Winner of the 2017 READERS' CHOICE AWARD from the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter of Romance Writers of America.
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A blur of white raced along the grounds to the beach. Sofi froze at the second story window. Set against the tattered sky of an incoming squall, her sister’s nightgown billowed in the dark. For the past six weeks Trina kept as much distance as she could from the sight and sound of the surf. Sofi raised a shaking hand to her throat, turned and tore along the upper hall. “Mattie, she’s outside.”
Ten minutes ago Trina had been in the nursery, huddling on the window seat. Though nearly grown she was always in the nursery since that night when. . .Trina even slept in the nursery instead of her bedroom, crying for Papa, with Sofi holding her close.
Matilda huffed. “I only left Trina to collect her supper.”
A yelping Odin found Sofi at the kitchen hallway. The Springer Spaniel bounded, his cold nose nudging her hand. Thank goodness one thing in this house had stayed the same. With Odin barking, she pushed through the green baize door. The dog darted past her. Inga, their cook, swung around to face her. Frida, the housemaid, dropped whatever she held in her hand. A man Sofi could swear she’d never seen before sat at the table, and shot to his feet as she hurtled through the kitchen.
She reached the outer door when the man—the gardener, she remembered now—pushed past her and flung the door wide. He charged across the lawn. The dog yowled and leapt after him. With Inga, Frida, and Matilda running behind, Sofi fled in the wake of the gardener down the trail to the beach.
Odin bolted past, across the beach as Trina rushed along the dock. Sofi scrambled to keep up, each ragged breath a prayer. Matilda shrieked, and behind, Frida’s and Inga’s calls, “Trina!”
Sofi reached the beach in time to see Trina slip into the skiff at the end of the dock. Her sister pulled on the oars, and made swift progress out on Puget Sound. At the edge of the dock, the dog pawed the planks, whining.
“Trina!” The wind snatched her cries as Sofi tripped over the shore strewn with rocks and driftwood. Dear God, please keep her safe. She had failed in looking after her sister.
The gardener reached the end of the thirty-foot dock and dove. It was hard to see anything other than green phosphorous as he swam toward the small skiff. Cold brine swirled at Sofi’s knees as she waded to the dock. She ran to the end of the wooden planks. It should be her saving Trina. It was her job to look after her family. Twenty yards out, Trina stood up in the skiff. Her nightgown streamed in the wind, a white sail against the squalling night.
Sit down, Trina. Oh, please sit down.
Swells buffeted the small craft as Trina stood, peering into the depths. Sofi cried out, but the wind swallowed her words, until a wave nudged the boat, and Trina fell. Sofi screeched.
One moment Trina was there, the next the sea had taken her. Just like Papa.
She wrenched open the buttons of her bodice. She would not remain frozen, but get out of this wretched gown and bring her sister out of the depths.
“No, Sofi!” Matilda gripped her arm. “You’re not as strong a swimmer as Trina. She has a better chance than you.”
She thrust off Matilda’s hand. She couldn’t lose her sister. She’d swim in her petticoat if need be. But Inga and Frida had made it to the end of the dock, and now three sets of hands held Sofi, as the rising tempest droned. Captive, Sofi counted the strokes of the man swimming to Trina. Then he dove, and the night went quiet. Sofi couldn’t breathe. All that she’d kept dammed up since Papa’s death cascaded over her.
Waves pummeled the pilings and beach. Odin whimpered at her knee. A moment later the gardener came up, gasped for air and dove again. Sofi pressed the heel of her hand against her tight chest. Dear God, don’t take her from me.
At last the waters broke. The gardener surfaced with Trina coughing in his arms. Pins and needles flared over Sofi’s skin. At last, she could do something. She reached for the life ring, tossing it to the man. It landed on the waves near his head. Trina batted at him, and he ducked beneath her. Seconds passed. He emerged to take hold of the life ring. He kicked, towing Trina with his arm across her chest. Until he lost his grip on the ring.
Hand over hand, Sofi pulled in the rope, and threw the ring out again. He caught it. The tide fought to drag him and Trina, but with Frida’s help, Sofi hauled them in.
As they neared the dock, Sofi and the women reached down to lift Trina from the waves. Sofi pressed on her sister’s back to expel the water she’d taken in. The man hoisted himself to the dock. Dripping wet, he pushed Sofi away, and rolled Trina on her back.
“What are you doing?” She slapped his hands. If anyone would take life-preserving measures it would be her.
But he shoved her and pried Trina’s mouth open. After searching her mouth and throat, he flipped Trina on her front and thumped her back.
A moment later, Trina coughed and spat, and the man stood, leaning down to lift Trina into his arms
Sofi gave him a shove. “I’ll carry her.”
“Don’t be foolish, miss.”
“You can’t possibly carry her up to the house after that swim. We’ll carry her together.”
He swiped his wet hair out of his eyes. “It’ll be quicker if I carry her. She’s worn out and she needs—” He scooped Trina up.
“Please...hurry.” Sofi turned and ordered Matilda. “Water on to boil. Get blankets.” Buffeted by the wind, Sofi walked beside him as he carried Trina up the incline with the squall whistling.
He kept his gaze on the lights shining across the lawns from the kitchen. She kept turning to watch the rise and fall of her sister’s chest, those pale eyelids that remained closed, that long blond hair straggling like seaweed over the bodice of the white nightgown.
When they reached the kitchen stoop, Trina opened her eyes and looked at the man holding her. Sofi gasped. For a moment a spark of the real Trina—sixteen-year-old Trina—shone in the depths of her blue eyes.
Inside the kitchen was a warm hive of activity. The gardener settled a shivering Trina in Inga’s armchair next to the stove.
“A towel,” Sofi said to Frida. She dried Trina’s arms and legs, and wrapped her in a quilt as Matilda barged in with dry clothing.
Kneeling before her sister, she’d been prepared to take charge, have the man fade to the background as a servant of his standing should, but just as he’d done on the dock, he pushed her away. Ignoring his dripping clothes, he leaned close, listening to Trina’s breathing.
And Trina latched her blue gaze with his. In rigid silence, Sofi stood.
Matilda pierced her with a look that asked if she’d lost her mind. Sofi put a hand to her head. Was it giddiness at Trina being alive that sapped her of her usual verve? No. There was something about this man that calmed her sister like none of them had been able to do for weeks.
“Take your hands off her, ye shameless oaf,” Matilda shouted. She’d cared for Trina since she’d been a baby as if she’d been her own.
The gardener fended her off with a pained look. “Matilda, do you honestly think I’d want to hurt her?” He took hold of Trina’s wrist, as if he counted her pulse, and hunched down to examine her feet. Rocks on the beach had gashed the inside of one arch. With a tea towel, he wiped away a trace of blood.
Sofi reached out to help, but Trina shirked from her, and focused on the fire burning in the grate.
Inga, Frida, and Matilda began to talk at once while Sofi stood aside, alone in the eye of the storm. It wasn’t that Trina rejected her help—she was getting used to being rebuffed by her young sister lately. But this stranger had taken control.
Frida and Inga submitted to his orders as if they’d known him for years instead of a month. Even the dog sat, his tail thumping as he shifted his gaze between the gardener and Trina.
Only Matilda eyed the man as though he were a hooligan. The desire to cry crept up on Sofi, but she shoved it deep. She must be exhausted from carrying the weight of what was left of her family, to let him take charge. Everything had changed since Papa’s death. She spoke to the man in a level tone. “You’ll need iodine. Bandages.”
“Hot water too.” He smiled his thanks when she brought him the basin. “She’ll be fine, stop your worrying.” His voice flowed in rhythmic Irish cadence.
The man’s eyes crinkled with a smile. “You’re all right. Your few wee cuts and bruises don’t worry me at all.”
Trina moaned as her shivering eased, and pulled the quilt around her. Then that heavy curtain came down behind her eyes. It seemed she grew smaller, shrinking away from them all. At least Trina was safe for now. Sofi pressed a hand to her stomach.
A frown replaced the gardener’s smile as he scrutinized Trina. “Is any tea ready? She needs a cup. With plenty of sugar and milk.” He cupped Trina’s chin, but she avoided his eyes. “It’ll do you good,” he murmured, “whether or not you want to talk to me.” His brows creased at Trina’s lack of response, and he cupped her shoulder. “You’ll be fine, so I’m handing you over to Matilda’s care before she tears me limb from limb.” His smile matched the lilt in his voice.
Matilda needed no further encouragement. She, Frida and Inga, began to cluck over their one chick, Matilda’s Scottish ‘R’s rolling, the two other women elongating their Swedish vowels.
For now, Sofi would leave Trina in their capable hands. Her sister was locked away in one of her moods. Later, tonight, Trina would need her. Setting her jaw, Sofi studied the gardener in an attempt to remember his name. She and this man had hardly spoken until tonight. Inga laid out his duties from the time he arrived on their grounds just days before Papa...
Emptiness swelled inside. With Papa’s drowning so shortly after this man started to work for them, she’d not had the heart to get to know him. She dammed up the memories of her father again, before grief sluiced through her—a grief she had no time to indulge. Not now when Trina needed her so much. And Mama too.
This gardener’s name was...Neil Macpherson. And his manner, his confidence...too controlled to be a mere laborer. His abilities hinted at some training, but he was still the gardener. A man who thought he knew what was best, as Charles thought. But then Charles, as Papa’s business partner, always thought he knew best.
Her voice shook. “You’re quite handy at first aid, Mr. Macpherson.”
“Sure anyone could do this. Even me, hired to trim the grass and prune the shrubs.” He flinched, so slight, she almost missed it.
Matilda held a cup of tea to Trina’s lips. Trina sipped and leaned her head against the back of the chair, her eyelids drooping.
Sofi felt Neil Macpherson’s gaze. “You don’t look so well yourself, miss. Take that cuppa that Frida’s bringing you.”
She rubbed her arms, and shook her head. Her soaking clothes clung. Weariness of heart must be spurring this unfamiliar perversity within her. This need to fight, to protect Trina and Mama.
“Well, if it’s not a cup of tea you want,” he said, “then perhaps coffee, as long as it has plenty of sugar to counteract the shock.” He led her away from Trina, and for a second she wanted to lean against him, like Mama used to lean against Papa.
But this was her family. She must rally herself.
“It’s plain your sister’s suffering from a prolonged sense of trauma,” he said, lowering his voice.
“It’s nothing more than a nervous malady.”
His brow winged upward. “It’s far more than that. She needs help.”
She turned away from his all-too-inquisitive eyes. Of course, her sister needed help.
Trina just didn’t need the kind of help Charles was suggesting.
Inga and Frida whisked away the first aid materials, and Matilda raced upstairs for an item of Trina’s clothing she’d forgotten. Sofi hunched down in front of Trina. She traced a finger down her sister’s cheekbone, along the delicate line of jaw. She turned the young face toward her only to be met by Trina’s vacant stare. Sofi choked back a sob. “Where are you, älskling? Where are you?”
No response came from Papa’s favorite endearment. And really, there was no need for Sofi to ask. She knew exactly where the soul of her sister lay. Six weeks ago, it floated downward with Papa’s body to the dark and sandy bottom of the Juan de Fuca Strait.
What the gardener said was true. She didn’t need anyone to tell her that her sister suffered from trauma, but there had to be a way to bring her sister back to health other than what Charles was arranging.
Neil Macpherson’s officious manner wasn’t what angered her. As a simple laborer, he must only mean well.
But as for Charles...she would fight him with everything she had before she’d allow her sister to go to a hospital for the mentally insane.
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Read another short scene from Sofi's Bridge below:
“Sometimes I think it would be easier,” Sofi said, “if I didn’t feel the urge to use these natural abilities—I think God-given abilities—but to do the more expected tasks of a woman in my social position. Strangely, my father considered it more socially acceptable for my sister to enter yacht races than for me to consider a career.”
Sofi raised her gaze. “But what about you, Neil? With all this talk about life’s purposes and the toil of one’s brow, what are you doing with your life?” The sun nestled between two peaks as she tensed her weight against the sun-warmed granite.
Her natural perfume intoxicated him—not the overpowering colognes of society, but the scent of soap, apples she been paring earlier—stirring the desire to touch her cheek, her hands, her arms. What if he closed the gap between them?
How would the softness of her cheek feel against the roughness of his? What would her lips taste like?
His breath quickened.
Sofi’s eyes widened.
He couldn’t tear his gaze from her softly parting mouth. A muscle tapped at the base of her throat.
Had one of them moved closer?
He pulled in a breath. When a man and a woman cared for each other, they should speak the truth. He wanted to tell her about the thrift clinic he’d partnered in for the poor back home. Tell her of the work he’d done in the hospital. If he shared his pride in those accomplishments, he knew her eyes would shine in understanding.
Aye, right, ye fool. Then tell her you left the clinic and your position in Belfast City Hospital, as well as all your patients, to run to Washington State to be a gardener. How could he possibly tell her about the night that stole his life from him, and all with one slash of a knife? He rubbed the pressure between his brows. “Time we were getting back to the cabin.”
“Right. Of course.” In a fluster, she smoothed her shirtwaist. Her eyes that moments ago were shining turned a dull slate. She set her profile to him.
“Foolish for the two of us to stand here any longer.”
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