad in the local area, which helped to develop the idea for the story about a runaway slave.

They say write what you know. Since my family has lived in the area for more than 150 years, I had plenty of personal history to draw from.

I shared the fact that the homes in the story were based on my grandparent’s house and the Goldsmith House at Hale Farm & Village.

The Beecher name is a family name and my heroine, Cory Beecher, like me, is a distant cousin to Harriet Beecher Stowe.

To create tension, the abolitionist heroine, has two suitors. One is a stranger looking for a runaway slave and the other is an instructor from Western Reserve College, who believes in colonization.

I shared some of my research photos with the favorites being those about the canal in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I love traveling along the towpath and wanted to incorporate it into the story. In addition to sharing history, I try to add humor and hope the reader has fun reading the book.

The six books in the series can be read independently with each one focusing on one of the Beecher sisters from 1860 through 1866. I’m finishing the fourth and will be sending it to my editor soon.

The club members enjoyed a chance to read something lighthearted, and some of the book club members bought the next book in the series, which I greatly appreciate. Fans are built one book at a time, and I hope I gained a few.


Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

Author Tracy Chevalier’s new book

Find the story in the Hudson Hub-Times at

International bestselling author to visit Hudson library

Author Tracy Chevalier discusses her latest historical novel at the Hudson library

By LAURA FREEMAN Reporter Published: January 25, 2017 12:00 AMhh-orchard-ppbk-cover

HUDSON — An international bestselling author will discuss her latest book about a pioneer family living and struggling on the American frontier, set in Northwest Ohio.

Tracy Chevalier returns to the Hudson Library & Historical Society to discuss “At the Edge of the Orchard” at 7 p.m. Feb. 1.

Chevalier is the author of eight historical novels, including the international bestseller “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which has sold more than 5 million copies and been made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

American by birth, British by geography, she lives in London with her husband, son and cat. She is also the editor of “Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre.”

Chevalier is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has honorary doctorates from her alma maters Oberlin College and the University of East Anglia.

“I am always amazed at how close nature is to us in the US,” Chevalier said. “You think it’s tamed, and then a bear steps out, or a river rises, or a lightening strike starts a forest fire, or whales appear offshore, or mosquitoes swarm you in a swamp. Then you feel connected to the past, because this is exactly what your ancestors felt.”

The book, “At the Edge of the Orchard,” is about the desire to move around to escape problems, Chevalier said. A boy witnesses something awful in his family, and he goes west to get away from it. When he reaches the Pacific ocean, he can’t run anymore and must face his problems.

Chevalier does a lot of hands on research in addition to reading books on the topic.

She walked the Black Swamp, ate apples, learned to graft apple trees and walked among giant sequoias.

“I think the most surprising thing I learned was that sequoias actually need fire to propagate,” she said.

Chevalier also includes historical figures John Chapam (Johnny Appleseed) and William Lobb, a plant collector in her novel.

“I like having real people in fiction; they anchor a story, and make what is made up feel more real,” Chevalier said.

During her research Chevalier reread the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and “Pioneer Girl,” a non-fiction account of Wilder’s life.

“It was fascinating to see how she took her real life and fictionalized it, emphasizing some things while cutting parts that didn’t work,” Chevalier said.

Although Chevalier writes to entertain and hopes the reader cares about the characters, “At the Edge of the Orchard” has a message “to ask readers to look at the landscape around them — especially trees — and ask how it reflects their lives. What choices to they make, to move or to stay, based on their surroundings?”

Copies of “At the Edge of the Orchard” will be available for purchase and signing courtesy of the Learned Owl Book Shop.

Register for this free program online at or call 330-653-6658 ext. 1010.


Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP


Author Tracy Thomas writes about Stanton’s impact on women’s rights

19th Century woman paved way for modern rights for all women

Local author examines Stanton’s views on women’s equality, family issues

By LAURA FREEMAN Reporter Published: January 22, 2017 12:00 AM

Read the story here or in the Hudson Hub-Times at

HUDSON — Modern women may have had their ideas about family and equality introduced by a 19th century woman.hh-stanton-book-cover

Tracy A. Thomas, professor of law at the University of Akron School of Law for 18 years and the director of the Center for Constitutional Law, will discuss her new book, “Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law” at the Hudson Library & Historical Society Jan. 26 at 7 p.m.

The book examines Stanton’s views on women’s equality in marriage, divorce, domestic violence, childcare and other family issues.

Historians have written Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s biography, detailed her campaign for woman’s suffrage, documented her partnership with Susan B. Anthony and compiled all of her extensive writings and papers.

Stanton herself was a prolific author, including; her autobiography, “History of Woman Suffrage” and “Woman’s Bible.” Despite Stanton’s body of work, scholars and feminists continue to find new and insightful ways to re-examine Stanton and her impact on women’s rights and history.

But for a time Stanton’s writings were omitted from the women’s rights movement.

When Thomas heard of a reference about Stanton in family law and looked it up, she couldn’t find anything more than one sentence referencing Stanton. But she found 10,000 documents talking about the topic.

“There’s a huge gap in our common understanding of history and law,” Thomas said. “I wanted to correct the legal and historical record.”

Thomas extends the discussion of Stanton’s impact on modern-day feminism by analyzing her intellectual contributions to — and personal experiences with — family law.

Throughout her 50-year career, Stanton emphasized reform of the private sphere of the family as central to achieving women’s equality.

Another reason Thomas wrote the book is to bring women’s historical experiences into the mainstream and show that women were an active part of the women’s movements beyond the right to vote.

“Stanton was a prolific writer in New York and left a huge paper trail,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t hidden. It was intentionally left out.”

By weaving together law, feminist theory and history, Thomas explores Stanton’s little-examined philosophies on and proposals for women’s equality in marriage, divorce and family and reveals that the campaigns for equal gender roles in the family that came to the fore in the 1960s and ’70s had 19th-century roots.

Thomas, who teaches divorce history, said many think women didn’t become interested until 1972 about divorce, but women in the 19th century wanted to escape abusive spouses and claim their economic rights to own and control their own property.

“We have to get the story correct,” Thomas said.

Using feminist legal theory as a lens to interpret Stanton’s political, legal and personal work on the family, Thomas argues that Stanton’s positions on divorce, working mothers, domestic violence, childcare and many other topics were strikingly progressive for her time, providing significant parallels from which to gauge the social and legal policy issues confronting women in marriage and the family today.

Stanton advocated reform from the beginning of the Women’s Rights movement at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention with 17 other reforms besides the right to vote. Some of the other reforms included joint property rights instead of the husband owning everything, mothers should have custody of their children instead of only the father, who could hire children out to work, and women should control sex and reproductive rights.

“She took on the marriage idea that the husband was in charge and she wanted equal partnerships,” Thomas said. “Stanton wanted to go to the heart of about how we think about marriage.”

She got into trouble with the church, which claimed women were cursed and should be subservient to men, Thomas said. Fundamental churches did not embrace Stanton’s true equality of marriage partners.

“They (women) heard every week they don’t have these rights,” Thomas said.

Some people were afraid that if women had all these rights, men would have no responsibilities and women would have to work, Thomas said. Stanton’s solution was that women should work.

“You had to have equal economic power to have social and religious equality,” Thomas said. “Equal partners means equal respect toward careers and raising children.”

Thomas teaches Remedies, Women’s Legal History, Alternative Dispute Resolution, and Family Law at the University of Akron. She is the Seiberling Chair of Constitutional Law and from 2007 to 2009, she served as director of Faculty Research.

Thomas received her bachelor’s degree, cum laude, from Miami University, M.P.A. degree from California State University and J.D. degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, where she was a member of the Order of the Coif and production editor of the Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal.

Copies of Thomas’s book will be available for purchase and signing courtesy of the Learned Owl Book Shop. Register for this free program at or call 330-653-6658 ext. 1010.


Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP



New TV show Timeless

Instead of books, I’m going to talk about a new television show, “Timeless” on Monday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC.  It went on winter hiatus but should be returning soon.

I love history, which is why I write historical romance, so I enjoy the premise of time travel.

The Time Tunnel was a sci-fi television show in 1966 and 1967 with James Darren and Robert Colbert who are lost in time and bounce from one historical event to another trying to return to 1968 (which was not a good year).

In “Timeless” historian Lucy (Abigail Spencer), special agent Wyatt (Matt Lanter) and time machine expert Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) travel through time in a prototype machine after terrorist Garcia (Goran Visnjic) steals the one in the lab.  The team of three go back to stop Garcia from changing the past and therefore the future.  Ultimately they fail and the future is changed for better and worse.

But how often can the future be changed?  And when her mother asks why Lucy isn’t wearing her engagement ring, is there another Lucy in the present wearing one?

I liked the characters, even Garcia, who may not be as bad as he appears.  He had a notebook belonging to Lucy that he was using as a guide.  Also the lab owner is using Rufus to spy on Lucy and Garcia, and he kept his project a secret from the government.  Suspicious guy.

There are plenty of questions to keep viewers tuning into find out what is going to happen next.

I think their time travel rules will cause problems, though.  They insist a person can’t travel into a time where they existed, and they can’t travel back to a time they just left to avoid meeting themselves.  In other words, they only have one chance to fix Garcia’s chaos.  Once they return to the present, they can’t go back and try again.

This is different from the Back to the Future time travel stories and even in the Time Tunnel, Tony met a younger version of himself (if I remember correctly).

Do you have a favorite new show and what makes it interesting?

I also have questions about the notebook Garcia possessed.  He said Lucy hadn’t written it yet, so is he from the future?  What do you think?

After watching a few episodes, I also think it will have elements of “Lost” with the secret society bent on controlling the characters and maintaining power.


Mrs. Sherlock Holmes by Brad Ricca

Local Hudson author Brad Ricca shares story about “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” and a true story about a 1917 missing girl in the Hudson Hub-Times 

Local author shares story about ‘Mrs. Sherlock Holmes’

By LAURA FREEMAN Reporter Published: January 11, 2017 12:00

51rina4lxbl-_sy346_HUDSON — If Sherlock Holmes were a woman, she would have been Mary Grace Humiston.

Author Brad Ricca will discuss his latest book, “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City’s Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation” on Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. at the Hudson Library & Historical Society. St. Martin’s publisher released the book Jan. 3.

Ricca will share the fascinating true story of Mary Grace Humiston, known as “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes,” a detective and lawyer who became the first female U.S. district attorney and was made the first female consulting detective to the New York Police Department after solving a notorious cold case.

Ricca provides accounts of Humistan’s earlier work involving long trips, research and personal danger, which is shared in the earlier sections of the book.

Humistan intervenes on behalf of a woman convicted of murdering an abuser in New Jersey and travels to the South as a Special United States District Attorney to uncover the practice of slavery “through forced debt.”

In the book Ricca focuses on Humistan’s most spectacular case, the tragic disappearance of 18-year-old Ruth Cruger, who left her Manhattan home February 1917 and never returned after having her ice skates sharpened at a neighborhood shop in Harlem. Hunistan becomes involved in the search for Cruger after police dismiss Ruth as a runaway.

Many of Humistan’s cases involved the disappearance and/or abuse of girls and women.

The book received a starred review in Kirkus Review praising it as “an express train of a story … Rapid, compelling storytelling informed by rigorous research and enlivened by fecund imagination.”

Ricca is the author of “Super Boys,” the story of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, which was winner of the 2014 Ohioana Book Award in Nonfiction, winner of a 2014 Cleveland Arts Prize for Emerging Artist in Literature, and a Booklist Top 10 Book on the Arts. He is also the author of “American Mastodon,” winner of the 2009 St. Lawrence Book Award. He is a SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University and lives with his family in Cleveland.

Copies of “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes” will be available for purchase and signing courtesy of the Learned Owl Book Shop. Register for this free program at or call 330-653-6658 ext. 1010.


Phone: 330-541-9434

Twitter: @LauraFreeman_RP

Review of Impending Love and Lies

Review in the Nov. 6, 2016 edition of the Akron Beacon at

BOOK TALK: area authors and events

Civil War series continues about Beecher sistersImpendingLoveandLies_w11000_300

Impending Love & Lies, the third book in Cuyahoga Falls author Laura Freeman’s Civil War-era series, retains its Western Reserve setting and continues with the story of the four younger Beecher sisters, distant relatives of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin author and local abolitionists who work summers on their grandfather’s canal boat. Though their current trip isn’t a passenger run, Captain Donovan accepts an offer of double the fare to take Blake Ellsworth from Akron to Peninsula.

Blake, who recently inherited a few hotels, has just sold one of his properties and is carrying a large amount of gold, which makes him a target for the barbarous Cassell brothers. He is immediately smitten with Colleen, who goes by “Cole” and who serves as first mate on the Irish Rose. She’s been courted for six months by a man from a well-off family and expected a proposal, but has just learned he’s married a rich New York girl.

There’s a spark between Blake and Cole, but he’s injured in a shootout with the Cassells. Cole and her sister Jess go to Washington to help another sister, and Blake, who intends to enlist when he’s healed, joins them. They end up as medics at the Antietam battlefield, working with Clara Barton.

These scenes, as in Book Two, Impending Love & Death, are sharp and realistic, and the letters from their hometown boys serving in the valiant Seventh and 29th Ohio Volunteer Infantries are deeply affecting.

Impending Love & Lies (362 pages, softcover) costs $16.99 from Wild Rose Press. Laura Freeman will sign books from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Learned Owl Book Shop, 204 N. Main St., Hudson.


First Chapter of Impending Love and Lies

Impending Love and Lies by Laura FreemanImpendingLoveandLies_w11000_300

Chapter One

Blake Ellsworth spotted the two mercenaries at the depot, searching the crowd, waiting for him to board the train so they could kill him. The Cassell brothers were stocky brutes armed with pistols and knives, eager to cut a man to shreds, slowly if time allowed. He’d escaped their clutches in Kentucky and Central Ohio, but like bloodhounds, they had dogged his trail. Confederate deserters turned opportunists, Buck and Clyde weren’t going to forfeit the generous reward for retrieving the money strapped around his waist. Or if greed was their master, they would keep it all. But they would have to wrestle the belt from his lifeless body before he would willingly surrender his gold.

The train was the fastest way north, but he’d have to find an alternate mode of transportation to Cleveland. The sign on the depot read Akron, Ohio. He was in abolitionists’ territory, the former home of John Brown, who had planted the seeds of war. Blake had followed the battle news religiously. After the defeat at Bull Run, President Abraham Lincoln called for three-year enlistments.

Battle lines were being drawn in 1862 with both sides testing for strengths and weaknesses.

Blake adjusted the pouch tied around his waist. The gold was heavy, but he didn’t trust banks. Local bonds and currency could be counterfeit or not honored by other banks. His father had trusted a banker with his life savings only to have him empty all the customers’ accounts and head for Europe.

An honorable man, Loren Ellsworth had worked to pay off his debts, but his death more than a year ago had left Blake in charge of his father’s properties and bills.

Only twenty-three, Blake did his best to manage the family-owned hotels he had inherited. He had promised his father he would support his stepmother and spoiled stepsister. But his heart was elsewhere. Drawn by the beat of the drummer, Blake had wanted to enlist in the Union army, but his training at West Point had taught him duty and honor first. His own desires would have to wait.

In Southern territory, the Lucky Gambler hotel had been difficult to visit, but with victories at Memphis and Cumberland Gap earlier in the month, Blake had traveled to Tennessee to collect revenue from the neglected property.

Although The Lucky Gambler was no longer under enemy control, Blake jumped at the offer from J.P. Smith to buy the hotel. The payment in gold had made him wary, and his instincts proved correct. After Blake transferred the deed, a loyal servant warned him Smith had hired two men to attack him and steal the money once he was past the Union sentries.

The gold had belonged to the Confederacy and had been misplaced during the retreat. Both sides sought to recover the stolen coins, and the hotel was being watched by spies from the Union and Confederacy. Smith had been waiting for an inconspicuous carrier when Blake had arrived, served on a platter for his plan.

Sentries searched Blake’s bag but didn’t think to search the young gentleman dressed in a starched white shirt and dark wool suit. Beneath the frock coat and oversized vest, the money belt was carefully packed with cotton to silence any jingling of the coins.

Blake wasn’t going to return the stolen gold to the Confederacy or donate it to Union coffers. As payment for the Lucky Gambler, no one was going to take it, especially the two men at the depot. The money would purchase a replacement hotel in Yankee territory, a safe investment, if he wasn’t killed.

The train station was on the rise of a steep hillside sloping toward the center of town and its canal. Pulled by mules through a man-made ditch, the shallow boats were slow, but he’d be in Cleveland in two days. He’d buy Timothy Scroggs’ inn on the shore of Lake Erie with the gold. Scroggs wouldn’t ask why it was stamped with CSA. Gold was honored whether it belonged to the Union or Confederacy.

He walked west along the steep descent of Market Street. He’d been in Akron a couple summers ago with his father scouting properties, looking for investments, but nothing was familiar. The charred remains of former shops stood as reminders of how quickly fire could destroy wooden buildings. Large commercial structures, made from stone cut from nearby quarries and brick formed from the abundance of clay, offered rental space for shops and offices. Akron was benefiting from the war and bursting at its seams with goods to transport, whether by train or canal boat.

He reached Howard Street and followed the boats making their way through a series of closely-placed locks down the staircase of water to Lock Fifteen in front of Mustill Store. The pilot, who had guided the long, narrow boats through the stack of locks, handed the rudder control to the boat’s captain, collected his fee, and took another boat up the same locks.

Mustill Store was a two-story structure with a Meat Market sign on the far right of the roof line and Groceries and Provisions advertised in another sign along the front of the porch roof. Six square posts supported the roof. Double doors were flanked by twin windows that ran the height of the first floor. The store was well stocked with supplies and provisions like salt, coffee, and manufactured goods packaged for canal boat owners, the crew, and passengers.

After barely escaping the Cassell brothers the first time, he had replaced the clothes of a young gentleman with the garb of a common worker. A canal boat would provide the low profile he needed to avoid the two hired men. He could ask for help from the local sheriff, but he was a stranger, and the gold would attract unwanted questions. Instead, he’d slip away, quietly, and float to Cleveland. He purchased the local weekly paper, the

Summit County Beacon, for two cents and read about the fashions and market news. Printed on Wednesday, June 25, 1862, it was a day old.

“That’s Captain Michael Donovan.” The storekeeper pointed toward an older man as he strutted through the door. “This man is seeking passage, Captain.”

Michael removed his hat to reveal a full head of thick white hair. “I’m not takin’ passengers on this trip,” he said in a thick Irish brogue.

“I’ll double your rate,” Blake said.

Michael’s blue eyes widened. He extended his hand and gave a hearty handshake. “Welcome aboard, laddie.”

Blake waited as Michael collected a hatchet, rope, fishing line, coffee, and a jar of Schumacher’s oatmeal.

The clerk loaded the supplies into a wooden box, and Michael added a bottle of whiskey and a dozen peppermint sticks. He paid with paper currency and received postage stamps in change. Blake carried the box and followed Michael from the cool interior to the bright sunshine.

The Irish Rose was docked north of Lock Fifteen in front of the store. The canal boat consisted of three separate cabins, the roofs connected by a catwalk. The stable cabin was in the center where three mules were stored inside to replace the three tied in tandem to the towline. A tall, thin boy with red hair and blue eyes checked the harness of the three mules on the towpath, ready to tow the boat along the canal.

“Where’s the crew, Paddy?”

The boy pointed toward the boat. “Down below storing their gear.”

“This is Blake Ellsworth. He’s riding with us.”

“Welcome aboard,” Paddy said. “You’re our first passenger of the season.”

Blake nodded since his hands were full. “Paddy?”

“Short for Padrick,” he said. “We Irish love nicknames.”

“Put the box in the cargo hold.” Michael pointed to the open area between the three cabins filled with barrels, crates, and seed sacks. It was too early in the season for the rich harvest of corn, wheat, and other crops grown on the farms in the county, but cheese, leather, and metal products filled the hold.

Blake had worked on a boat for a few summers when he was Paddy’s age. Canal boats were standard size, no more than eighty feet long and fourteen feet wide, to fit through the locks. He secured the wooden box and stepped onto the gunwale running the perimeter of the boat. Above him at eye level was the deck, a single plank joining the three cabin roofs. A pair of shapely ankles below a short skirt floated along the catwalk, bare feet dancing along the narrow platform.

Blake scrambled up a series of footholds outside the cabin to reach the deck.

“We’re ready, Captain.”

Blake turned to the sensual melodic tone of the female voice. He had expected a weathered hag, worn out from long years of hard work. Instead a young woman pirouetted on the stern deck, her skirt flaring and falling with the motion. She wore no crinoline, and her corset wasn’t stiff and unyielding but emphasized the curves of her breasts and waist. The floral dress had long full sleeves with cuffs, and a bodice opened at the neck that hinted at the fullness of her feminine attributes. Her face was shielded by a wide straw bonnet tied under her chin with a green ribbon. The color contrasted with the shock of ginger curls at the end of two thick braids framing a face that stole his breath when the morning light lit her delicate features.

“Cole, darlin’, we have a passenger,” Michael said.

“Show him where to stow his bag.”

She tilted her head, and his gaze locked onto dancing blue-green eyes. His previous estimate of her beauty had been inadequate. Not quite angelic, her earthy beauty could send a man to heaven with a smile or hell if she spurned him. He couldn’t stop staring, studying every angle, curve, and lovely feature. “Who are you?”

What was his name? Blake shook his head to clear the spell he had fallen under. “Blake, Blake Ellsworth.”

She slid open the hatch in the stern of the boat and descended. She turned her head, her hat tilted to reveal a portion of her face. Her full lips revealed straight white teeth when she spoke. “Coming?”

Blake searched his surroundings. White clouds floated in the blue summer sky, a gentle breeze rustled through the tall grass along the bank of the canal, and songbirds chirped in the treetops in between. He wasn’t dreaming. She was real. He descended a ladder nailed to the wall and surveyed the small cabin. Two bunks were stacked on the far wall with storage beneath.

She opened a drawer and moved the folded clothing to the side. “You can place your belongings in here.”

Blake dropped the leather bag with a few personal items and clean clothes in the drawer. His trunk had been left on the train, and he would collect it in Cleveland. The bunks were narrow with thin feather-filled mattresses over straw bags and rope supports. “Is this your bed?”

“That’s Ethan’s bunk, but he won’t board until we reach Peninsula.” She turned to climb the ladder.

“Paddy has the top bunk.”

Blake sat on the thicker mattress of the large bed built against the stern wall. “Will we be sharing this bed?”

She turned slowly, her fingers clenched into fists, and her face an angry blush. “That’s the captain’s bunk, but since you’re a passenger, you can sleep there. Alone. I’ll be busy on deck.”

He’d insulted the canal brat. She couldn’t be an innocent. Too many men made it their purpose in life to seduce beautiful girls before they were aware of their power over ordinary men. He was terrified of the mysterious gender but eager to learn the secrets women possessed, especially this one. Blake had fumbled his first attempt at seduction and didn’t want her to leave without making amends. “The captain called you Cole. That can’t be your Christian name.”

A secretive smile formed on her lips. “Colleen. Miss Colleen to you.”

“How do you know the captain?”

“He’s my grandfather.”

An orphan. Was Paddy her brother? They had a family resemblance. Three beds in the stern were accounted for. “Where do you sleep?”

“In the bow cabin with Jess, Cass, and Jules.”

Three more crew members, or was one of them something more? She wore no ring. “One of them your husband?”

She laughed as if he’d made a joke. No twittering parlor maid laugh that set his nerves on edge. The sound was hearty and ignited a sensual response. Cole stepped on the bottom rung, revealing a hint of a petticoat beneath the worn and faded fabric of her gown.

“Do you have to leave?”

“I have work to do.”

Blake’s father had believed in hard work and a strong moral character. Employees and guests of the hotel were not romantic partners. Nothing was more embarrassing than a pregnant maid or a female guest who expected her bill to be dismissed because her

favors had been bestowed upon the owner. Older women trying to recapture their youth with brazen suggestions had never interested him, and the giggling girls with finishing school manners reminded him too much of his annoying stepsister.

Cole was different. She had captured his imagination. She was seductive with every confident movement, but her reaction to his brazen invitation to share the bed had been outrage. He couldn’t be the first to make a proposition to spare her a life of drudgery. “A beautiful woman like you shouldn’t have to work.”

Her hand remained on the rung, but she turned to face him. Her breasts rose with a tired sigh, straining the seams of her bodice. “Are you going to whisk me away to your castle, decorate me with jewels, and dress me in silk gowns? I’ve had my fill of romantic lies.”

Cole’s voice cracked in a husky tremor of pain, and her eyes glistened. “You’re missing a button from your coat, your sleeve needs mended, and your trousers have been patched. When I marry, and I said marry, it will be a man of wealth and prestige not a beggar who can’t afford the fare for the train.”

Blake stared as the fortune hunter escaped, her frayed hem swaying above her bare feet. She had high ambitions for a canal brat. She couldn’t write her name, but she could count the coins in a man’s purse. Beneath the disguise of his beggar’s garb, she might have seen the heavy money bag thickening his middle.

She had scoffed at his ability to clothe her in silk and decorate her lovely skin with jewels. Did he dare show her the gold in his pouch and buy her affection? Would she be impressed if he told her he owned the Dutchman Hotel, a favorite lodging for the rich elite heading to New York City? What would the wealthy patrons think of his bonny Irish brat?

The men would wish they were bedding her, and the women would be envious of her beauty. He would spoil her with gifts, and they would have a fine time, enjoying the sights, lavish dinners, and exotic entertainment. She would be none the worse from the experience and would gain a bit of refinement to tempt the next man.

He removed his coat and examined the missing button and torn sleeve. She couldn’t see the bruised ribs and shallow blade cut from the attack by the Cassell brothers he’d barely escaped the previous day. He had risked life and limb to keep his gold, but the sad smile of an Irish lass had tempted him to see what his money could buy besides a lakeside inn.

His father had taught him to respect women, even those who offered their bodies for coin, but Cole had vanquished any cautious approach. He was smitten, but he had blundered by insulting her. How did a man soothe the prickly emotions of a woman?

Blake put the coat on to hide the bulky bag and scrambled to the deck. He closed the trap door and surveyed the crew. Cole was giving orders to three younger girls. Although they each had different hair color, they had to be sisters. She called the tall slender blonde Jess, the brunette Cass, and the strawberry blonde Jules. Her bunk mates. No wonder she had laughed when he’d asked about a husband among the crew. The girls wore their hair in loose braids tied with ribbons beneath wide brimmed hats to protect their fair skin from the sun. Their dresses were faded and patched. What parents had created these beauties and condemned them to poverty and hard labor?

Another boat was ready to exit the lock and would pass them if the Irish Rose didn’t push off and head downstream.

Cole put her hands on each side of her narrow waist and studied him. “Have you decided to earn your fare?”

He’d paid her grandfather, but he wouldn’t mind showing off. Blake rubbed his hands together. “What needs done?”

Cole waltzed along the deck plank, and Blake followed at a cautious wobble. The single board had seemed wider as a boy. “Toss me the line!”

Paddy swung the towline in a high arc.

She snatched it from the air and attached the rope to a deadeye ring on the front cabin of the boat.

The other end of the rope was attached to the three mules where Jules waved a long switch in her hand. The pink ribbons tying her bonnet beneath her chin matched the gingham dress she wore. She was the only one wearing shoes, and they were boots instead of slippers. A practical choice considering the towpath was decorated with manure piles and buzzing flies.

Cole grabbed two eight-foot long wooden poles with metal tips and handed one to Blake. “Don’t let go of the pike and try not to fall in.” She reached toward the shore, stabbed the sharp stick into the ground, and shoved, moving the boat away from the edge. Blake followed her example, but as the boat left the shore, he pretended to lose his balance.

“Watch out!” She grabbed the back of his coat.

Blake stood with ease. “Did you think I was falling?”

Her stormy features displayed her displeasure at his faked distress. “You should be in a sideshow.” Cole handed him her pike. “Store these.”

He’d meant to amuse her, gain a smile, but he’d angered her instead. When he turned to apologize, a soft smile played on her pouting lips. She wasn’t as angry as she pretended. She had a sense of humor. A rare trait among the sophisticated young ladies in New York.

Cole pointed north. “Take us away, Jules.”

Her sister tapped the lead mule with the switch, and the towline grew taut, tugging the canal boat through the still water. Paddy whistled as he walked behind the young girl.

Cole was an enigma. She didn’t belong on a canal boat, yet she commanded the deck like a seasoned sailor. Blake scratched the short growth on his face, searching the fading streets of Akron for any sign of the Cassell brothers. He’d escaped them.