New York City
Ruth Livingstone had very little time left to change her father's mind.
After a hasty ride through dark, deserted streets, she parted the curtains on the coach window while waiting for Capt. Grant to arrive. Moonlight rested on the Sheller, a packet ship that was lying at anchor in the harbor. She blinked back tears. Unless Ruth could sway her father's decision, the morning tide would carry her far from home, along with Lily, the sleeping toddler now nestled against her father's chest.
She dropped the curtain and swiped at her tears. Even though he had rejected every one of her arguments since rousing her from bed two hours ago and telling her she had to leave, she prayed she still might get him to agree to let her stay home with him.
"Please, Father," she whispered. "When Capt. Grant gets here, tell him your plans have changed so you can take another day or two to find someone else."
Seated directly across from her, Rev. Gersham Livingstone cradled the sleeping child and shook his head. "I don't have another day or two, Ruth."
"But I don't understand why I must go when you have so many supporters who would be better suited—"
"You're the only one I can trust to take Lily away and keep her safe," he insisted, keeping his voice low.
"But what if Capt. Grant questions me? What am I supposed to say if he sees that I'm not this ... this Widow Ruth Malloy that he expects?"
"I told you. Capt. Grant never meets any of the women he helps me to relocate before sailing. At least you get to keep your given name," he added.
Frustrated, Ruth found it hard to be grateful for keeping her first name when she was giving up so much else. "What about the Garners? Surely they'll suspect that I'm not—"
"Elias and Phanaby Garner will accept you without question when you arrive. In turn, they'll introduce you to the community as a distant relative whose period of mourning is over and is in need of a home. I explained all this to you on the way here," he gently chided.
Dropping her gaze, she swallowed hard. According to her father, the Garners did not know that the real name of the woman they were expecting had been Rosalie Peale, the well-
known prostitute found murdered some days ago. Or that the child in the reverend's arms was in fact Rosalie Peale's secret daughter.
The very idea they would think Ruth was a former prostitute ... Oh, it both shamed and humiliated her as a woman of faith. Being the daughter of a controversial minister who devoted his life to the fallen angels of the city had never been easy, but Ruth found it terribly ironic that the only way she could support him now was to become one of his reclaimed fallen angels herself.
Desperate to change his mind, Ruth tried another tack, keeping her voice to a whisper to keep from waking the little girl. "The constable can't seriously think you could have killed Rosalie Peale," she argued, unable to fathom that anyone would consider him capable of murder.
"Indeed he shouldn't, but the press has fueled public clamor for an arrest that should have been made days ago."
She snorted. "The reporters who've surrounded our house from dawn to dusk for the past two days are even worse than the scoundrels you allowed inside to interview you. Have they no sense of decency?"
"Decency doesn't sell newspapers," he replied. Her father placed a hand on her shoulder. "Instead of being angry about a situation we can't control, we should be grateful that my lawyer was able to persuade the constable to give me time to put my affairs in order before arresting me."
She placed her hand on top of her father's and blinked back more tears. "But you're innocent! It isn't fair!"
"It's not fair for Lily to bear the stain of her mother's sins, either, but she will—unless we can get her out of the city before anyone finds out about her, especially one of those reporters. Unfortunately," Rev. Livingstone added wistfully, "many people, even people we know well, actually believe everything they read in the newspapers. They don't need to wait for a trial to convict me."
Ruth's heartbeat slowed to a thud that pounded against the wall of her chest. She tried not to think of their several neighbors who had closed their hearts, as well as their doors, to both her and her father in recent days. Even Harrison Steward, her father's closest friend, had abandoned him, refusing any contact.
For several long moments she allowed herself a time of self-pity, until she realized her father would pay a far greater price, even beyond losing the affection of their neighbors or even his dearest friend.
He would pay with his very life.
Her father edged forward in his seat to get closer to her. "The path God chooses for each of us to follow isn't always an easy one, but we all have to decide whether or not we're willing to trust in His wisdom and embrace His will. I can't risk letting the glare of scandal that's already churning in the press to shine upon this innocent child. Can you?" He gently urged the sleeping child into Ruth's arms.
Ruth awkwardly cradled the little girl close for fear she would wake up. "No, I-I can't. I'll go. I'll take care of her," she whispered, then tensed when she heard two soft raps on the coach door.
Her father answered by parting the curtain only long enough to nod and drop the curtain back into place before cupping her cheek. "It's time to go now, Ruth. With God's grace, I'll be exonerated quickly. Then I'll send for you, and we'll make more permanent arrangements for Lily. Until then, God will take care of you both. Trust in Him."
Ruth managed half a smile. As more tears slipped free, she kissed the palm of her father's hand, pressing the memory of this moment deep within her heart. When he turned her hand over and kissed its back, she felt his tears, too.
Quietly, without saying another word, he disembarked. Ruth gathered her courage. Once she stepped out of this coach, she would have to swallow her pride and silently bear the mantle of a sinful past she had not lived.