Her Sweetest Heritage (Preview)

Chapter One

“Are you ready, Christine? We’re going to be late. You look fine!”

Christine turned to her friend, smoothed her gray skirt, and glanced down to ensure that her white cotton blouse was firmly tucked beneath the waistband. “I hope so,” she murmured. “I don’t want Sister Agnes scolding me for my ‘slip-shod’ attire as she did yesterday.”

Laurie giggled as she hovered in the doorway. “She was just in a critical mood yesterday. I just passed her in the hallway, and she actually smiled at me.”

“I hope so.” She lifted her hands upward to ensure that her long hair was firmly tucked into its braided bun, fastened with pins to the crown of her head. She grimaced as, despite her efforts, she felt several tendrils of hair already escaping the bun. With impatient fingers, she twisted them around the bun and then nodded.

“Ready.”

She followed Laurie as they quickly strode down the long hallway of the second floor and then down a set of stairs, shoes echoing loudly on the wood plank floors. They reached the landing of the stairwell and took it down, one tightly fitted wooden step at a time. Eight steps, landing. Turn. Eight steps, landing. Turn.

Their descent was accompanied by the sound of popping and creaking wood in several places as they quickly took the steps to the first floor. The creaks seemed unusually loud to her ears, which could have been avoided if she had moved slower, but they were already a bit late for their assigned morning tasks.

The orphanage stood three stories high, a basement below, the first level constructed of stone, the two above it in brick. The main floor held the kitchen, the dining room, a library, and school rooms. The second floor, from which they had descended, contained Christine’s room and the few additional small rooms for the permanent ‘civilian’ residents that included Christine.

Her quarters, as were those of the other housekeepers, measured approximately nine square feet, which is certainly enough for someone who didn’t have many possessions other than a change of clothes hanging from pegs on the wall, a few grooming items, and a Bible on a small table beside the bed, perhaps a book or two to call their own. The second floor also contained a chapel and an informal parlor. The uppermost floor had the children’s dormitories, one for boys, one for girls, as well as the sleeping quarters of the sisters, a nursery, and the infirmary.

The children would soon grow impatient and restless if she didn’t get down to help in the kitchen and dining room soon. At the end of the hallway, Laurie took the stairs to the basement, where she assisted with laundry. Christine continued toward the far side of the structure, where the kitchen and dining area were located.

While she rarely overslept, she had this morning, thanks to the bad dreams that plagued her throughout the night. Such dreams didn’t come very often until lately. It seemed as if at least twice a week now, she had that same dream of a child reaching imploringly for someone that never reached out for her in return. Darkness surrounded that child’s shadow, a forest of trees rising behind her, the child’s eyes wide with questions and fear.

She was that child.

With effort, Christine crushed down the dark images evoked by that dream. She’d grown up in the orphanage, located in the forests of northern California not far from Mount Shasta, which rose from deep within the forest and was surrounded by rugged valleys and mountains.

She had been told by the sisters that she had arrived at the orphanage as a baby, and she had lived there ever since. Now, at twenty-two years of age, this was the only home she had ever known. Since she was fourteen years old, she had shared in the care of the younger orphans, new babies, and children left without parents or guardians due to mining accidents or other incidents over which they had no control.

“Good morning, Christine.”

Jolted from her ruminations, Christine blinked and smiled at Sister Martha, a woman perhaps five years older than herself, with porcelain features and an eternal and gentle smile curving her lips.

“Good morning, Sister Martha.”

Christine didn’t linger to chat as they often did. As she reached the main floor and glanced out the windows, she saw a squirrel sitting on the windowsill, as if waiting for her. Though in a hurry, she paused in front of the window. With a smile, she pulled up the sash. “Don’t worry, little one, I didn’t forget about you.” The squirrel chatted at her as she reached into her apron pocket, from which she pulled a hazelnut.

“Here you go, Mama.” The obviously nursing squirrel daintily plucked the hazelnut from Christine’s fingers, wiggled its whiskers at her for a moment, and then, stuffing it in her mouth, quickly scampered down the outside wall to the ground and raced toward a large oak tree in the side yard.

Christine chuckled softly. She pulled the window back down and turned to continue toward the dining room, where twenty-four children ranging in age from three years old to sixteen were being led to their tables for breakfast. Some of the older children were helping set the tables and pour glasses of milk. The younger ones squirmed in their chairs as the kitchen staff emerged with trays laden with bowls of steaming oatmeal. Another bore a tray of sliced bread and plates of butter.

As Christine had done during her youth there, the older children helped to settle the younger children, tying napkins loosely around their necks or across their laps. The babies and up to three-year-olds were kept in a larger nursery on the third floor until they were old enough to sit in the dining room or adopted out if they were fortunate.

Christine enjoyed working in the orphanage, looking after the children. They had no one else. Still, over the years, ever since she was a child herself, she had longed for a family of her own. Unfortunately, no one had ever come to claim her as family nor adopted her. Perhaps it was the curse of being an orphaned child to always feel alone.

She tried not to dwell on the fact that she was one of those children, like several others who still lingered there and that, like her, had never been adopted out, had never found a true home. She didn’t know anything about her parents nor why they had left her there. The Mother Superior told her only that she had been left at the orphanage wrapped in a blue blanket. The penciled word ‘Christine’ was on a piece of paper pinned to her swaddling. According to the Mother Superior, because her eyes were as sky-blue as the blanket she had been left wrapped in upon the doorstep, they had given her the surname Blue.

And so, Christine Blue called the orphanage her home. She would likely live here forever, working as a housekeeper, a teacher, or a governess to the younger children as the years passed. It was a sobering thought, but she really had no other options. She had no extraordinary skills that would enable her to support herself outside the orphanage.

Before such thoughts could lower her mood, Christine stepped into the dining room, her gaze passing over the children, her typically sweet nature once again restored. Being around the children, giving them the love that had nowhere else to go, gave her a purpose in life, one that wasn’t filled with uncertainty and unknowns. While she often longed to know who she was and where she came from, she also knew that dwelling endlessly on such questions would only lead to frustration and disappointment.

Several of the children at the nearest table saw her and called out. She smiled and moved toward them, fingers brushing one lad’s hair back from his forehead, placing a hand gently on the shoulder of another. She made her way through the tables, offering morning greetings, smiles, and tender touches here and there as she went into the kitchen proper.

“Morning, Beatrice.” She greeted the cook.

Beatrice, stirring a pot of bubbling oatmeal with the large wooden spoon, glanced at her and lifted an eyebrow. “We’re ready for the second pot already, Christine. “Thought you’d sleep in this morning, did you?”

The grin lifting the corner of the woman’s mouth assured Christine that she was teasing, but she apologized anyway. “No,” Christine admitted. “That horrid rooster’s first cock-a-doodle-doo usually jolts me out of bed. But I… I got caught in a nightmare and didn’t hear him this morning.”

Beatrice laughed softly. “Old Rufus is getting a little crotchety in his old age, isn’t he?”

“He’s an old man in rooster years, so I suppose we should expect nothing less.”

Beatrice simply shook her head and returned her attention to the oatmeal, ensuring it didn’t scorch. Christine continued on her way to the icebox, where she retrieved three metal containers of fresh milk. Because she’d slept in, she hadn’t taken part in the milking of their three cows as she usually did. She shook her head with regret, not that she particularly liked milking the cows, but the task was part of her assigned duties. If she didn’t do her job, someone else had to do theirs and hers as well.

“Have you seen Cora or Prudence?” The two women were also responsible for meal preparation, taking care of the chickens, and milking the cows.

Beatrice shook her head. “They were here earlier, but I don’t know where they are now. Here breakfast is ready to serve, and everyone’s gone and disappeared. “The oatmeal is ready. Fetch the bowls, won’t you?”

Just then, two women entered the kitchen from outside. Christine bid good morning to Cora and Prudence, both women in their early forties, a few strands of gray hair sprouting around the plump, red-cheeked faces of the twins, who had lived there most of like Christine their lives. They, unlike Christine, did remember being left at the orphanage at six years of age after their parents had died in a fire on their farm.

Together, the women served bowls of oatmeal and platters of scrambled eggs and bacon to the children in the dining room. While the children ate, the women wandered through the room, trying their best to maintain a semblance of authority and order in the dining room, often hiding their smiles as the children grew boisterous or, at times, downright ornery.

Mealtime at the orphanage was typically a bit raucous, especially suppertime, after a day of lessons and chores, but breakfasts were typically more subdued. Many of the children were not early risers. Several of them refused to engage in conversation and ate their food quietly with glassy, sleepy eyes.

Christine smiled as she watched over them, thinking back to the days when she had sat at those tables, hopeful that the dawn of a new day would bring her a sense of security, safety, and belonging. Of a new family. Day after day, month after month, and then year after year, she had held onto those dreams of finding someone she belonged to and being a member of a family for the first time in her life.

She wanted to know if there was someone out there in the world that had her nose, eyes, or mannerisms. Did she have siblings? What had happened to her parents? Were there no cousins, aunts or uncles, or grandparents that had known that she was here at the orphanage? Surely, they had looked for her, hadn’t they? Yet as she moved through the years, she had begun to lose hope that she would ever know why she had been left here, whether it had been an accident that had killed her parents and had some stranger perhaps picking her up from the side of a road and dropping her off at the orphanage. Or, even more horrifying, the thought of her parents carrying her here on their own, leaving her in that basket on the doorstep wrapped in the light blue blanket that matched her eyes because they simply didn’t want her.

She wanted to search, but where to start? If she had family somewhere, they could be anywhere, perhaps in San Francisco, maybe further down the state in the city of Los Angeles, or perhaps they could be found in Texas or Kentucky, maybe even as far away as Maine. Over the years, she had told herself that it didn’t matter where she came from but what she did with her life.

Yet as she watched these children eat the same food she had eaten all those years ago, speaking quietly among themselves, an occasional chuckle of laughter rising above the murmurs, she wondered if she was destined to remain here her entire life, an old maid, a spinster, a woman that no one wanted. Would she eventually take the place of Beatrice, cooking in the kitchen? Would she grow old in the same room she occupied now, with few meager trappings as those of the sisters who ran the orphanage?

She didn’t need much. She didn’t want for much, at least not material things. She didn’t much care about furniture, fine clothes, or property, but what she cared about was difficult to grasp and define. It was that deep-down and sensitive yearning to belong, to be part of a family, welcomed with open arms, loved without reservation, and supported with compassion in times of grief—

“There you are.”

Pulled from her thoughts, Christine turned to Sister Mary, garbed in her traditional habit. She, along with the other sisters at the orphanage, wore a cornet on her head, a heavily starched muslin cloth that was folded in such a way as to vaguely resemble horns. Other sisters at the orphanage or those visiting from other locations to help out wore stiff coifs made of cotton that covered the head, along with a guimpe, white like the coif that laid on the shoulders over a dark brown or black habit that dropped in loose folds from the neck down to a pleated skirt. The sleeves of the habits were long but could be folded up for ease while working or down while performing their religious rituals. Finally, the rosary hooked to the woven cloth belt around the waist, and the silver cross hung from a neck cord.

Not part of the religious order, Christine, along with the other employees and volunteers who worked at the orphanage, typically wore simple drab gray or light brown dresses or skirts with brown or black linen blouses tucked into the waistband.

“Christine?”

Christine refocused her attention on Sister Mary, who extracted an envelope from a side pocket in her skirt and handed it to her. “This letter arrived for you yesterday, but I got distracted and forgot it was in my pocket until this morning.”

Christine frowned as she gazed at the somewhat rumpled and smudged envelope before lifting her eyes toward the sister. “A letter? For me?”

Sister Mary nodded, and Christine slowly took the envelope from her. Her name was scrawled on the front in black ink, the handwriting small but legible. The letter had a two-cent stamp upon it, a profile of George Washington on a reddish-brown background. With a note of thanks to the sister, she tucked the envelope into the side pocket of her skirt, intending to wait until later when she had a moment to herself before reading it. Even so, curiosity got the better of her. While she had some friends, most of them worked here at the orphanage or in the nearby town. Not so far a distance that required a letter.

She had never received a letter before and couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement along with trepidation. Who could be writing her? And more importantly, why? She tried to ignore the envelope in her pocket, but she felt its presence as if it were as heavy as a brick. Just knowing it was there prompted a continuous tingle of curiosity mixed with uncertainty as she waited for the children to finish their breakfast. At the appointed time, she excused them from their tables and gathered them at the door, where they headed to their rooms to wash up before classes began.

While the children were in classes, she would inspect their rooms, ensuring that the older children had made their beds properly, and for those who tried but couldn’t quite manage to get their cover straight, she straightened them and plumped some pillows. She picked up a few items of clothing left strewn on the floor and hung them on wall pegs. She gathered used towels from the wash stands in the corner of each room and dumped dirty water from the basins out the window. After that, she would venture downstairs, pull up a bucket of well water, and repeat the process several times, refilling water pitchers in the dorm rooms.

They had three older children from fifteen to eighteen years of age, and they had separate rooms, the two boys in one and one young woman in the other. Christine didn’t stray into their rooms, not wishing to impose on their meager sense of privacy. She wondered if young Samantha would end up like her, living there into her early twenties, with no place to call home other than the orphanage. The boys would likely be apprenticed out to learn a trade such as blacksmithing, shoemaking, carpentry, or to an apothecary.

Usually, mid-morning and early afternoon were personal quiet times. Taking advantage of the quiet time before chores would begin in earnest, followed by lunch, Christine strolled away from the stone structure and into the growth of deciduous trees, cottonwood, and quaking aspens in the woods behind the orphanage. Old red firs rose majestically here and there, and in the distance, she spied the peak of Mount Shasta, still covered with snow, as it usually was until late in the spring, sometimes well into summer.

Finally, standing under the shade of a fir tree, a pine aroma scenting the air, she settled on a carpet of dry pine needles. She idly watched the exploration of a robin up in the tree across from her, seeking a tasty morsel and occasionally tweeting. A squirrel scrambled up the trunk of a young cottonwood nearby, its toenails scrabbling against the smooth white bark, tail flicking in its search for nuts.

Hesitantly, she reached into her pocket and retracted the envelope. She studied the handwriting on it one more time. She turned it over with a sense of anticipation and slid a fingernail under the flap. She pulled a single piece of paper from the envelope, not tissue-thin, but not parchment thick either. Stationary, ivory-colored, with a thin, black border around the edges. She began to read.

My dear Christine,

I know that this letter might come as quite a shock to you, but I would like to introduce myself to you as your uncle, Montgomery Rutherford. Friends and family call me Monty. I hope we will soon meet and get to know one another after years of unfortunate separation.

However, while I do not wish to be the bearer of grim news so close following this introduction, I must also let you know that I am dying and am not long for this world. I have a vineyard in the Napa Valley region, located northeast of San Francisco between the northern edges of San Pablo Bay and the southern shores of Lake Berryessa.

This ranch and vineyard have been my home for the past forty years, and now, nearing sixty-five ripe years of age, it is my turn to wither on the vine, so to speak. You were born to my sister when I was in my early forties and were a joy in my life until my sister, unable to properly care for you, delivered you to an orphanage, one whose location she kept secret until the day of her passing shortly thereafter…

Christine swallowed the lump growing in her throat, reading the passages repeatedly, trying to understand. An uncle? She had an uncle? And her mother had given her up, left her at an orphanage? Why? A surge of horror and betrayal grew low in her belly into a hard knot of dismay and nearly overwhelming disappointment. Her mother, her own mother, hadn’t wanted her, had snuck off apparently, and left her at an orphanage, never telling anyone which orphanage… she continued reading, blinking back warm tears.

I have searched for you for many years, writing letter after letter to every church, every orphanage, and children’s home that I could think of in the San Francisco area and beyond. Until now. I have finally found you, but unfortunately, I cannot travel due to my ill health. I also have some other news, which I hope might in some way make up for the hurt that was done to you so long ago. I have arranged to bequeath you my home and vineyard following my passing, hoping that doing so will mend my absence over the years and also as a way of providing you with the means for a future after having spent your life in an orphanage.

If you can possibly find it in your heart to forgive me for not finding you sooner and my sister for abandoning you, I would very much like to lay eyes on you before I die. I fear I don’t have long, so if you find it within your heart to forgive me, please do not tarry.

If this letter reaches you at the orphanage, and you are willing to travel to meet me, please take the enclosed money order to the nearby bank to cash in use for travel money to the Rutherford Vineyard in Napa Valley so that I can lay my eyes upon you before it is time to meet my maker. If not, you may use the funds in any way you wish.

If I can hope to remain on this earth long enough to meet you, I will count myself blessed.

With my deepest regrets and greatest regards,

Monty Rutherford

Heart pounding, Christine reread the letter several more times, dismayed and yet heartened all at the same time. She was excited to learn that she did have a family after all. Even more amazing, he wished to leave his business, a vineyard, to her? To mend all the years that she had been left at the orphanage? He wanted to see her before he died, whether it was out of pity for her or his own regrets for not finding her sooner. She looked at the top of the letter, her heart skipping a beat when she saw it was dated more than three weeks ago.

What should she do? She quickly hurried into the orphanage and requested to see Mother Superior with an important dilemma. She knew that she would go, now, today, if possible, but that she had much of the state to cross. She was taking a chance, leaving everything she knew behind, her comfortable if somewhat lonely existence, the consistent daily routines. She had never traveled further from the orphanage than the town of Blackford, ten miles to the west.

Her heart pounding with trepidation and yet leaping with joy, she knew she had to take a chance. What she would find when she reached the Rutherford Vineyards was uncertain, but she knew she had to make the journey. Family… she had a family!

As she rushed along the corridor to see the Mother Superior, one primary worry stood uppermost in her thoughts. Would she get there in time?

Chapter Two

Monty was gradually slipping away, even as Jasper firmly yet gently clasped the old man’s hand, as much for himself and his own grief as to reassure Monty that he wouldn’t be alone when his time came. Moments ago, Monty had stirred from his sleep and told Jasper something that had left him reeling.

In slow, halting words, Monty told him that he had written a letter several weeks ago to his niece. A niece? Surely the old man was confused. Jasper hadn’t even known that Monty had any family, let alone a niece. He had plenty of questions for the man, but Monty had been too weak to go into details. He simply told Jasper that the woman’s name was Christine Blue and that he had recently found her after years of searching. His only living relative.

In a daze, Jasper Kemble stared down at Monty, lying in his bed, slowly wasting away, shocked by what the man had just told him. Monty had pulled a folded sheaf of papers from beneath his covers and showed them to Jasper.

With a raspy cough and struggling to breathe, Monty watched as he slowly unfolded the packet, freezing when he saw the thick heading scrawled in ink at the top of the page that read ‘Last Will and Testament.’ Jasper frowned; an eyebrow raised as he met Monty’s gaze.

“Read it, son.”

Jasper didn’t want to waste these precious moments reading Monty’s last wishes and declarations regarding his four-hundred-acre vineyard, nor the nice home in its middle. Still, he’d never disobeyed any of the old man’s directives, and he wasn’t about to start now. With a nod, he tilted the paper slightly toward the glow of the kerosene lamp on the table beside the bed and quickly began to skim through its contents.

As he read, he tried his best to hide any emotion from his face, to ensure that Monty’s last moments were peaceful and calm. Before he finished reading the first page, his stomach was tied up in knots, his heart raced, and his throat felt so dry that he struggled to swallow. Even so, he slowly folded the packet, tucked it back into the old man’s hand, and then placed his hand over that of his substitute father, his mentor, and his dear friend.

He forced a smile. “I understand, Monty.”

It might’ve been a bit presumptuous of him to think that after all this time, after all his years of working the vineyards and managing the property after Monty had grown ill that the vineyard would eventually pass into his capable hands, perhaps as a reward of sorts for his dedication and loyalty. Over the years, Monty had even hinted at the possibility, but it seemed that now, none of that would happen.

Having just turned thirty years old, Jasper had been a devoted, hard-working manager of the Rutherford Vineyard for the past eight years, though he had lived at the vineyards for nearly twenty. He regarded Monty as more than simply his boss, the owner, or his mentor. Monty was his unofficially adopted father, the man who had raised him and his brother Jesse since they were young boys.

Monty had taken both of them in and raised them on the property that had become known as one of the finest among the smaller vineyards in this valley. He had taken them under his wing, Jasper more so than Jesse, who preferred to deal with the livestock rather than learn about grapes and wines. Yet Jasper loved his job and everything about the vineyard. All he ever wanted to do was repay Monty for his kindness, for raising him and his brother like the sons he’d never had. He’d dedicated himself to learning everything there was to know about grapes and wines and had promised to be the finest manager ever after Monty had given him the position all those years ago. He had done so by treasuring the vineyard, devoting his life to it, sacrificing for it, and hoping to show in that way how he felt about the older man.

Yet on his deathbed, Monty had just showed him his will, a document that left him both shocked and heartbroken. As the old man looked up at him, his gaze searching, he almost thought he saw sympathy and yearning for understanding. Jasper knew he shouldn’t feel betrayed, but in a way, he did. He had given his entire life to this place, this vineyard, this family business. To learn, from the man’s own hand, that he was bequeathing the vineyard to a niece that none of them had laid eyes on, to a woman who had apparently spent her life in an orphanage in the northern regions of the state near the Oregon border, living for all intents and purposes as a nun would… it was hard to accept.

The old man fell asleep after relating that bit of news to him, telling him that instructions for the transfer of ownership were in the will. Jasper’s crushing despair that the man was dying laid heavy on his soul, even as he tried to understand why. Why had Monty decided to leave everything to a woman he’d never met, a stranger? It wasn’t that Jasper was a selfish man, far from it. It wasn’t that he yearned for notoriety or riches, but because he wanted to ensure that this vineyard would endure forever, that he felt that he was the best man to perpetuate Monty’s legacy.

He had felt sure that he had earned his respect and met Monty’s expectations in skill, knowledge, and dedication, along with hard work. He had been so sure that he would be the one to take over the vineyards. It was a shock that such would not come to pass. Confusion and dismay roiled. He had spent most of his life diligently learning everything there was to know about winemaking. The Rutherford Vineyard produced some of the finest wine in the region, now shipped to locations up and down the western seaboard, in part, due to Jasper’s dedication.


“Her Sweetest Heritage” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Having grown up in an orphanage, Christine Blue longed for a family ever since she can remember. She is thus pleasantly surprised to receive a letter claiming she is the niece of Monty Rutherford in California. However, her arrival there coincides with the wake of her uncle, as well as an unexpected surprise; Christine is the heiress of his massive vineyard. This is much to the dismay of its current manager, a distant yet charming man that will make her heart skip a beat.

We rarely get what we want in life, but fate has a way of giving us what we need…

Jasper Kemble is stunned by the man’s dying wish to teach a total stranger everything she needs to know about the vineyard. Tension reigns as Jasper reluctantly instructs Christine in the business, and despite his best efforts to dislike her, he fails. While increasingly attracted to her, he still tries vigorously to keep her at arm’s length. Her gentle kindness and unfaltering strength though, call to him, stir his pulse and awaken a long-buried yearning for love and life.

Will he be able to explore powerful feelings he hadn’t bargained for?

Soon, a series of mysterious incidents occur on the estate’s grounds, and both Christine and Jasper are challenged to discover who might be behind them. As the increasing dangers affect not only their growing relationship but the vineyard as well, they have to devise a plan. Will some ghosts appearing from their past empower them to succeed in their quest? Or will they eventually leave everything shattered in the process?

“Her Sweetest Heritage” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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3 thoughts on “Her Sweetest Heritage (Preview)”

  1. A very engrossing read of a young orphan girl Christine who suddenly receives a letter from an uncle she never knew existed and who leaves her his vineyard and ranch on his death bed. Then there’s Jasper who Monty has trained and treated as an adopted son. Will Christine and Jasper overcome their differences and find happiness together. Enjoyed the preview can’t wait for the book.

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