Monday, January 30, 2017

First Chapter Free ~ Start reading Aboard Providence now!

A voyage aboard Providence changes their plans, but can it change their hearts?

In November 1860, Marian Foster joins a group of Virginia families who are sailing away from America to form a new settlement off the coast of Brazil. As an amateur botanist, Marian eagerly anticipates exploring a new land. She boards Providence confident in the group’s plan, but during the voyage, her heart is drawn to Jonah Ashton, the secretive and sullen ship’s physician.

Jonah Ashton is determined to finish medical school before rumors of Southern rebellion erupt into all-out war. When family obligation forces Jonah to take a voyage aboard Providence, he plans to escort his family to their new settlement in South America and then return home. While aboard Providence, Jonah is beguiled by Marian’s optimistic spirit and finds himself in uncharted territory. Soon Jonah makes a startling discovery that changes everything, but will it change his heart?

Get swept away on a journey of faith, sacrifice, and God’s unfailing provision in this inspirational story reviewers are calling “a captivating, well-researched, and deftly written tale.” Read Aboard Providence today and embark on an unforgettable voyage.

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Aboard Providence ~ Chapter One

Jonah Ashton held two letters, one in each hand as if the gravity of their messages bore physical weight and his open palms were the pans of Lady Justice’s scale. The papers felt deceptively equal and light, but the words written on them produced heaviness in his chest that could not be ignored. He sat on the edge of his bed in the musty room at the back of his aunt’s fine Philadelphia home and glanced up at his classmate.
Frederick straightened his starched collar in the dressing mirror. He raised an eyebrow at Jonah. “Well?”
“Well what? I must go home. I haven’t got a choice.”
“Of course you do. Stay and fight the allegation so you can finish the medical program.”
Jonah shook his head and studied the letters for the twentieth time. One letter, written in the scurried script of a concerned professor at Penn’s Medical School, warned of a possible criminal charge and adjured Jonah to prepare his defense; the other letter summoned him to his father’s estate in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He blew out a shaky breath and pointed at the Spencerian scroll of his father’s closing command. “He said to come home at once. He believes the tension between the States will escalate since Lincoln’s been elected. He’s been talking about settling land in South America, and I knew he expected me to go with them. I didn’t think it would be until after I earned my degree.”
“Why would someone of your father’s wealth and connections want to leave it all behind and sail to South America?”
“His inherited wealth and connections mean nothing to him, but he has always dreamed of…” Not wanting to paint his father as impetuous, he changed his explanation. “There are unsettled islands off the eastern coast of South America. They are beguiled by the challenge of establishing a new colony.”
“Mine and seven other
Accomack County families. They are a closely-knit church. The minister descended from Swiss Anabaptists. He and my father share traditionalist Christian views and are determined to start a peaceful settlement on virgin soil.”
“An adventurous notion, however, your father’s timing could not be worse for you.” Frederick stayed in front of the mirror, pinching the waxed tips of his mustache. “If you leave the city while accusations loom, it will solidify your guilt for everyone at Penn—except me of course. You could be expelled. Stay here and defend yourself so you can earn your degree with the rest of us.”
“I wish it were that simple. I’d be worthless as a physician without a degree, but if I disobey my father’s command, I will upset him and might never see my family again. I cannot disappoint him, especially after all he has done to ensure my education.”
Frederick shrugged. “My father believes Virginia will vote to secede from the Union and he wants me back in Richmond soon, but I wouldn’t leave town if I were facing a criminal charge. And neither should you. You’ve worked too hard to let something like this tarnish your reputation.”
“But without an alibi, there might be little chance of a favorable verdict.” Jonah wiped sweat from his temple then raised the letter of warning. “It is true. I was the last medical student seen with the patient. But that doesn’t make me guilty. I would never force myself on any woman, especially not an ailing one. This is simply an opium user’s feverish hallucination.”
“But that opium user also happens to be the college provost’s wife, and if you leave, her accusation will stand.”
“Such a charge would ruin my career.” Jonah refrained from looking Frederick in the eye. “Not to mention, a trial could end in conviction and sentencing. I’ve done everything right my entire life and now I’m being accused of the unimaginable.”
Frederick spread his hands. “The woman has no proof. It probably won’t go to trial if you stay and cooperate with the investigation.”
“And not say goodbye to my family? Or worse yet, let them hear about the charge just before they leave the country forever? That would be too upsetting for my parents. I cannot part with my father on bad terms; it would torment me. And I have four younger siblings, all of whom look up to me. I couldn’t bear the guilt. No. They are setting sail in a few weeks. If I were charged, I would not be able to leave the city.” Jonah’s trembling fingers folded his father’s letter in precise quarters, and he stuffed it into his breast pocket. He crouched near the fireplace, gripped a fire iron, and stoked the burning logs on the grate.
“What are you doing?” Frederick asked.
“I haven’t been charged yet. I’m going to Virginia, but only staying long enough to say goodbye to my family. They know how important my medical degree is to me, so maybe they will understand that I cannot go with them. I won’t tell them about the allegation. I will return to fight this charge, and my family can sail to South America without hearing of the scandal.” He pulled his silver watch from his vest pocket, wiped its spotless surface with his shirtsleeve, and checked the hour. “There is still time to make the night train.” His already fluttering stomach churned. “You can keep all this to yourself, can’t you?”
“Not if I am subpoenaed.” Frederick glanced at the closed bedroom door and lowered his voice. “I won’t perjure myself.”
“I’m not asking you to. Just don’t tell anyone I have left.” Jonah tempted the flame with the edge of the warning letter. The fire’s orange tongues licked at the paper and caught it ablaze. He dropped the burning letter on the log and stared at the stationers’ watermark as the frantic warning blackened and withered before it turned to ash. He lifted his chin toward the door. “Is anyone in the hallway?”
The knob squeaked as Frederick cracked the door. He put his ear to the chink for a moment and then closed the door again. “No. It sounds like the servants are in the kitchen. Are you really leaving the city right now?”
“I must. I would have gone home because of my father’s letter even if there were no allegations to contend with. I just wouldn’t have to be as quiet about it. I will be back in a few days. I should go now while my aunt is out for the evening—”
“Gracing society with her supercilious presence, no doubt.” Frederick flicked his wrist, mockingly. “No wonder your father prefers a country estate in Virginia.”
Jonah hated when anyone joked about his aunt, but he was too preoccupied with the matter at hand to defend her eccentricities. “My father gets along with my aunt; it was my grandfather who… oh, it doesn’t matter. I must go to my family at once.”
He would telegraph to let his father know he was on his way to Virginia, but not mention he wouldn’t be leaving the country with them. Perhaps delivering the news of that decision in person would allow his father to see his sincerity, reducing the devastation to mere disappointment. He stood from the hearth and cast his gaze around the cramped room. “This might be my only chance. I have to go with my family.”
“Go with?”
“Go to my family, I mean,” Jonah corrected himself as he knelt on the cold floor. He pulled two carpetbags from beneath the bed. The sum of his wardrobe and personal possessions had fit into the bags when he traveled from Delaware College to Philadelphia, but he had since spent most of his year’s allowance on textbooks filled with the recent European advances in medicine. He lifted a stack of books from his bedside table and packed them into one of the bags.
“I thought this was going to be a swift trip,” Frederick said, eyeing him. He withdrew one of the books from the bag. “Balfour’s Class Book of Botany?”
“I’m assisting Professor Bradford with some research. I can work while I travel.”
Frederick handed him the book. “I can’t. Good luck reading on the train.”
Jonah moved to a narrow dresser beside the shuttered window, took clothing from its drawers, and filled the other carpetbag. Though in a hurry, he slowed to carefully disassemble the brass pieces of his microscope.
Frederick fidgeted with his cuffs. “You’re too meticulous for a man on the run. Just take your coat and go.”
“I will be back before any charges are filed.”
“Not if you continue at this pace. Why are you taking your microscope?”
“There is no need for my studies to suffer if I am delayed.” Jonah nestled the microscope pieces into a mahogany box and carefully wrapped the eyepiece with a swatch of felt.
After one quick survey of the room, he fastened the closures on the carpetbags then shrugged into his overcoat and tucked his prized copy of Pancoast’s A Treatise on Operative Surgery under his left arm. “No lengthy farewells,” he said as he gripped the handles of his bags. “I will see you in a few days. Go out the front door. I will go out the back so we aren’t seen leaving together. I would not want to make you an accomplice.”
“It appears I already am.” Frederick opened the bedroom door then stopped in the hallway and glanced back at Jonah. “Be safe, old chum. Come back soon.”
“I will.” Jonah pressed his lips together.
After Frederick disappeared toward the front of the house, Jonah slipped quietly through the hallway and into the cold autumn wind.

* * *

Marian Foster hiked her skirts indecorously above her alabaster knees and demonstrated pliés for three giggling five-year-old girls. She gripped the calico with one hand and raised the other arm in a rounded position like her affluent cousins had taught her during her summer in Richmond. The muscles in her legs warmed pleasurably as she dipped. The little girls awkwardly mirrored her graceful movements, and she nodded approvingly.
One child wrinkled her freckled nose. “Marian, have you ever been to a real ballet?”
“No, but I can imagine it. Can’t you?” Marian gauged the ceiling height in Doctor and Anna Ashton’s expansive guestroom and smiled at the girls. “There is plenty of space in here. Who wants to learn the grand jeté?”
“You’re too old to jump,” the girl protested.
“Too old? I’m not yet nineteen.” Marian briefly feigned offense. She winked at the girls and returned to first position. “I suppose that seems ancient when you are five.”
As she prepared to leap, the closed bedroom door creaked opened. At once, the girls dropped their skirts and closed their legs. Marian also flinched and spun to face the door. The motion loosened her hair from its chignon and sent it cascading down her back.
“What is going on in here?” Mrs. Anna Ashton’s finely arched brows lifted as she studied the girls. A grin broke her inquisitive expression and she stepped into the room. “Were you girls having fun without me?”
The girls laughed and wrapped their arms around Anna’s slender waist. Marian pulled the loose pins from her hair and gathered her blond waves behind her head as she walked toward the lady of the house. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Ashton. Were we being too loud?”
“Not to me, dear, but with all of the families coming to stay, we must be considerate of one another. We are about to have a very full house. Reverend Colburn and his family just arrived. My boys are helping them bring in their luggage. This will be the Colburns’ room for the next four weeks, so you’ll have to take the girls elsewhere to teach them to… what were you doing exactly?”
The girls darted out of the room, giggling. Marian grinned at them as she swirled her hair on top of her head and gouged it with hairpins until the bun felt secure. “Ballet movements,” she answered then checked her reflection in the gilded dressing mirror.
“I see. Well, your mother needs you—”
“Mother?” Marian’s heart rate doubled and she hurried to the doorway. “Is she all right?”
“She’s fine.” Anna held up a hand. “Doctor Ashton told her to lie down for a while in the afternoons every day until the baby comes. It’s just a precaution. I’m sure the baby is fine, but you must take your mother’s place in the kitchen tonight.”
“Oh.” Marian smoothed the bodice of her forget-me-nots printed dress even though it was unwrinkled. She forced a smile. “Yes, of course.”
Anna tilted her head and her regal neck lengthened. “I know your mother’s pregnancy has you worried, especially with the voyage. If you want to talk about it, you can come to me, dear. That is not an invitation to complain—as Reverend Colburn frequently reminds us, complaining is sinful—but I would rather you voice your concerns to me than to the children.”
“No, I’m fine, really.” Marian squared her shoulders. “I’m sure this baby will be healthy, and mother will be fine.” She maintained her optimistic smile as a slight tremble vibrated her fingertips. She folded her hands behind her back.
Anna nodded and walked out of the room. “I take it you learned ballet from your cousins in Richmond over the summer?”
“I did.” Marian followed Anna into the hallway, finding the swift change of subject gracious. “My cousins saw a ballet performance when they visited New York. They taught me some of the movements.”
The imperial blue stripes of the long corridor’s wallpaper reminded her of walking through her cousins’ estate. As they passed the closed door of Jonah’s old bedroom, Marian slowed her pace. His room was probably shadowy and masculine, filled with sundry books of arcane knowledge. That would suit Jonah, or what she remembered of him anyway. She grazed her fingers along the door’s glossy trim and wished she could peek inside his bedroom.
Anna glanced back at her. “I’m surprised you were able to enjoy your summer in Richmond with all the talk of secession.”
Marian reached for the oak handrail as they approached the staircase. “I enjoyed my time in Richmond very much. My uncle has a breathtaking library. I spent my mornings reading. I wish I could have brought some of the botany books back with me. I knew I couldn’t, so I absorbed all the knowledge I could before I had to come home.” Talking about the library seemed to arouse the scent of books. Marian inhaled deeply even though the smell was only her imagination.
Anna inclined her head a degree. “You weren’t homesick then?”
“I didn’t have time to be. There were so many new things to see and do. Well, they were new to me. It was probably the only time I will ever be away from my family.”
“Yes, and I know your mother missed you terribly.”
Four of the six Colburn children ran up the staircase’s crimson carpet as Marian and Anna walked down. The Ashton’s spacious home would indeed feel crowded once all eight families were living there, but Doctor Ashton and Reverend Colburn had both insisted it was necessary. Doctor Ashton wanted the families to remain quarantined for a few weeks before the journey to ensure no illness was carried aboard the ship, and Reverend Colburn said living together would prepare them for the confinement of the voyage. The reverend insisted their success as a peaceful society would depend on their ability to give each other grace, and the sooner they learned the habit the better. Regardless of the elders’ purpose, Marian found the notion of communal living both protective and unsettling.
Anna stopped on the landing beneath the bronze chandelier. “Careful on the steps, children,” she sang out before she disappeared into the foyer, greeting Mrs. Colburn.
As Marian walked through the formal sitting room, the happy voices filling the house made it feel less like a chilly November afternoon at a private estate and more like a summertime after-church gathering. She dodged the packing crates and stepped toward the kitchen. A tug on her sleeve drew her attention to the youngest Ashton child. “What’s the matter, Sarah?”
The girl shook her head, and her chin began to quiver. The sight of sweet Sarah upset tore at Marian’s heart. She took the child’s hand and led her into a quiet corner of the cinnamon-scented parlor.
Marian knelt on the polished floor, lowering herself until she was eye to eye with Sarah. “What’s wrong?”
Sarah stood still for a moment, drawing her chapped lips into her mouth. Then she leaned close and whispered, “Benjamin said there might be pirates.”
“When we sail next month?”
The little girl nodded.
“Ben said that, did he? Well, I’m sorry my brother is such a naughty boy. He only said that to frighten you. Don’t let him steal your joy.”
“Will there be pirates?”
“I doubt there will be any pirates. Besides, we won’t be at sea for long—only a couple of weeks, and then we will get to our new land so we can build a peaceful settlement. And we will do it together—all eight families from the church. It will be a lovely adventure. Don’t you agree?”
Sarah leaned onto Marian’s bent knee, and her chin stopped quivering.
Marian played with the girl’s braids and mustered the most reassuring voice she could, even though the voyage would be dangerous. “I suspect we will have such fun on the ship, enjoying the sway of the waves and the beauty of the sails that we won’t want to leave it when we get to our new land.” When Sarah began to smile, Marian continued. “Of course, we will leave the ship because our new home in South America will be filled with magnificent trees and flowers and interesting birds. You like flowers and birds, don’t you?”
With each question Sarah’s smile grew, mirroring Marian’s.
“And who knows the discoveries we will make in our new homeland! Our fathers are taking tools and nails to build new houses—maybe not as luxurious as this house—and they’ll build a chapel… and what else shall we build in our new home?”
“A schoolhouse!”
“Yes, of course, you’re right! We will need a schoolhouse—perhaps with a bell tower and a swing outside to play on during recess. We should speak to Reverend Colburn about it once we set sail, shouldn’t we?”
“And I’ll have a pet monkey!”
“A monkey?” Marian laughed as she stood. “That is up to your mother. My mother would not allow a monkey for a pet, I can tell you that. But I do plan to make discoveries in our new land. Maybe I will name a new species of animal. Actually, I’m much more interested in plants, so perhaps I’ll leave the animal discoveries to you. Does that sound good?”
“Yes, I want lots of animals. I can name them all!”
“Excellent!” Marian walked the girl out of the parlor. “When we get to our new land, you shall be the animal explorer and I shall be the plant explorer. We will make our discoveries together and journal all of our findings for future generations to read about. It will be all right—more than right—it will be perfect!”
Sarah tugged on Marian’s hand. “I wish you were my big sister.”
“That’s very sweet of you.”
“Can you be my sister?”
“It doesn’t work quite like that.”
“Can we pretend you are… at least until the voyage is over?”
“I would be honored to be your pretend sister.” Marian grinned down at Sarah. “And for our first duty as pretend sisters, we must stop all this silly worrying about what might happen during our voyage and talk only of the adventures that await in our new land. Come, let’s go into the kitchen.”
“But I want you to play with me.”
“I have to help prepare the meal.”
“We should never grow weary of serving each other.” She squeezed Sarah’s hand. “It is how we imitate Christ.”
As they stepped toward the kitchen, Benjamin burst around the corner. “Marian, you have to go upstairs.”
Sarah let go of Marian’s hand and dashed away.
Benjamin furrowed his freckled brow and continued, “Mother wants you.”
“This better not be one of your tricks.”
“It’s not!” Benjamin huffed. “Mother is crying again and told me to come and get you.”

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What authors are saying about the book:
“A delightful adventure reminiscent of Swiss Family Robinson, Aboard Providence is one of those novels that will stick with me because I feel I've lived it. A captivating, well-researched, and deftly written tale I can confidently recommend to a wide range of readers.” –Heather Day Gilbert, author of Amazon Norse bestseller God's Daughter

“With vivid settings and multi-layered characters, Keely Brooke Keith whisks her readers off on a page-turning journey, not just across the ocean, but within the heart. You won’t be able to put Aboard Providence down until the final word is read and then you will long for more.” –Brenda S. Anderson, author of the Coming Home series

“A blend of history and romance with a compelling inspirational message, Keith expertly weaves an intriguing tale. Fans of the Uncharted Series won’t want to miss this journey.” –Heidi McCahan, author of Unraveled

“Keely Brooke Keith is a master storyteller, weaving adventure, love, and wonderful characters into a vivid story that will take readers on an unforgettable voyage to a new place. Full of inspirational messages and tales of God’s love, readers will find themselves longing for more. Keely’s story teaches all of us that the journey is just the beginning!” –Christina Yother, author of the Hollow Hearts series

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