The ship arrived after hitting bad weather for just two days during the entire trip. They’d had one day with no wind at all and another that was almost a hurricane, the winds were so strong. The captain said the weather on a trip like theirs always varied. He was grateful they had mostly fair days which had resulted in a very good trip during which they’d made good time. They actually arrived two weeks sooner than they’d expected to.
As soon as they disembarked in San Francisco, cabs whisked them away to the Golden State Hotel where Mrs. Selby had arranged for them to stay for up to two months. She wanted the women to get to know the men they were to marry and not be rushed into a quick wedding.
The inside of the hotel was not something that Cora would ever have dreamed of. The walls were white, the carpets and furniture all varying shades of red. The result was generally gaudy but the place was clean and seemed to be well kept.
Cora checked in and found a message waiting for her from Harry Belcher.
My dear Cora,
I have instructed the staff at the hotel to send a messenger to me when you get there. I should be arriving shortly after that as my bank is only minutes away. I can’t wait to greet you in person.
Cora read the missive and smiled. It was so like Harry to come to greet her right away.
A deep, familiar voice came from behind her. But that was impossible…she slowly turned toward the sound.
“Cora. It’s me.”
“Asa?” Cora shook her head slowly back and forth. It couldn’t be. Asa was dead. They’d told her he died at Appomattox more than two years ago. Her eyes filled with tears. “No.
No. You’re dead.”
He held his hat in his hands, rolling the brim and crushing the felt between his fingers.
His black suit and tie fit him well and his tanned skin was stark against the white of his shirt. She remembered his beautiful blue eyes, but the gray in his brown hair was new.
“I wanted you to think that. I was wounded and I…”
He took a step toward her and she saw his limp.
She stepped back. “Asa, I—”
Another male voice called to her from across the hotel lobby.
She looked up and saw Harry Belcher crossing the room toward her. He looked just like the picture he’d sent her. He had blond hair, parted in the middle and slicked down. She knew from her correspondence with him that his eyes were green. The tan three piece suit, with brown tie and top hat would have washed out his pale skin, but the blue shirt he wore with the suit added color to his face.
“Cora, I’ve come home to you,” said Asa.
Harry reached them and took Cora’s hand, brought it to his lips and kissed the top.
“You’re as beautiful as your picture and such a tiny little thing.”
“Cora, you can’t mean to marry this man since I’m back,” said Asa. “You belong to me.”
“What does he mean you belong to him? Who is this man and what does his being here have to do with anything? You’re going to marry me. We have a contract.”
She looked back and forth between Asa and Harry and burst into tears.
“Cora, are you alright?” called Nellie on her way to her room.
“Yes, I’ll be fine,” said Cora, sniffling.
Nellie nodded and went on her way.
Cora turned back to the two men, each vying for her attention and each demanding that she marry him.
She took a hanky from her reticule and dabbed at her eyes. “Asa, I have no idea what you’re doing here, but after two years, you cannot really believe you have any hold upon me. You could have contacted me anytime in those years but you didn’t.”
She turned to the other man. “Harry we do have a contract, but that was when I thought myself a single woman. With Asa back I must give all of this more thought. I have two months here at the hotel and I won’t be bullied by either one of you into making a decision right this second.”
“Well, I never,” huffed Harry.
Asa looked smug and Cora wanted to wipe that look off his face.
She narrowed her eyes and stared at the both of them. “You’re going to have to convince me before I’ll marry either one of you. In other words you’re both going to have to court me. I’ll make my decision within the next two months. And let me warn you, I may decide not to marry either of you. Right now, neither one of you is showing me your best side.”
“Well, I want to court you,” said Asa. “I didn’t have time before I went into the army. I want to prove to you I’m the man you should marry.”
“I’ll be the man you choose. I’ve never lost something that was important to me and you, Cora,” Harry looked her straight in the eyes, his green ones meeting with her brown ones, “are important to me.”
“Very good. We’ll start tonight. One of you is going to take me to dinner. I’ve got a number in my mind. The one of you closest to the number will take me to dinner.”
“Six,” said Asa.
“Five,” said Harry.
“The number is seven. Asa it is. Pick me up here at seven o’clock.” Cora turned on her heel and walked toward the stairs to her room.
“I’m going to win her,” said Harry. “I never lose.”
“Prepare to lose this time. I’ve loved Cora all my life and I’m not going to lose her to you.”
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