An Open Heart presents two people who don’t celebrate the same holiday as the other folk at a Regency house party.
Esther Baumann longs for a loving husband who will help her create a home where they will teach their children to value the traditions of their people. It is 1812, and Chanukah fell the month before she arrives at the Duchess of Haverford’s house party. She’s open to what the house party might bring. Tradition is important, but Esther also wants a man who is also open to new ideas and happy to make friends outside their narrow circle. Is it so unreasonable to ask for toe curling passion as well?
Adam Halevy prospered under the tutelage of his distant cousin, powerful banker Nathaniel Baumann. He’s ready to find a suitable wife, someone who understands a woman’s role, and will make a traditional home. Why is Baumann’s outspoken, independent daughter the one woman who haunts his nights? When a business trip forces him to open his mind to new ideas, and he arrives home to find Esther gone, what can he do? He follows her to the Duchess’s ball unannounced.
This story first appeared in Holly and Hopeful Hearts.
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“Your father is sending gold to Wellington.” Adam replied, running a hand across the back of his neck. “The government is temporarily unable to fund their war in Spain.”
She rose on the balls of her feet. “Papa can arrange this?” Pride and excitement pushed other emotions away.
“With the help of his contacts in France, yes. We’re taking it across the Pyrenees.”
Esther knew better than to ask how they would arrange it. Cousins across Europe would be involved. One thought overrode all others. “It will be dangerous.”
He looked for a moment as if he wouldn’t answer. His face when he did touched her heart. “Probably, but the viscount and I will watch out for each other. You aren’t to worry about me, Esther.”
At the use of her name, Esther smiled. She ought to correct him for presuming, but in truth, it pleased her. For a moment, they looked at each other in perfect harmony.
“Be careful,” she whispered.
The moment grew awkward, and Esther thought she should say something. “You’re going to safeguard Papa’s interests?” she asked.
He nodded. “And the viscount will safeguard England’s.”
“They don’t trust you because you’re French.”
“They don’t trust me because I’m Jewish,” he replied bitterly.
“Viscount Rochlin looked friendly enough.”
“Looks can deceive, Miss Baumann. You shouldn’t trust them either. Your father should not be encouraging your association with these aristocrats.”
“Why ever not? The duchess is kindness itself, and a number of my schoolmates will be there. It is my first ball and—”
“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”
“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.
“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”
Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”
Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”
Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.
“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.
“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”
“Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Baumann,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.