Callie James learned to survive in the squalid back alleys of Dublin. Tough, spirited, and possessed of a singular beauty, she was sent to New York to find her fortune. But everywhere she turned there were men who saw only what they wanted to see in her. Byrch Kenyon offered friendship and encouragement, but he also saw the desirable woman she would one day become. Rossiter Powers, the rich son of a respected family, saw something else in Callie—and nearly destroyed her. Hugh MacDuff, rich only in love and compassion, did his best to save her. But Callie—strong, smart and determined to succeed—insisted on taking charge of her own destiny.
Praise for Fern Michaels and Her Novels
"Heartbreaking, suspenseful, and tender." —Booklist on Return to Sender
"A big, rich book in every way. . ..I think Fern Michaels has struck oil with this one." —Patricia Matthews on Texas Rich
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About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
It was a peculiar dark that fell over Dublin that night during the long hours before dawn. Damp mists, like the wraiths of souls tormented, hung low over the narrow, cobbled streets, their specter fingers stretching into doorways and rising to dissipate vaporously near the flame of the gas lights. There was a chill in the air, but it wasn't the kind of raw cold that was usual for early March. Tonight there was a promise of the coming spring.
A small figure dodged in and out of the shadows, running as though the night were reaching out to clutch at her. She carried an ungainly grocer's basket close to her thin body, struggling against the weight of it as she searched for a particular alley, praying to find it quickly so she could scurry into its obliterating darkness.
Callie James held her breath, not daring to make a sound, choking back the need to take in great gulps of air as she crouched behind an abandoned cart whose iron-rimmed wheels had long ago been removed.
The space between the cart and the back wall of a local pub was narrow and more cramped than she had anticipated, yet she dared not make a move to reposition herself. She listened intently and could hear them, her pursuers, running along the cobbled street, calling in muted shouts to one another, questioning for signs of the "filthy little robber."
The voices came closer, almost to the entrance of the alley, and Callie's heart beat a wild tattoo. If they came up the alley, she would be trapped, something she had not considered when choosing her hidey-hole. Fear gripped her. She felt her hair standing on end, and her eyes squeezed shut against her fate.
Even as she prayed, she cursed herself for her impetuosity. How had she dared to steal the grocer's basket that had stood outside the market awaiting delivery? In these poor times here in Ireland only the rich could enjoy such luxuries as this basket held. Even through her terror Callie could smell the sweet salty perfume of the smoked ham and the ripe aroma of oranges. And the bread. Dear God, the blessed bread! Huge loaves of round, crusty dough still warm from the oven. The temptation had been too great — the hunger too painful.
The penalty for stealing was death by hanging, a justice meted out under an English martial law whose tenuous grasp on law and order was maintained by making examples of felons. That's what she was now, Callie realized with shame — a felon. And if caught, no amount of pleading or claiming extenuating circumstances would save her. The grocer was an Englishman, that hated breed of men who sucked life from Ireland with their laws and edicts. While the Irish starved because of the potato blight, the English dressed in their finery and ate their fill each and every day. There would be no pity for her, no forgiveness from those who had full bellies and who possessed no understanding of starvation. Others had died at the end of the rope — men, women, and children. Only in punishment could the Irish find equality in the eyes of the English.
Boots scraped upon the cobbles, the sounds coming closer and closer. Now someone was actually entering the alley! She squeezed her eyes tighter, not daring to open them to face her horror. Oh, Mother of Jesus, why had she taken the basket? Callie thought of leaving it and making a run for it. Unencumbered by its weight, she might have a chance to save herself. Moving to put her burden aside, she heard the rustle of tissue paper, betraying the fact that there were eggs within. Eggs for the little ones. Food. That was why the unguarded basket had been such a temptation. Eight in the house and only her own poor pittance of a salary from the textile mill to support them.
Thomas James, Callie's father, had lain in bed for nearly two years complaining of back pains, malingering and defeated, refusing to seek even the lightest employment. Her grandfather, old Mack James, was too old to work, and no one would hire him.
Only her mother, Peggy James, had any backbone — in Callie's opinion — but her work at the mill had been interrupted by the birth of the twins. Owing to the lack of food and an unclean birthing, Peggy was a sick woman. Bridget and Billy, the two-year-old twins, and Hallie and Georgie, now eight and nine, and still another babe on the way, Callie thought in disgust for her father's lusty inclinations. Too sick to work but not dead enough to hinder him from putting another babe in Peggy's belly. And him strutting about like a cock o' the walk, with no thought as to how this new mouth was to be fed!
The heavy tread of boots brought Callie back to her immediate terror. They approached closer still; someone was indeed in the alley. She held her breath, her hands covering her face against the dread of seeing the grocer's plump, well-fed face when he reached through the shadows to seize her. One step and then another, the beat of a purposeful march. He finally reached the dilapidated wagon and stubbed his foot against it. With a mighty heave he tilted the cart, and Callie anticipated those heavy butcher's hands capturing her, holding her like a trapped bird, threatening to crush out her existence.
She heard the cart topple, and her hands flew away from her eyes in wide-eyed panic. Blinded by the sudden light of the flare he carried, she couldn't see beyond it to the face of the man who had discovered her hiding place.
A shout came from the street, calling into the alley. "Have you found the little barstard, sir?" It was the voice of the grocer, harsh and out of breath, yet Callie could not mistake his tone of respect when he spoke to the man with the flare.
The sound of his voice jolted her, so near, booming down at her, and it was a moment before she could grasp his answer to the grocer. "Nothing in here, man! Just an overturned dogcart!"
"Well, thank ye for your assistance, Mr. Kenyon. I wouldn't want to trouble you further on my account. The little thief must've run the other way. I'll get me goods back, don't you worry, sir. No guttersnipe is going to get away with six pounds of me best wares. There ain't another ham the likes of that one in all Dublin. It was brought in special for his Lordship, Magistrate Rawlings."
"Good luck to you then," her savior's voice replied. It was the most wonderful sound she'd ever heard.
Now that the flare wasn't being held directly in front of her, Callie was able to make a quick appraisal. His boots were knee high and polished to a shine. A gentleman's boots. The light buff of his trousers clung to his long, lean legs, and the whiteness of his shirt showed in stark relief against the dark of his hair and the rich cranberry of his coat. But it was his face that held her attention: the lean jaw, the smooth wide brow. The kindness in his light-colored eyes. His finely drawn lips twisted into a wry smile, lending a suggestion of cruelty that contradicted the expression in his eyes. No, not cruelty, Callie amended. Rather a strength of character, a type of righteousness, a possession of authority. "Mr. Kenyon" the grocer had called him, she now remembered. He lifted the flare higher, drawing it away from her.
Byrch Kenyon stood transfixed by the sight of Callie crouching against the tavern wall, defending her stolen basket. He had expected to find a dirty- faced street urchin with hard, defiant eyes. Anything but this terrorized young girl with her bright clean face and much-mended shawl. She huddled like an animal who has heard the snap of the trap shut behind her.
The glow from the flare caught the red glints in her chestnut hair and lit her pale, unblemished skin. A pretty Irish colleen. Large, luminous eyes; a firm, softly rounded chin; cheeks a bit sunken as were all of Ireland's children. It was her expression which struck him. Her full, child's mouth was set in a pout, her sky-colored eyes meeting his in a wide, unblinking stare. He felt himself smiling, no, laughing at her spunk. Here she hid, a thief, and yet she was flashing her defiance, daring him to present her to the Englishman's justice.
"Don't try to appeal to me with your sweet expression, colleen," he said sarcastically. "Regardless of how you plead, I'll not turn you into the law."
"If you think I'll be thanking you, you're sadly mistaken," Callie sniped in her soft brogue. She wished her voice were more steady and that her body would quit its trembling.
"Oh, I can see that," he told her, reaching to help her to her feet. "Gratitude would be too much to expect." Despite her shrinking away from him, he grasped her by the elbow and raised her up. He was struck by the thinness of her arm and her diminutive height. "How old are you? Twelve? Thirteen?"
Callie bristled at this affront to her womanliness. "I'm no child thank you, sir. I'll be sixteen in a month's time."
"Oh, that old, are you? Pardon, madame. And where, may I ask, are you off to with your pilfered goods? Or do you plan to stay here and devour that entire basket here and now?"
Callie looked at him suspiciously. "And why would you be asking? So you could turn me in along with my entire family?"
"I merely asked because you're not the only thief skulking around in the shadows of Dublin. You'll be lucky to carry that basket two streets without it being stolen from you!" His hand still cupped her elbow, and he could feel the tremors running through her. "You're shaking like a leaf in a storm."
"Does that surprise you, sir?" She jerked her arm out of his grasp. "I've just gotten away with my life!"
"Your bravado isn't the mark of someone who has just escaped with her life. Not the way your eyes flash and your tongue bites. You're a feisty young miss, do you know that?" He scowled, clearly annoyed.
"And what's it to you?" Immediately she regretted her words. He had helped her, and here she was giving him lip. Her mouth always got her into trouble. What if she angered him into calling the grocer? Or worse, what if he dragged her to the patrolling constable? As usual, words of apology did not come easily to Callie James. To show him her regret, she smiled up at him.
"Feisty and charming." He laughed easily, amending his earlier statement.
Callie could see his strong white teeth when he laughed, and she liked the way he threw back his head. He was tall, very tall, and his clothes were fine and well-tailored. He was a gentleman, no doubt about it. She understood why the grocer had spoken to him with respect.
"Will you tell me your name and what you're doing about the streets at this hour?"
"No, I don't think so," Callie answered, bending to retrieve her basket. "How am I to know you won't change your mind and turn me in?"
That seemed to strike him funny. "It's evident we're strangers. If you knew me better, you'd have no doubt of my opinions concerning the English Law we suffer. You'll never make it through the streets with that heavy booty, you know. You may as well leave it here and get home with you."
Callie drew herself up to her full five feet one inch, facing him brazenly. This was no time to back down. "I dragged it all the way here from the grocer's, didn't I? And at a full run, I might add. I'll make it home, all right, or die trying. I've a family to consider."
"A little thing like yourself with a family?" he questioned.
"Well, I do too! They're my own brothers and sisters."
"Come along, then. I'll walk with you. Just to be certain the grocer and his boy don't come back this way."
Callie hesitated and saw his logic. He was right. She wouldn't have to let him come all the way with her, just far enough to get out of this neighborhood. And if he tried anything with her, he'd be sorry. Her shoes were stout and their soles thick. He'd feel them where they'd hurt the most if he got any funny ideas in his head. "All right, I accept your offer. Seeing as how it means so much to you." He laughed again, and she scowled. Callie ignored him and picked up her basket, falling into step beside him.
They'd not gone a block when she was panting with effort. The basket must have weighed thirty pounds. Breaking the silence between them, he said, "If I tell you my name, will you let me help you carry your hard- earned goods?"
"I already know your name. It's Kenyon. Mr. Kenyon. However," she turned and dumped the basket unceremoniously into his arms, "I'd be obliged if you carried it a bit of the way, Mr. Kenyon."
"Byrch. Byrch Kenyon." He looked for recognition of his name but none was forthcoming.
"Any man willing to tell his name under these circumstances can't be all bad," Callie said. "Kenyon is a fine old Dublin handle. But Byrch! Why would anyone pin a moniker like that on a fine Christian lad? Hadn't your mother heard of good saintly names like Patrick or Sean?"
"And who says I'm a fine Christian lad?" This little piece of baggage had a mouth on her!
"You're Irish, aren't you? Or are you?" Callie turned and eyed him quizzically. "You speak with a fair lilt of the auld sod, but there's something else besides."
"I'm here in Dublin visiting friends," he answered smoothly.
"Here!" Callie drew up short, swaying her shoulder into his tall frame. "You're not English, are you?" she demanded. Not for anything would she associate with an Englishman.
"No. American. My father is Irish. I'm here in Dublin waiting passage back to Liverpool. Then I'm bound back to America."
"Well, at least I know you're not lying to me. No one in this world would admit to family and friends in Ireland during these hard times if it weren't so." And then she smiled, and Byrch Kenyon thought the fair sun of summer had lit the dark streets.
"If you won't tell me your name, at least tell me something about yourself," he said, hefting the basket onto his hip as though it were ho heavier than a lady's handkerchief.
"That's all you'll get from me, Mr. Kenyon. Why don't you tell me about yourself instead? Then I can tell my mother all about you."
"So, you have a mother. Back there in the alley I thought you were responsible for your brothers and sisters all alone:"
"I didn't mean to make you think that, but you never asked about my mother. Hey! Watch where you walk! You've spattered mud on my dress!"
They were under a gaslight near the corner, and Byrch turned to look down at her. "You're a lovely child, Callie. Do you know that?"
She shrugged. "So I've been told. But listen here, you try any funny stuff; and you'll feel the toe of my boot crack your shins!"
Byrch smiled and made a courtly, mocking bow. She was a tough little scrapper, but he was beginning to suspect it was all a show. Probably she really was afraid he'd try something with her. As though his tastes ran to children! As though this little mite would stand a chance against him!
"Are you going to tell me what you do in America? We've only a little ways to go now." Callie deliberately softened her tone. Perhaps she shouldn't have said anything about him trying something. She was sensitive enough to know she'd hurt his feelings and upbraided his gallantry.
"I run a newspaper in New York City," Byrch told her, "and I'm trying to make my mark in politics there. So many Irish have come to America, and most of them have settled around New York. I intend to help them, to be their voice in government."
Callie stopped dead in her tracks and turned to face him. If he expected to see admiration in her eyes, he was mistaken. She had turned on him with a temper so fierce he felt as though an icy wind had blown him down.
"So, a voice of the people, is it? And what of the Irish here in Ireland, starvin' and sweatin' to earn a day's wages to buy bread for the table? The English know we're hungry for any kind of wage, and so it's not even a fair pay they offer us to slave in their mills and dig for their coal. To my mind, those Irish who left their country have no need of a voice in the land of milk and honey where the streets are paved with gold!"
"Times are hard for the Irish over there too, Callie. There's no milk and no honey and no gold for the Irishman. It isn't what it's cocked up to be, believe me. I'm doing what I know best and where I think I can help the most."
"Are you now?" Callie said hotly. "Don't be wasting your time and energy on me, Mr. Kenyon. Go back to your Irish in America and help them!"
She snatched the basket from his arms and ran off, leaving him standing there with an incredulous expression on his face. What had he said to make her take off like that? Then he realized they must have come close to where she lived, and it was the easiest and simplest way to rid herself of him. A smile broke on his face, and he laughed. "You're a fine girl, Callie. I hope we meet again."
Darting down an alley, taking the shortest route home, Callie hefted her basket and giggled. That was a stroke of genius, she congratulated herself. She'd gotten rid of Byrch Kenyon fast and easy. Confident now that she was safe from the hands of the law, she walked jauntily, and somehow the basket seemed lighter and lighter the closer she came to home.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cinders to Satin"
Copyright © 1983 Fern Michaels.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This masterpiece has to be by far the most beautifully written book i've had the pleasure of reading. Although i've read this book many years ago, it is still one of the first books i would recommend to a person that is a true romantic. Thank you very much Fern for writing such a touching story.
The first third of the book was good, Ms, Michaels characters were believable. She set up a interesting plot. It all went down hill when Callie became involved with her emp,oyers son. She went from being smart and couragous to weak and dumb. After the fire in Shantytown, it was just another cheap dime store romance, The arogance and srubborness of the main characters on my nerves. And the pages and pages of detailed coupling wasn't necessary, Sometimes the imagination is sooo much better.
As an avid Fern Michael's fan, I found myself questioning if she had really written this book. The historical research was very well done and I thoroughly enjoyed the book until the main character, Callie James, got involved with her employer's son. From that point on it read like a very cheap, almost pornographic, romance novel. Com on Fern, you are much to good to feel you have to resort to trashy, Fifty Shades, type of writing.
loved this compelling story!
Loved it! Wanted it to go on....
Nothing much. I'm @ school bbl
never disappointed in her books
I enjoyed this book so much...I laughed, I cried, it was quite a story of love lost and won. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good romance or just a story about lifes defeats and conquests.