Today, I’m delighted to feature an excerpt from A.B. Michaels’ fascinating novel about the California gold rush. I lived in San Francisco for several years, and found this part of the state’s history absolutely compelling. Do enjoy!
The Art of Love
(The Golden City, Book One)
By A.B. Michaels
Your Journey to The Golden City begins here…
A tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age, The Art of Love will take you on an unforgettable journey from the last frontier of the Yukon Territory to the new Sodom and Gomorrah of its time – the boomtown of San Francisco.
After digging a fortune from the frozen fields of the Klondike, August Wolff heads south to the “Golden City,” hoping to put the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter behind him. The turn of the twentieth century brings him even more success, but the distractions of a hedonistic mecca can’t fill the gaping hole in his life.
Amelia Starling is a wildly talented artist caught in the straightjacket of Old New York society. Making a heart-breaking decision, she moves to San Francisco to further her career, all the while living with the pain of a sacrifice no woman should ever have to make.
Brought together by the city’s flourishing art scene, Gus and Lia forge a rare connection. But the past, shrouded in mystery, prevents the two of them from moving forward as one. Unwilling to face society’s scorn, Lia leaves the city and vows to begin again in Europe.
The Golden City offers everything a man could wish for except the answers Gus is desperate to find. But find them he must, or he and Lia have no chance at all.
New York, 1899
Over the next several days, under the guise of carrying artwork to and from school, Lia moved her most important belongings to the apartment Sandy had rented. She packed clothing, art supplies, her jewelry, and most important, the items that would remind her of the one real treasure she was giving up. Every evening she sat and watched Little Georgie, sketching him at play and at rest, trying to memorize every part of the precious child she had brought into the world. His tiny, exquisitely formed little ears; his soft cheeks (which someday, she imagined, would grow angular like his father’s); his mouth shaped like a cupid’s bow, rooting quietly as he slept.
She gave Polly and the housekeeper time away to visit their families and spent her last day at home with her son, sitting with him on the floor of the nursery as he built tall castles out of blocks and laughed delightedly when they fell. She held up the carved wooden cow and asked him what a cow says and he said “Moo.” The sheep? “Baa.” The horse? “Eee eee eee.”
“That’s my smart little man,” she whispered, tears running unchecked down her face.
“Mama,” he said, waddling over and patting the wetness of her cheeks.
“Yes, my darling boy,” she whispered. “Mama loves you. Mama will always love you.”
She put him to bed one more time and crooned his favorite lullaby. “Sleepyhead, close your eyes. Mother’s right here beside you. I’ll protect you from harm, you will wake in my … my … ” she couldn’t go on. He lay on his back looking up at her and smiled and reached for her. She leaned down and hugged him one last time and stayed with him until he fell asleep.
You can do this you can do this you can do this, she chanted to keep herself in one piece. She filled her small suitcase, donned her coat, and went downstairs to confront George. He was working in the library. The light in the room was dim except for the lamp on his desk. It lent an intimacy to the space. It was quiet; only the tic, tic, tic of the Ormolu clock marred the silence.
“George?” she called from the doorway.
“Yes, come in,” he replied, still engrossed in the report he was reading.
She checked the pendant watch he had given her on their first anniversary. Sandy would arrive to pick her up shortly; she had only to get through this last charade. She walked over to his desk.
“George, look at me.”
George looked up, a puzzled expression crossing his face as he saw that she was dressed to go out. He frowned. “Where are you going?”
“I’m leaving you for someone else.”
He leaned back in his chair, disbelieving. “What did you say?”
“I said I’m leaving you for someone else.”
“Lia, that’s not funny.”
“It’s not meant to be.” She leaned over his desk. “Do you understand? I’m leaving this marriage and I’m committing adultery to do it. Do. You. Understand?” She drew the words out as she held his eyes.
Comprehension cast a shadow over his features, and he slowly shook his head. “No, Lia. No. You don’t have to do this.”
She stood up straight and repeated the words she’d rehearsed many times. “I love someone else and I no longer love you. I’m moving in with my lover and I’m never coming back.”
“Sandy,” she said.
George rolled his eyes and snorted. “Ah, yes. The sodomite.”
Lia drilled him with her stare until he felt compelled to face her again. “Ask your mother and her friends about that … and thank you for the insult to one of the finest men I know. You are making this easier.”
George stood up as if to overpower her. “I’ll fight you on this.”
It was Lia’s turn to scoff. “Will you, George? Think long and hard about that. What will you gain? What will you lose?”
“What about your son?” he asked, frustration lacing his tone. “Our son. You’re just going to abandon him?”
You can do this you can do this you can do this. “My son will be loved,” she replied. “You talk to Emmaline about that.”
“Em? What does Em know about this?”
“Nothing. Only that she is a woman with so much to give who is ready to be loved … do you understand me, George?”
He stared at her, not speaking, and she could practically see the wheels turning in his head as he processed all that she was saying, all that she implied. His own eyes welled with tears as he realized what she was doing for him, for them. He reached for her. “Lia—”
She held out her arm to ward him off. “You must hate me until this is over, it is the only way,” she whispered. “Hate me to your parents, to your friends, to your lawyer, to everyone except Em and our son, and do not call Sandy a sodomite ever again. Do you understand me?” she repeated. She heard the near hysteria in her voice.
His eyes clear with comprehension, he nodded. “What will you do?”
“Lay low until the storm passes, then San Francisco, I think.” She smiled sadly. “So, you won’t have to pay that invoice from the Institute after all.”
“Lia?” Sandy stood in the doorway to the library, hat in hand. “I’m sorry. No one answered, so I let myself in. Are … are you ready to go?”
Lia continued to look at George. After a moment she inclined her head and saw George echo her, ever so slightly. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again, smiling through her tears.
“I will send you the address where your attorney can reach me,” she said. “Polly and Mrs. Rudd will be back tomorrow. If Little … Little Georgie wakes up—”
“I know,” he assured her gently. “Sing him the lullaby.”
“That’s right,” she said, her voice breaking. “Good night, George, and … and bless you.” Lia turned and took Sandy by the arm. They stepped into the cool of the evening and began walking down the street.
Sandy patted her hand. “How did it go?”
She sighed and put her head on his shoulder. Her voice hitched. “I think I know what it feels like to stab oneself in the heart.”
“You are quite a woman, Amelia. If I were someone else, I think I’d do anything to make you mine.”
“You are just who I need you to be, dear friend. Let’s see how it all plays out.”
“Yes, let’s,” he said as they continued on their way.
A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/A.-B.-Michaels/e/B00KFLJ2QW