A LADY IN ATTENDANCE by Rachel Fordham - Excerpt
A soft-spoken man, a hardened woman, and the friends that stand by them as they work toward a common purpose in A Lady in Attendance by Rachel Fordham.
A Lady in Attendance
Five years in a New York state reformatory have left a blemish on Hazel’s real name. So when she takes a job as Doctor Gilbert Watts’s lady in attendance in 1898, she does so under an alias. In the presence of her quiet and pious employer, Hazel finds more than an income. She finds a friend and a hope that if she can set her tarnished past in order, she might have a future after all.
As Gilbert becomes accustomed to the pleasant chatter of his new dental assistant, he can’t help but sense something secretive about her. Perhaps there is more to this woman than meets the eye. Can the questions that loom between them ever be answered? Or will the deeds of days gone by forever rob the future of its possibilities?
Rachel Fordham pens a tender tale of a soft-spoken man, a hardened woman, and the friends that stand by them as they work toward a common purpose–to expunge the record of someone society deemed beyond saving–and perhaps find love along the way.
“A Lady in Attendance draws you in from the first page and leaves you captivated until the oh-so-romantic conclusion. A poignant and beautifully written story of faith, forgiveness, and the healing power of love.”–Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author
Enjoy an Excerpt from
A Lady in Attendance
Amherst, New York, 1898
“Have you worked as a lady in attendance before?”
Hazel forced her eyes to remain on the man opposite her and made herself appear confident and at ease. It was no easy task, considering how long it had been since she’d been in such close proximity to a man who wasn’t a guard. Nothing about Doctor Watts was overly intimidating, yet her heart raced as she searched for an adequate response.
Her eyes betrayed her and darted away, landing on a painting above his head. A lush, green landscape. Peaceful, serene, calm. Something her life hadn’t been in a long time, not since before—
“I wish I could tell you I had years of experience, but the truth is that I’ve never spent one day, not even one moment, as a lady in attendance. From what I understand, not many women have.” She sighed, worried her chances at a dignified job were over with the confession. Since leaving the reformatory, she’d already faced a slew of rejections and disappointments. Leaning forward, she said, “I have spent time in the medical field and know how to care for patients.”
She winced, knowing she was stretching the truth—a habit she’d fought to leave behind. Her uncle was a doctor, and she had spent a summer in his home. That counted toward medical exposure, did it not?
“You’re correct. It’s quite new.” His soft but steady voice interrupted her thoughts. “I try to keep up on what’s working in dentistry, and there has been much success found in hiring help. It will not be long before it is the normal way of doing things.” His words came slowly, as though speaking to her made him uneasy. Even his posture screamed of nervousness—his long fingers wringing together in his lap and the way he shifted about in his seat. “You say you’ve been involved in the medical community. That will help.” He nodded his head, a small smile pulling at the corners of his mouth, and with it her hope grew. “I don’t see the need to interview anyone else. Nursing experience is better than nothing at all. You may begin tomorrow.”
Thrilled by his words, she grinned. A real, legitimate job—her first!
“Thank you,” she said, rising from her seat so quickly the chair nearly overturned. “You won’t be sorry. I can learn quickly, and I’ll work hard. I’ll work so hard. Oh, thank you. To work here is more than I could have hoped for.”
“Just one more thing.” His cheeks took on a slight pink hue similar to the shade of dress she’d often worn as a girl. The uneasiness she’d sensed in him multiplied tenfold.
He shook his head and turned away. “Never mind. It’s nothing. I look forward to having your help.”
“Do you have a concern?”
“Well, yes. I suppose I do.” He stood on his long legs and paced behind his desk. “I’ve never worked with anyone other than my father before he died. Since then, it’s just been me and my patients. I . . . well, I’m not sure how exactly to go about it. We’ll be in close proximity and . . .”
“Yes?” she said when he paused, unsure what it was he was afraid of. She’d given him no reason to suspect she had a shameful past, had she? “What is it?”
“It’s just . . . I don’t want things to get uncomfortable. That’s all.” From the looks of it, he was already distressed over the matter. He cleared his throat. “I see the advantages of hiring help, but I’ve heard stories. I need not go into what I’ve heard, but . . . there are potential problems with having a woman in the office.”
Sweat beaded on his forehead. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped it. “There will be no . . . no extra affection given to patients . . . you know what I’m saying, what I mean?”
“I understand, and I assure you it won’t be a problem.”
“And . . . and, well, my father told me that . . . he said I ought to always be honest from the start.” The pink in his cheeks deepened. “I feel it important to say that I have every intention of remaining unattached. We will be professional in our relationship, keeping firm boundaries. Never overstepping the lines of propriety.” He wiped again at his perspiring forehead. “I apologize for my bluntness.”
Hazel bit hard on her bottom lip so she wouldn’t laugh. She needed this job and couldn’t lose it on account of one ill-timed guffaw. Little did he know she was the last person he needed to worry about. All the romantic ambitions she’d held long ago had been put to rest and replaced by much simpler dreams. Now she craved a future unblemished by the past, enough bread to eat, and to be reconciled with her family. Beyond that, she dared not hope.
She politely put her hand out to him. It dangled in the air only a moment before he took it, his large hand enveloping her much smaller one. “You needn’t worry on that account. I have no motives other than working.”
He seemed to relax. “I’m sorry, it’s just I’ve had a whole slew of ladies stopping in about the position, and most of them are young. The way they spoke and giggled unnerved me. Some even had mothers with them asking after my personal affairs. It has left me with my guard up.”
“Please, be at ease.” Hazel smiled, still delighted with the prospect of real work. “I’m twenty-five, well past my youthful years.” She swallowed, knowing she ought to say so much more about her past, but voicing it was not an option. Her past, her identity, and especially her years behind those iron gates could not be mentioned, not if she wanted to remain employed and off the streets. “I assure you, ours will be a most proper arrangement.”
“I believe we’ll work well together,” he said in his soft way. “Let me show you around the office.”
“What shall I call you?” she asked before they’d gotten very far. “Should I call you Doctor Watts at all times?”
He ran a hand through his dark hair. “I suppose you could call me Gilbert when it’s just the two of us. First names wouldn’t be crossing any lines, considering we will be colleagues in a sense. But Doctor Watts would be more appropriate when we are working around patients. Does that suit you?”
“Any name will do. I simply wondered what you would prefer.” Gilbert, she said in her mind. They were hardly acquainted, yet she already felt that his name fit him. It seemed like a gentle, friendly name.
“And I will introduce you as my lady in attendance, Miss McDowell.”
She flinched at the pseudonym, looked toward the door, and for a moment thought of running away from the shame she felt, hating herself for the lie. Regret once again swept over her, churning inside until she feared she would be sick. Life outside the reformatory walls was supposed to be fresh and new, but already she’d soiled it with a falsehood. She blinked quickly, trying to still the rush of emotion. She’d lied, it was true, but what options did she have? In two other towns she’d asked after work and been swiftly rejected when she told them her story. “Call me Hazel whenever you’d like. I prefer it.”
“Very well, Hazel. Here is where our patients come in and wait if we are busy.” He motioned around the small front room that consisted of four wooden chairs set against a scuffed cream-colored wall. In truth, the room would have been forgettable if not for the vibrant paintings that added luscious colors, warm and rich, to the small space.
Without intending to, Hazel sighed. “I was so nervous waiting to meet with you that I didn’t notice the paintings before. They’re exquisite.”
Gilbert looked from Hazel to the paintings. “Thank you. I’m glad you find them pleasing.” He motioned for her to follow. “You’ll greet our patients, and when I am ready, you’ll bring them back.” They stepped past the front counter and walked to the back of the office. “I have one chair here that reclines, and it’s where we do our actual work. In this next room, I have a cot, so if someone needs time to recover before leaving, they may rest there. Your job will be seeing to patients before and after they come to me. I like to help everyone be comfortable, but I’ll work faster if you can help me with that. You’ll also hand me instruments as necessary.”
“I can do all that.” She pointed toward a door. “What’s down the hall?”
“That’s the room where I make bridges and dentures. I call it my art room.” His gaze stayed on the door at the end of the hall, giving her a moment to study him. He reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t peg down who. She’d guess he was thirty, give or take a year or two. He was tall, much taller than she was, with a lean build and long arms and legs. His rich dark hair was in need of a cut and his clothes were in need of ironing, but even with him being slightly disheveled, she still found him a handsome man who was shy and unsuspecting.
Why was he a dentist? Teeth and mouths were far from exciting. In her case, the work was a necessity, and being a woman, her options were limited, but he could have been anything. A commanding lawyer or a dashing doctor. She pushed the thought aside, realizing it was a tad early to judge his motives.
“Is there anything else I should know?” Hazel asked, breaking the silence.
“Most of it I’ll teach you as we go. But, well, I do want you to know that my patients—ours, now—matter a great deal to me. I want them to have the best care.”
She stepped a little closer to him and with genuine conviction said, “Then that is what I will give them.”
He held her gaze and nodded. “I believe you will. We discussed the particulars when you first arrived. I’ll show you tomorrow where we clean the instruments and how to keep notes. If you have no questions, then I think it is settled. I appreciate your help.”
Glancing once more around the room, she admired other paintings that hung throughout the simple but comfortable building. Working with him did not seem daunting, and neither did filling her days attending to the patients’ needs. She could do this. There had been a time in her life when it would have been an ill fit, but now, she felt immense gratitude. The patients did not scare her, and the teeth, well, she’d manage. Perhaps Providence had led her down Front Street on the very day Gilbert Watts was interviewing for a reason. A pleasant warmth filled her heart, and for a moment she felt less alone and less afraid.
Grinning, she said, “I’m very thankful. I’ll be here tomorrow.”
End of Excerpt.
Rachel Fordham, A Lady in Attendance. Revel, a division of Baker Publishing Group. June 1, 2021. Used by Permission.
Rachel Fordham has long been fascinated by all things historical or in the words of her children “old stuff”. Often the historical trivia she discovers is woven into her children’s bedtime tales. Despite her love for good stories she didn’t attempt writing a novel until her husband challenged her to do so (and now she’s so glad he did). Since that time she’s often been found typing or researching while her youngest child naps or frantically writing plot twists while she waits in the school pick-up line. In addition to her passion for storytelling she enjoys reading, being outdoors and seeing new places. Rachel lives with her husband and children on an island in Washington state.
Genre: Historical Fiction/Christian/Romance
Release: June 1, 2021
Content Rating: 2 Hearts
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