I'm absolutely delighted to welcome historical novelist, Alethea Williams, today. She's sharing Willow Vale with us, so settle in and enjoy!
From opposite sides of an ocean, two people wounded by the Great War are fated to meet and try to rebuild their lives. FRANCESCA SITTONI, brought against her will to America by the husband she never loved, finds herself alone — widowed, pregnant, and with a small daughter to support. Terrified of being deported back to the impoverished country of her birth, Francesca answers an ad placed by Wyoming rancher KENT REED. As their contracted year together passes, Francesca begins to ask if she is cook and housekeeper to the wounded veteran …or a secretly sought mail-order bride as the neighbors insist? Only Kent Reed, burned by mustard gas and his spoiled former wife’s desertion, knows his heart’s true desire when it comes to the beautiful Tyrolean immigrant woman now living in the uncomfortably close quarters of his small ranch house.
Willow Vale Excerpt:
Elena peered down into pitch blackness. The smells of damp earth, sawdust, and raw meat wafted out. Elena looked at her mother, eyes round. “Ooh, Mama. You not going in there?”
“Sure I go in there. Why not?”
“There’s bats and spooks in there.”
Both of them, Francesca knew, were remembering the eerie howling of the night before. She didn’t want to descend into the unfamiliar darkness either. But she couldn’t let Elena see her fear.
“Ach, Elena. Don’t start again with the monsters, eh? No bats and no spooks in there. I promise.”
Francesca held the lamp higher and placed her foot on the first step down. Elena clutched at her skirt.
“Don’t leave me, Mama.”
“Don’t pull at me, Elena. You make me fall down the stairs.”
Francesca tried to disengage her daughter’s fingers while holding the lamp up with the other hand.
Elena only clutched tighter. “Don’t leave me!”
Francesca reverted to the dialect of Val di Non. “Elena, do you want something to eat?”
The child nodded.
“Then let go so I can get us something to eat.”
“I can’t! I’m scared.”
Francesca sighed. The decision she made now set a precedentand she knew it, but she didn’t know what else to do. She had a job to do, and she couldn’t do it with Elena clinging to her skirt.
“Go back to the mister, Elena,” she said. “Go and see if he needs some help.”
The little girl looked about fearfully. Stars were beginning to twinkle in the darkening sky, but they didn’t shed much light. The unfamiliar outlines of barn and bare-limned cottonwood trees and rail fencing loomed. Francesca couldn’t give Elena the lamp or she’d never find her own way around the cellar. She’d trip and fall in the dark and start screaming, and all her careful concealment of her fear would desert her. Then both Elena and the mister would know what a fraud she was, and how terribly frightened.
Where was that ugly dog when she could use him? The dog could walk the child to the house, help take the edge off her fear.
Francesca gave Elena a gentle shove, her heart almost breaking as she pushed the child in the man’s direction.
“Go, cara,” she said. “You know you will be safe with him, no?”
“Sì, Mama.” Elena’s voice quavered only a little now.
Francesca’s voice faltered more than the girl’s. She didn’t know which of them were more afraid right now. Protecting Elena at this moment meant directing her toward the greater danger of coming to depend on the big red-haired American man.
Francesca’s heart mourned. A year. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll
have a papa for a whole year this time, my Elena.
“So go to him, then,” she said aloud, in the old language she rarely spoke anymore. She hadn’t much use now for her native tongue, except maybe to send her daughter away from her, and toward the threat —or salvation?—who was Kent Reed.
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(Christine) Alethea Williams is the author of Willow Vale, a post-WWI novel of a Tyrolean immigrant who finds her destiny in southwest Wyoming. Alethea grew up in a boom-and-bust railroad town, with her nose perpetually in a book while living in a world of robust trona miners. She attended every writing class available, from poetry to creative nonfiction, absorbing her teachers’ knowledge of mastering the writing craft and their experience of publishing. Williams has contributed a monthly newspaper column subsequently turned into the ebook Boomer Blues Book: Staying Alive and Sane in the Modern American West. Willow Vale is her first novel. A past president of Wyoming Writers, she presently lives in the Northwest with her husband and her longtime friend, Amazon parrot Bob.
What a lovely evocative cover desogn, Alethea, and a vey intriguing excerpt. A huge thank you for visiting today.