Pub. Date: February 7th, 2017
An exquisite ring, passed down through generations, connects two women who learn that love is a choice, and forgiveness is the key to freedom...
San Francisco: 1876
Immigrant dressmakers Hannelore Schaeffer and Margaret O’Brien struggle to provide food for their siblings, while mending delicate clothing for the city’s most affluent ladies. When wealthy Lucas Havensworth enters the shop, Hanna’s future is altered forever. With Margaret’s encouragement and the power of a borrowed green dress, Hanna dares to see herself as worthy of him. Then Margaret disappears, and Hanna turns to Lucas. Braving the gritty streets of the Barbary Coast and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stumbles upon Margaret’s fate, forcing her to make a devastating decision...one that will echo through the generations.
San Francisco: Present Day
In her elegant Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, Sarah Havensworth struggles to complete the novel she quit her job for. Afraid to tell her husband of her writer’s block, Sarah is also hiding a darker secret—one that has haunted her for 14 years. Then a news headline from 1876 sparks inspiration: Missing Dressmakers Believed to be Murdered. Compelled to discover what happened to Hannelore and Margaret, Sarah returns to her roots as a journalist. Will her beautiful heirloom engagement ring uncover a connection to Hanna Schaeffer?
Excerpt of The Dressmaker's Dowry
A doorman ushered me toward the historic garden court inside the Palace Hotel, the sequins on my gold shift dress catching the light. Men in suits mingled with women in cocktail gowns. Beneath the grand crystal chandeliers and arched glass ceiling, I felt like I’d stepped back in time to the turn of the twentieth century. Hunter stood against one of the marble columns under the elegant dome. I admired the cut of my husband’s suit against his broad shoulders. His dark wavy hair was parted on the side.
“Champagne, miss?” a waiter asked.
I took a glass flute from the tray. When I sipped, the sweet bubbles tickled my tongue. With enough champagne, maybe I could relax tonight. My mother-in-law’s charity events often made me feel like a fish out of water. For one, I didn’t do well with crowds, and I could already feel the heat of anxiety creeping up my neck.
A gust of wind from the open door blew my bangs upward. I quickly brushed them down to hide the thin white scar on my forehead. Had anyone seen it? I took a deep breath through my nose. I was in a safe place. No one was paying attention to my scar. Except for me, of course. I exhaled slowly.
After walking through the sea of people, I placed my hand on Hunter’s arm, giving it a squeeze. He smiled, dimples on full display, an adorable grin crafted just for me. “Hey, Kiddo. So glad you made it. How’s my favorite young lady tonight?”
I chuckled. Judging from the number of blue-hairs who’d come out to the arts benefit, I was a young lady—a nice change from feeling ancient around Jen and Nick, my friends and former colleagues at Pulse of the City magazine.
On my thirtieth birthday last month, I’d realized I liked my ten p.m. bedtime, along with waking up early on weekends to go to the farmer’s market sans hangover. More and more I felt estranged from hip twentysomething girls. Mostly, I didn’t understand Tinder, and had trouble convincing my younger friends that it was possible to get a headache after only two glasses of wine.
Gwyneth appeared, gliding toward Hunter with a smile. She wore a long, pale blue dress, and a diamond tennis bracelet dangled from her wrist. I tucked my hands behind me, wishing I’d painted my nails for the event. My mother-in-law’s gel manicure was perfect as usual. She kissed Hunter on the cheek and then stepped forward to hug me.
“Hello, Sarah. You look lovely tonight. I’m so pleased you could make it.”
“Thank you,” I said, feeling the soft warmth of her arms.
Hunter leaned down to whisper in my ear. “You do look gorgeous in that dress. I might be the luckiest guy in this place.”
My body warmed, pleasant shivers working their way down my neck where his breath had touched me.
“Sarah, you haven’t forgotten about the Canova by Moonlight gala?” Gwyneth asked. “I could use your help setting up the space before the big reveal.”
Oh no. She’d told me about this. “Of course I’ll help,” I said, even though I had only a few weeks left to finish my MFA thesis, and I’d intended to spend them solely on writing. A hard knot formed in my stomach as I thought about my novel, languishing on my computer—a painful reminder of my writer’s block.
“May thirtieth. Mark your calendar. The chair of the National Gallery of Ireland is flying in, and we’ll be hosting him.” She smiled proudly. “Walter is also on the board. The minister of arts appointed him for a five-year term. Walter and Colin attended the London School of Economics together many years ago. Old friends, you see.”
I nodded, my father-in-law’s accomplishments never ceasing to amaze me. As much as I tried to impress him, I’d never live up to his standards. But who could? He was the executive director of his own investment banking firm, Havensworth & Associates, Harvard educated, and the president of Havensworth Art Academy.
Hunter cleared his throat. “Mom, Sarah’s working on her master’s thesis. It’s due early next month. She’s pretty busy right now.”
“Oh, hush,” Gwyneth said, winking at me. “She can make a little time in her schedule. We’re going to be serving vintage rosé, and someone has to help me sample it before the big night. You will, won’t you, dear?”
I laughed. “You won’t have a problem there.” “Remind me again of your thesis project?” Gwyneth asked, smoothing an imaginary flyaway into her sleek chignon. “A novel, right?”
I looked down at my hands guiltily. My square-cut emerald, set in rose gold, sparkled in the light next to my gold wedding band. Over three carats and wreathed in diamonds, the Havensworth family heirloom garnered compliments from strangers. But as much as I liked telling the story of how my engagement ring was over a hundred years old, the giant, valuable stone held an aura of mystery. No one in Hunter’s family could tell me whom it had once belonged to.
I twisted the heavy ring upright. Thanks to my husband’s financial support, I’d been able to focus one hundred percent on my writing. Yet somehow I’d managed to squander the opportunity. I forced a smile.
“Yes. It’s historical fiction set in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, during the late nineteenth century. I’m writing about a widowed innkeeper and the quirky cast of characters who come to stay with her at the boardinghouse.”
In the pause that followed, my cheeks heated. It was a stupid idea, and I knew it. In fact, I’d been staring at my blank computer screen for weeks, utterly lacking inspiration. My characters no longer spoke to me. I was nothing more than a fraud—a former journalist, wannabe novelist, wasting my time chasing a silly dream. I couldn’t believe Hunter had let me quit my day job to pursue this.
I began to babble. “I’ve been reading newspaper articles from the 1870s as part of my research. It’s unbelievable the amount of crime that happened back then. I mean, imagine how terrifying North Beach must have been when all of the policemen and politicians were corrupt. To think I bought my beautiful Vera Wang wedding dress in the same place where people got murdered in the street!”
“Our city certainly does have a colorful past,” Gwyneth said, smiling brightly as she patted my hand. “I hate to interrupt you, dear, but the chair of the De Young Museum has just arrived, and I must go over and say hello.” She waved at a woman with a bouffant hairdo, and walked away.
“I think it sounds cool,” Hunter said, meeting my eyes with a reassuring gaze. “I know you, Sar. Any story you write will be a good one. You’ve got the talent, and you work harder than anyone I know. I hope you publish your novel someday, so I can tell the world that my wife’s a famous author.”
“Thanks, honey,” I mumbled as he kissed my forehead. I didn’t have the heart to tell Hunter that I wasn’t a real author, and there would be no future book tours. Anything I typed, I deleted five minutes later. I’d spent my afternoons wandering around Jackson Square, the site of my former magazine office, waiting for inspiration to strike. While looking up at the brick buildings that used to be dance halls, saloons, and bordellos in the last century, I’d never felt so lost.
I swallowed, realizing how many people had filled the garden court of the hotel. The walls seemed to close in. It was too hot in here. Why was everyone looking at me? I smoothed my bangs to make sure my scar was covered.
I could still hear the whispers that followed me down the streets of my hometown and through the halls of my high school. I felt the dark, accusatory looks, like daggers in my back. The room spun like I was drunk, even though I hadn’t finished my champagne.
Don’t think about it.
“Hey,” I said, meeting Hunter’s eyes, warm brown with specks of green. “I’m going to find the ladies’ room. I’ll just be a minute.”
“Okay. I’ll be right here.”
I felt Hunter watching me as I tugged at the hem of my sequined dress, making my way quickly through the crowd. If I took deep breaths and looked at the floor, I wouldn’t think about the screech of the brakes, or the jolt of the impact.
I stepped inside the ladies’ lounge, appointed with plush velvet and rosewood couches. Crystal chandeliers with gold accents glinted off the shiny marble floors. Walking over to the sink, I turned on the tap to splash water on my cheeks.
My plain reflection stared back at me: a pale face with large brown eyes, dirty-blond hair, and a slightly too-big nose that sunburned easily. For Wisconsin, I was pretty enough, but I certainly didn’t exude the urban glamour of San Francisco women.
I’d grown up on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and tuna casserole. On summer vacations, my parents and I camped in an old smelly tent, and “fancy” meant bringing along an air mattress. Hunter brought me into his world of yachts, summer homes, and country clubs. Sometimes Hunter asked me if I’d like to take him to Eagle River, so he could see the town where I’d spent my childhood.
My parents are dead, I told him. There’s nothing left for me there.
Honestly, I ached to see the starry sky above the lakes, to spend the night with my husband in a rustic hunting cabin. But I could never go back. Hunter liked the person I was now, because he didn’t know who I had been. I had kept myself from him.
Praise for The Dressmaker's Dowry
“This gripping read is a satisfying exploration of the timeless nature of love and resilience.” —Booklist (STARRED review)
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About the Author
Meredith Jaeger has lived and travelled around the world, spending periods in the Netherlands, theCzech Republic, and Australia. She is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, born and raised in Berkeley, California. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Meredith holds a BA in Modern Literature. While working at a San Francisco startup, Meredith fulfilled a lifelong dream to write a novel, the result of which was The Dressmaker’s Dowry. Like the character Hannelore Schaeffer, Meredith is also the daughter of a European immigrant, who moved to California in search of a better life. Meredith lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their infant daughter, English bulldog and elderly cat.
You can learn more about Meredith on her website, and you can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.