From USA Today Bestselling author Kelly McClymer comes a tale of determination, dedication, and deception.
Susannah Hopkins thought she had the world at her feet after conquering medical school and lining up a dream appointment as the resident physician at Wellburn Orphanage, until her best laid plans go awry.
Thanks to an obstinate member of the orphanage’s Board of Directors, the newly minted doctor finds herself packing off to the gloomy halls of a manor called Thornfield, just outside of a tiny New York hamlet.
Far from home and her lofty aspirations alike, Susannah finds new purpose in an unlikely place: the heart of her determined young patient, and the pale
blue eyes of one Lord Stephen Camden. Can she forge a new future from the ashes of her dreams and melt the ice protecting Stephen’s wounded heart?
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EXCERPT from The Unconventional Bride
Never had a city been such a welcome sight as Boston to Susannah’s eyes. She welcomed the bustle of crowded city streets with open arms. Geneva had not been an empty meadow by any means, but New England’s seaport jewel was her home, and it had a special place in her heart.
She couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she headed down the street, away from R.J. and Juliet’s house, away from all that reminded her of Susannah Hopkins as she used to be. R.J. had made offer of the carriage, but she’d firmly declined, much to his displeasure. He never liked the idea of his sister traversing the city streets alone.
Susannah, on the contrary, welcomed the solitude. She had grown used to walking by herself in her male guise—Boston, she had decided, would be no different. Besides, she knew the route to Dr. Abernathy’s orphanage by heart.Wellburn Orphanage sat on a little side street just off the main road into downtown, well shaded by the green, early-summer canopy of overarching trees. Last she had laid eyes on it, the building was a run-down armature of brick and stone, but as she approached, she saw the place had gotten a new façade. Gone were the crumbling corners, the cracks in the masonry, the slightly crooked sign perched precariously above the front doors. The steps were new, and so was the porch—no more hollow footsteps over potentially decaying wood. Susannah glanced around at the porch furnishings: a whole set of homey rocking chairs, a charming wicker seat with a floral cushion. The smile returned to her face. It felt, in a way, like coming home for the second time.
Her knock at the door was sharp and cheerful, just like her. She adjusted her clothes and her posture as she waited, feeling a twinge of nerves. Dr. Abernathy’s letter of invitation burned a hole in her handbag, just in case anyone should dare try to challenge its authenticity. Her fresh start was so close she could nearly taste it.
Then she heard footsteps on the other side of the threshold, and she straightened up. Her heart thumped in her chest.
“Ah, dear Susannah!” The good doctor himself opened the entrance and greeted her with his customary warm smile. “It’s absolutely wonderful to see you!” Just the sight of Phineas made vivid memories of her schoolgirl flirtations with him flash through Susannah’s mind. She pushed them ferociously away. He was her colleague now, and those feelings had long since cooled.
She was much more interested in forming a professional connection these days, one that might eventually help her advance her career.
Susannah took Abernathy’s offered hand and stepped across into the orphanage’s front room. “Likewise, Doctor,” she answered, casting a glance around the inside of the hall. “I am so pleased to see Wellburn looking so lovely!”
“Yes, yes.” Phineas beamed. “The influx of funding as of late has certainly been well needed, as you know. I have great hope for the future of this place, Susannah. And I can think of no better physician than you to complement our existing staff.” He took her hand again, this time to shake it. “Many, many congratulations on your fine work, from one doctor to another.”
Susannah’s heart fairly burst with joy to hear her title acknowledged out loud for the first time since graduation, in a context that really mattered. All her doubts and anxieties evaporated in a wave of contented relief. She laughed at herself for even thinking she might need that letter.
The promise she had been made was being kept right before her eyes. Everything was as it should be.
“Thank you so much.” She returned his brilliant smile. “It is all truly a dream come true.”
“As I am sure you will be, for the children.” Dr. Abernathy clasped his hands together. “Shall we get started? We’ll have you reacquainted in no time at all.”
He began with a thorough, spirited tour of the premises Susannah still remembered well from previous years. Evidence of more substantial funding stood out prominently in every area of the grounds. Some of the corridors still smelled like the fresh paint newly dried on the walls. The gardens in the back had
been transformed from sad tangles of weeds and overgrowth to lush summer sanctuaries. She paused for a few moments at the back windows, gazing out on the butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom.
“Your work here is incredible,” she said to Dr. Abernathy. “I can only imagine how delighted the children must be.” She recalled a long line of downcast little faces, each making do in barren, comfortless rooms. Now the new beds were neatly made up in soft linens. Each child had a little space for his or her own possessions, and the formerly dingy washrooms were sparkling clean.
“Speaking of the children,” said Dr. Abernathy, “Would you like to see them? They are all in the middle of taking their breakfast. I am sure it would be no trouble.”
Susannah brightened even further. “Why, of course!” she laughed. “I must say, it’s a strange kind of euphoria to be back here again. Sometimes in the depth of my studies, I wondered if I would ever reach the end. But I think the children will make this all that much more beautifully real.”
Abernathy glanced at her. “It is my sincerest hope that your time at Wellburn will be everything you have dreamed of and more,” he told her. “I cannot help but to expect great things from you, Dr. Hopkins. Now, come. Your new patients are waiting.”
The dining hall lay behind a pair of solid oak doors that swung inward to reveal a large, rectangular room. Simple long benches sat alongside matching tables, each supporting the weight of five or six young ones. Their neat little uniforms were a far cry from the tattered, dirty garments Susannah remembered. Her heart melted instantly; they were all so small and precious.
Feet swung gaily over the floor. Musical children’s chatter filled the air. As the doors parted, three dozen little faces turned to see who had come to visit.
“Good morning, boys and girls!” Dr. Abernathy’s voice was bright and gentle, and the general din died down almost immediately. “I would like to introduce you to someone with whom I hope you will become great friends.” The good doctor motioned for Susannah to step forward, which she did as she scanned the crowd of little faces for any she might recognize.
“This is Miss Susannah Hopkins, our new doctor. She will be performing your checkups, tending to you if you fall ill, and making sure you all do your best to stay as healthy as possible.”
Susannah gave a little wave. “How lovely you all are,” she said sincerely. “I am so excited to be here, and to care for such beautiful children. I know we are all going to get along just like a family.”
The orphans clapped politely on Dr. Abernathy’s signal, but the applause was cut off by a sharp, discordant sound—someone in the back clearing their throat. Susannah resisted the urge to frown as an austere, gray-haired woman rose to her feet. She had been seated as though she was on monitoring duty, and she clearly did not appreciate the intrusion on her shift.
“Pardon me, Dr. Abernathy.” The woman’s words had a cloyingly sweet lilt that did not reach her piercing, feline green eyes. She adjusted the spectacles on the bridge of her nose, gliding forward between the tables. The children rapidly turned their attention back to their plates, whispering among one another, heads bowed. “I am afraid I must be somehow mistaken. I thought you said this girl was to be the new physician at Wellburn?” Her painted mouth smiled,
but disdain dripped from her tone.
Susannah glanced at Phineas, expecting to see him answer with utmost confidence in her defense. She was disheartened to see he appeared to be wilting just a little around the edges. The color in his face fell to pale, and he looked away from that penetrating green gaze. “That’s right,” he said. Suddenly he was the one clearing his throat. “Susannah, please allow me the pleasure of introducing one of our board of directors, Madame Virginia Cromwell.” His discomfort seemed
nearly tangible. “I had imagined your first meeting to be in a…different environment, but I suppose she is here to inspect the operations. Madame Cromwell, Dr. Hopkins.”
“Indeed.” Virginia Cromwell stared down her nose at Susannah’s diminutive frame.
“Hardly the face I imagined when we were discussing potential medical staff, Phineas.” She sniffed, her nostrils flaring. “Are you not worried she may be seen as a discredit to the organization? A woman doctor is a highly peculiar phenomenon, after all.”
Susannah felt a hot flush of anger threatening to work its way up into her cheeks. She squashed it down, knowing that she needed to keep her emotions from flaring, lest she give this heinous old witch a reason to relieve her of the duties she hadn’t yet had a chance to perform.
But she did wish, for the first time since returning to Boston, that she had those six-inch lifts in her shoes again. She did not like being looked down upon by the likes of Madame Cromwell.
Dr. Abernathy straightened his posture, finally recovering from the unpleasant surprise of the encounter. “Unusual, perhaps,” he said carefully, “but I fail to see why it should be considered a disqualifying factor.” His expression had morphed from dismay to very mild exasperation underneath a well-practiced veneer of patience. “Dr. Hopkins’s paperwork is all perfectly in order,” he added. “I assure you, the orphanage is at no legal risk.”
“Hmph.” Madame Cromwell huffed as she turned on Susannah. A wave of thick perfume assaulted the young doctor’s senses. “And where exactly did you presume to acquire your degree?”
Susannah forced herself to relax her jaw, so as not to speak through clenched teeth. She had never felt so affronted in her life, except by her own parents. “I attended Geneva Medical College,” she stated flatly.
A flicker of annoyance crossed Virginia’s face; she’d evidently been hoping to catch her somehow. “I see,” she muttered. “How nice.” The next time she spoke, it was to Dr. Abernathy, and Dr. Abernathy only. “Phineas, it is my strong belief that the Wellburn board of directors ought to have been better informed regarding the particulars of your new hire. I shall have her appointment up for review posthaste.”
The good doctor visibly blanched. “Now, Madame Cromwell, I think that’s rather unnecessary—”
She cut him off. “Not at all, Doctor. We want to be sure our little ones are receiving the very best care. If the board should happen to find Miss Hopkins unsuitable, then she will have to be replaced, and quickly.” Virginia tossed another glance in Susannah’s direction. “Not to worry, dear. We will do our best to minimize any further wasted time.”
Susannah didn’t dare say a word, but her blood boiled. She clutched her handbag until her knuckles went white, itching to show the pompous Cromwell her letter of invitation personally penned by Dr. Abernathy. She had every right to be exactly where she was, and she knew it. At that moment, Susannah made a firm decision to stand her ground, no matter what. She had come too far to be bullied into backing down.
“I look forward to working with you, Madame Cromwell,” she said sweetly. “Thank you ever so much for your time.” She received no reply. The stern matron returned without another word to her perch in the back of the hall, and Dr. Abernathy ushered Susannah back into the
The doors closed behind them, and he let out a heavy sigh. “My sincerest apologies, Susannah. Virginia can be exceptionally difficult at times.” He fretted the edge of his sleeve.
“Her threats are more for show than anything. As far as I am concerned, nothing about your position at the orphanage has changed.” He paused. “I will, however, keep you up to date on any relevant developments.”
There was a distinct undertone of worry that Susannah did not much care for, but she couldn’t press him for more. Instead, she simply said, “Please do. I would very much appreciate it.”
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