Formats and Prices
- ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
- Trade Paperback $21.99 $28.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 3, 2014. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
But it seems Nell’s gift won’t be hidden by Oscar’s efforts. Soon an up-and-coming fashion designer is seeking her out as a partner of his 1922 collection. The publicity leads to an opportunity for Nell to make hats in London for a royal wedding. There, she sees her childhood friend, Quentin, and an unexpected spark kindles between them. But thanks to her success, Oscar is determined to keep her. As her heart tugs in two directions, Nell must decide what she is willing to sacrifice for her dream, and what her dream truly is.
New York City
The workroom at Oscar Fields Millinery pulsed with the usual chatter, the gentle hiss of steam at periodic intervals, the ever-present adhesive and sizing fumes that hung in the air like gauze. Nell Marchwold bent over the hat block before her and first tacked the flexible buckram into quarters, then eased in each section, coaxing the foundation fabric into shape. She envisioned the magenta velvet that would be the outer covering, the satin piping that would grace the rolled brim, and a rosette stitched at a jaunty angle for a lovely touch. The question was, would Mr. Fields like it?
She bit her lip in concentration. A wave of the hand could reduce two days’ work to nothing. A nod meant the design would be slipped into the work orders on the assembly table and appear on the shelves in the showroom in due time. It wasn’t that her boss was fickle—he knew what he liked—but his moods were hard to predict. Two years as a junior apprentice had taught her that.
Sixth Avenue traffic sounds drifted through the open windows, a nip in the September breeze that had changed overnight. The workroom door opened, bringing a gust of air flushing through the window and Nora Remming standing there, her usual bright face the color of paste.
The workroom clatter came to a halt. No hiss from the steamer. No whispers from Nell’s fellow workers. On the street below, the trolley clanged as Nora slammed the box she carried on the table. Nora’s nostrils pinched as she inhaled; then her cheeks puffed as she let the breath out.
Steiger, the assembly manager, broke the silence. “Nasty mood, Mrs. Remming?”
Nora glared at him. “You don’t know the half of it.”
He folded reedy arms across his protruding belly and raised his snowy brows. “Care to enlighten us?”
“I’ve been sacked, that’s what. Poof! Just like that Oscar fired me.” A collective gasp went up from the workers as the color returned to Nora’s cheeks, and she stormed over to the bin that held her personal belongings—shears, measuring tape, pin cushion—and tossed them in the box. “So much for being a principal designer. ‘Your hats aren’t selling,’ he says. ‘I can no longer afford to carry dead weight.’ Dead weight. That’s what he thinks I am because I have original ideas. Clever new styles.”
Calvin Gold, Nell’s fellow apprentice, sympathetically smiled. “Rats. I thought you were onto something with the crinoline and grosgrain ribbon creation you did. Can’t believe those didn’t sell.”
Nora’s lips drew into a straight line. “They might’ve if Oscar hadn’t put them on the back shelf where the lighting is wretched. You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that he puts his standard line in the window. All he wants is the same old garb in a new color. You ask me, it’s a miracle he’s selling anything at all.”
Nell swallowed hard. “I’m so sorry. We’re going to m-miss you, Nora. What will you do now?”
“Heaven only knows. Guess I’ll have to figure out some way to feed my two boys and pay the light bill.” She hefted the box in her arms and marched out the door.
Steiger said, “Guess we won’t be throwing her a going-away party. Easy come, easy go.”
“Stuff it, Steiger,” Hazel, who had a way with making hat brims do exactly what she wanted and didn’t take any of Steiger’s flack, shot back. “Just goes to show, none of us should get too comfortable.”
Steiger smirked, but didn’t answer. He wasn’t worried about his job. He’d been there since the elder Mr. Fields was alive, and as the senior assemblyman, probably thought his position was free of worry. Nell didn’t have that luxury.
She picked up the sketch of the cloche she intended to show Mr. Fields as a promising new design. Her stomach soured. She was anything but comfortable.
A pall fell on the room, which got heavier when Marcella opened the tin of adhesive, sending more fumes in their midst. Nell concentrated on the hat block before her and sighed in relief when one of the workers turned on the rotary fan to dispel the acrid odor.
“Miss Marchwold!” Harjo Pritchard’s bark split the air.
Nell flinched, noticing the other workers jerk their heads in her direction, no doubt glad it wasn’t them being singled out by Mr. Fields’s secretary.
“Yes, Mr. P-Pritchard?”
“Here you are. Mr. Fields said I would find you in the studio, but I find you in here dillydallying. You keep that up and you’ll be kicked to the curb before you can whistle six bars of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’”
“I wasn’t d-dillydallying. I’m doing a p-prototype for a new d-design.” Nell pointed to the block and lifted her chin “I was experimenting, not d-dillydallying. Besides, I can’t wh-whistle.”
“She can’t talk, either.” The jab came from the middle of the worktable, but when Nell whipped her head in that direction, all heads were down, not even a smirk from the guilty party.
Heat rose in Nell’s neck until she was certain her own face was the same shade of magenta as the felt in the center of the table. She didn’t always stammer…only when rattled. And the entire morning had thrown her off guard.
Calvin looked up from stitching a lining in a bowler and clenched his jaw, a shadow edging his brow. Nell changed her attention to the stodgy, balding Harjo Pritchard who ignored the remark about her speech. “Experiment or not, Mr. Fields wants you in his office five minutes ago.”
“It will be my p-p-pleasure. Anything I should know?”
“It’s not your place to question. Just make it snappy and go.” He turned and stalked off, waving away the scent of adhesive as if it were a pesky fly.
Steiger scoffed. “Sounds like ol’ Fields is on a tear.” He eyed Nell like she might be the next one packing her things.
Calvin said, “Don’t pay him any mind.”
She hung her work smock on a hook and gave him a playful punch on the arm. As she sailed out of the workroom, Calvin hollered, “Break a leg, Nellie March.”
Nellie March? Nell shook her head and wondered where he’d come up with that. It was a far cry from the Prunella Marchwold she was born with, her parents having no idea she’d never be able to pronounce p’s worth a farthing. She’d shortened it to Nell when she and her mother and baby sister had come from England, thinking it sounded more American. Nell Marchwold. That’s how she was known at Oscar Fields Millinery, and she prayed today wasn’t her last day here.
* * *
Mr. Fields met her at the door, his back erect as he cradled his pocket watch in his palm, its gold chain secured to the vest of his pin-striped suit. “Ah, finally you are here. I hope whatever was keeping you was important.”
“I was in the workroom and had to clear my things. Then I stopped in the s-studio for my portfolio.” She held it up and smiled.
He waved it away, replaced the watch in his pocket, and pointed to two head mannequins on his desk with cloches she’d designed.
“I’ll get right to the point since we don’t have much time. These are two of your designs, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir.” Two of her hats he’d graciously put near the front of the showroom, not in the rear as he had Nora’s crinolines.
“I have a prestigious client coming in, and although I’ve tried to tell her I can assist her, she insists she wants whoever designed these.”
A ripple of relief skated through her. “Is she anyone I know?”
“It’s doubtful.” He stroked his thin, dark mustache, gathering his thoughts. Or trying to make up his mind. He huffed out a breath. “I guess I have no choice. Mavis can be quite persistent, and I do hope to stay in her good graces.”
“Yes, Mavis Benchley, wife of the president of Benchley and Associates, the architectural firm responsible for half of the new buildings along the Upper East Side. She’s quite particular and has two fetching daughters. The hats are for them…an unveiling ceremony of some sort where photographs will be taken. Newspapers will undoubtedly run the story, and Mrs. Benchley wants her daughters portrayed in the most favorable light.”
“I would be h-happy to assist them. Will Mrs. Benchley require a h-hat as well?”
“She didn’t say, but they are probably already in the consulting salon, and I don’t want to keep them waiting. I only hope to high heavens you can keep your wits about you.” He cleared his throat. “Mind your words, too, if you will. I won’t have you insulting one of my preferred clients.”
A slow burn bubbled up. Just because she stammered didn’t mean she was a moron. But a chance to prove herself was definitely better than being fired. She smiled. “I won’t disappoint you, s-sir.”
He ignored her and started for the door, expecting her to follow.
Just relax and take your time when speaking. Picture the way the words look before pronouncing them. The words of her former elocutionist, who’d moved to Boston, bounced through her brain as Nell hurried behind Mr. Fields, his stride long and impatient.
The thought of seeing an influential client constricted her throat and made her mouth as dry as if stuffed with balled wool.
A tall, handsome woman in a suit the color of cream tea was waiting when they arrived at the ground floor consulting salon. Nell guessed her to be in her midforties.
“Ah, Mavis, you’re looking spectacular today.” Mr. Fields clasped her hands in his and kissed her on the cheek, then greeted the two young women who trailed behind her. One was a young likeness of her mother, the other more petite with a swing in her hips as she teetered on spooled heels with button straps, her legs in patterned silk stockings. They reminded Nell oddly of Iris and Mittie, her twin cousins back in Kentucky. Mismatched, yet each striking in her own way.
Mr. Fields introduced Nell as his “talented junior apprentice” and the woman as “my dear friend, Mavis Benchley, and her charming daughters, Claudia and Daphne.”
“Nell will be assisting you dears today.” He checked his watch and said he was late for an engagement, which drew a raised eyebrow from Mrs. Benchley. He gave Nell a look that said he expected her to live up to his expectations.
Nell waited until Mr. Fields had gone, then took a deep breath. “I’m honored to be of s-service. Won’t you have a s-seat?” The girls immediately sank into the cushions of one of the two brocade davenports. Nell pulled the cord for Bea, the receptionist. “I’ll have some tea brought in, unless you’d p-prefer something else.”
“Colas for Claudia and me,” Daphne, the more petite of the two girls, answered and crossed her legs.
Mrs. Benchley eyed Nell, sizing her up, it seemed. “I must say, when the girls took a notion to the cloches in the showroom, I was expecting someone with more experience. You look like you just stepped off the playground.”
Nell had heard the schoolgirl remark before. She tried to wear clothes that made her look older—slim-skirted suits and high-collared silk blouses—but she feared they only made her look as if she were playing dress up.
She laughed, more nervous than she would’ve liked, and said, “I hear that sometimes, ma’am. I’m twenty-one and have b-been with Oscar Fields for over two years. I’ve been studying design m-most of my life.”
Mrs. Benchley made an O with her lips. “Why, you’re British, aren’t you? I had no idea Oscar had brought someone from the continent. That makes a world of difference…if you’re any good.” She eyed the other davenport and nodded. “Here, you sit by me. I want to know all about you. I assume you’ve studied in Paris.”
“No, ma’am, just here with Mr. Fields.” Her dream had been to study in Paris, but fate had intervened in a most unexpected way. Not that she would burden Mrs. Benchley with the details.
“However did you get into such a fine establishment?” Her tone was no longer accusing, but curious, light.
A warning bell went off in Nell’s head. No discussing private lives with clients. Ever. All conversation was to be directed back to the customer. But Mrs. Benchley had asked for her qualifications.
“Mr. Fields n-noticed some of the hats I made for women at the K-Kentucky Derby.”
“You came all the way from England to make hats for the derby?”
Nell nodded, not wanting to divulge too much. It wasn’t an untruth. Hat making had preserved her sanity when she, Mama, and Caroline had moved to Kentucky. Kentucky! So far away from the Cotswolds and everyone she loved. She’d made hats for a few of Aunt Sarah’s friends and Mama, of course. And she’d been fortunate that one of the hats had been for the wife of the man whose horse won the eighth race on derby day. Mr. Fields had seen the woman in the winner’s circle receiving the silver cup and made inquiries. A quirk of fate, but one that had brought her to Mr. Fields.
Nell pulled some sketches from her portfolio, but Mrs. Benchley flicked them away and said to the girls, “I’ve been telling your father we should go to the Kentucky Derby.”
Daphne, legs still crossed, swung her free foot back and forth like a pendulum. “Honestly, Mother, let’s do what we came here for.” She looked at Nell. “Mother’s from North Shore out on Long Island…you know, country estates and all that.”
No, Nell didn’t know, but it sounded intriguing.
Daphne continued, “She’s a pushover for anything to do with horses. She would have us living in the country if she could.” She gave a shudder and said, “So, let’s hop to it. I’m hoping for something zippy to turn the heads of a few of those attorneys who’ve taken offices in Daddy’s building.”
“Z-Z-Zippy?” The word buzzed on Nell’s tongue like the sarsaparilla she’d tasted at her first derby. Surprising, but pleasant. “I think we could arrange that. Do you have s-sketches of the dresses you’ll be wearing?”
Mrs. Benchley riffled through her handbag as Bea brought a tray with both tea service and chilled Coca-Colas for the girls.
Mrs. Benchley handed Nell an oversized envelope. “Right here. Sketches and fabric swatches. My suit is a Chanel, so something simple but compelling for me in a hat. I prefer brown as black is a bit overdone, I think. I’ve had Soren Michaels design the girls’ dresses, although for the life of me, the irregular hemlines are almost more than I can bear. And so short. Next thing you know they’ll be advancing the hems above the knee.”
Claudia, who Nell now realized was the younger of the two girls even though she was at least six inches taller than Daphne, cleared her throat. “It’s what all the smart girls are wearing, Mother. Mr. Michaels agreed. They’re fun loving, like the Brinkley Girls in the comics.”
Her mother sighed. “Dresses swept the floor when I was your age, and to show an ankle was considered risqué.”
Daphne continued swinging her foot and laughed. “Welcome to the twenties, Mother. So Nell Marchwold—shall we call you Nell or Miss Marchwold?”
“Nell is f-fine.”
“Can we try on some hats? There were a couple I had my eye on in the display out front.”
“Certainly. Choose any that you like. And I’ll have you look at f-fabrics and decorative elements to see how we can coordinate with your dresses.”
As Daphne and Claudia tried on the stock hats, giggling and cutting up, Nell noted which ones flattered them the most.
“Oh, look at this! Isn’t this just the gnat’s whistle?” Daphne donned a red satin cloche with a knot of silver beadwork that was one of Nell’s creations. It gave Daphne’s heart-shaped face an impish look. She cocked her hip and pretended she was smoking, which brought a frown from Mrs. Benchley.
Claudia, with rich coffee-colored eyes and nicely shaped lips on her slender face, tried on a black velvet cloche that was barely noticeable with her dark hair.
“The sh-shape is nice, but I think more color. Something to draw attention to your eyes.” Nell checked the swatches and designs and invited them to move along to the fabric and notions room. Already, ideas swirled in her head. Sparkles and a feather or two for Daphne, and Nell had a rich olive silk velvet in mind for Claudia. She was right. Daphne navigated toward the bin of beads and sequined appliqué pieces like it was the North Star.
They all laughed while Nell jotted notes on an information sheet for each of the girls. “One last thing. I’ll need to take some measurements and do a s-sketch of your p-profiles and a view from the front so I can get the p-proper balance.”
Daphne’s aquamarine eyes danced like sea waves as she posed for the sketch. Soren Michaels had captured the color perfectly in the beaded silk dress he’d designed for her.
The girls asked for the ladies’ room, and when they were gone, Mrs. Benchley sighed.
“You’ve been most helpful, my dear. I’m afraid you’ve got your work cut out for you with Claudia. She’s such a homely girl and upstaged at every turn by Daphne.”
“Claudia is l-lovely, ma’am.” And she takes after her mother, Nell wanted to say. Claudia wasn’t homely at all, just an unpolished gem, as Nell’s grandmother always said.
Mrs. Benchley waved a glove in Nell’s direction. “I only pray that one day she will be.” She pulled the glove on and knitted her eyebrows together. “I probably shouldn’t mention it, but it was difficult not to notice. Your speech impediment is quite pronounced, isn’t it?”
Nell’s face flamed. She thought the morning had gone splendidly, and now…Well, now it looked as if it had all been for naught. Mrs. Benchley was going to be difficult to please, and if Nell didn’t pass muster, the woman would no doubt let Mr. Fields know. She sucked in a big breath, putting on a casual air.
“Oh, I’ve l-lived with it my whole l-life. Gu-guess there’s no hope for me.” Her laugh was thin, squeaky.
Mrs. Benchley gave her a kind look. “Why ever would you say that? My friend’s daughter stammered worse than you do, but she went to the most marvelous clinic. Addison Avenue Speech Center. I’ll call you this afternoon and give you the number.”
“I had an e-el-elo…”
“An elocutionist? They’re quite effective in some cases, I’m sure, but I believe you’ll find this clinic quite unique.”
“Th-thank you. I’m g-grateful.”
“Pleasing my daughters is thanks enough. We look forward to seeing your creations. Heaven knows, Oscar could use some fresh ideas. He’s a simply adorable man, and so handsome, but surprisingly old-fashioned for someone so young.”
It was a matter of perspective, Nell decided. She’d always considered Mr. Fields her elder since he was over thirty. “I’m a-accustomed to old-fashioned where I’m from.”
Nell laughed, this time with genuine warmth. “No. At the manor house where I grew up. You know the B-British, we live and breathe tr-tradition.” She winced, sorry she’d dropped a personal reference into the conversation.
The girls returned, and as they left, a knot formed in Nell’s stomach. The worker at the assembly table was right. She couldn’t talk. How foolish to think she would ever succeed in a posh salon—or be the star designer Mr. Fields promised her—when all she could do was stutter. She prayed Mrs. Benchley wouldn’t spread the word. She was a society maven and would surely have an influence. Even in New York, people talked, saw each other at galas and charity balls.
And if she complained to Mr. Fields, it could be disastrous. After Nora Remming’s experience, anything was possible. Tears of frustration stung Nell’s eyes as she gripped the folder of swatches tight in her fingers.
Scents of yeast and garlic and olive oil filled the air as Nell neared her flat. The welcome aromas of the cafés and ristorantes of her neighborhood embraced her, her steps lighter when the red-and-green awning of Sal’s Diner came into view. Nell was tempted to slip into Sal’s back entrance and have a cup of tea with Felice, the owner’s wife, before going up to the flat she shared with Jeanette North and Greta Edwards. Felice, though, would be busy serving up manicotti and heaping plates of linguine at this hour. She and Angelo had come from Italy, the old country, Felice always said with a faraway look in her eyes. Twenty years and she still missed her homeland.
The prototype cloche had taken longer than Nell intended, but the satisfaction at the finished creation outweighed the ache between her shoulder blades from the long hours at the worktable. If she was going to make it at Oscar Fields and someday make a name for herself, she had to sacrifice, no matter how long the hours. Gone was the illusion that she would be Mr. Fields’s next star designer, the promise with which he’d lured her to New York. While it was true she’d learned construction techniques and gotten a grasp of the variety of materials available, it was also clear she was far from moving past the junior apprentice level. She understood that much better now, but it was fun to dream. Patience. And practice. Her twin watchwords.
Nell climbed the stairs to her second-floor flat and turned the key in the door. The Victrola’s blaring filled the small sitting room. Jeanette floated by, her eyelids fluttering like she was dancing with some beau, as Billy Murray sang “The Dardanella Blues” on the phonograph record. When the music stopped, Jeanette did a little spin and came face-to-face with Nell.
“Oh! I didn’t know you were home. I just talked to Greta, and she’ll be here in fifteen minutes. Hey, doll, put your things down and get changed. We’re stepping out tonight.”
“What on earth? It’s Tuesday night. I just got home.”
“And I’m over the moon that you’re here and can go with us.”
“Where? You want to go get something to eat? That new deli over on Houston?”
“Not the deli, but food is involved, among other things.”
“What other things?” Nell dropped her portfolio on the nearest chair and sat down to take off her heels and rub a sore spot on her toe.
“Fun things. Maybe some hip bumping and cute fellas, ya know?” Jeanette grabbed a Coca-Cola from the icebox and dug in the drawer for the bottle opener.
“Are you daft? It’s after eight o’clock. Where is this place?”
Jeanette poured the cola in a glass and took a long sip. “Over on Broome Street, and I hear it’s the berries. Jazzy music and everything.” She slumped into a chair. “I could use a little fun after the day I had.”
“I missed the motor bus and had to take the subway. Some bum landed on my lap so I’ve smelled like a goat all day. And then my prof gave us a quiz I’d forgotten about.”
“Don’t worry. You’ve still got worlds of time left this quarter to make it up. But you won’t even make it to campus tomorrow if you stay out half the night.”
“We won’t be out late. Besides, I’m starving. Tonight I’m having lamb shish kebabs and something to lift my spirits.” She held up her empty glass in a mock toast before setting it in the kitchen sink. “Come on, help me pick out a dress, one that will swing with the music.”
Dancing. That’s all Jeanette thought about. Not finishing her education or finding a job. She didn’t even seem to care about finding a husband, although Nell was right behind her there. Jeanette went to Columbia University, but before that had attended business school and taken two semesters at NYU. And she was Mr. Fields’s niece, which put Nell in the position of having to explain Jeanette’s lack of direction to her boss.
Greta had been Jeanette’s best friend since grammar school, but her aspirations were to be onstage. In the meantime she worked as a file clerk at a theater on Broadway. Nell was lucky to have them. Luckily they’d been amenable to Nell living with them when Mr. Fields made the arrangements. Otherwise, Nell’s mother would have never consented to Nell moving to New York.
Nell sighed. “I know you love dancing.”
“Oh, you know it. I’m thinking about wearing the organza with the beads along the neckline. You know, the one you made the cloche for.”
“I thought you were saving that for the fraternity dance.”
“Piffle. Ernest asked a girl in my anthropology class. What a flat tire he turned out to be.”
“I’m going to pass tonight. I met with an important client today and want to start on the sketches tonight.” Ernest wasn’t the only one who was a flat tire, but Nell wasn’t stupid, either. The blind pig joints served illegal liquor. Bathtub gin, the newspapers called it. Sipping wine on holidays wasn’t the same as outright breaking the law. The thought of going to the places Jeanette and Greta did sometimes frightened her.
Jeanette stomped off to change clothes and reemerged just as Greta came breezing in.
Greta dropped her bag and gloves on top of Nell’s portfolio. “Jeanette, I’m not sure about this place. Ever since we talked, I’ve been thinking about it. Are you sure tonight’s a good night?”
- "Stewart has once again written a rich and delicate novel that readers will love. Nell is a beautiful person with a heart of gold. Her resilience and determination to succeed and help others is refreshing, while her struggles are relatable."—RT Book Reviews
- "Carla Stewart captures this time period with amazing accuracy. . . .When choosing "never-to-be-missed" writers, put Carla Stewart at the top of your list."—Kim Vogel Sawyer, bestselling author of What Once Was Lost
- "Bestselling author Carla Stewart employs exquisite detail and charming characters. . . .I cannot wait to read the next one she has in store!"—Jolina Petersheim, bestselling author of The Outcast
- "Fans of the jazz age will cheer Nell's journey and treasure this richly-rendered taste of the Roaring Twenties."—Lisa Wingate, national bestselling author of The Prayer Box
- "Deep and delightful! Carla Stewart's beautiful language, intriguing characters, and thought-provoking story are treats to savor. I loved this book!"—Sarah Sundin, award-winning author of On Distant Shores
- "Set amidst the glamor of 1920's fashion, Carla Stewart has woven together a classy and sweet tale of love and new beginnings. The Hatmaker's Heart is a standout of its kind."—Joanne Bischof, award-winning author of The Cadence of Grace series
- "Fans of Carla Stewart's work won't be disappointed with this Jazz Age tale. With lush sensory details, Stewart brings us deep into this historical setting. . . readers will savor the sweet escape."—Julie Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of When Mountains Move
- "I was swept away by the story. . .readers will love this wonderful new novel from this very gifted author!"—Carrie Turansky, author of The Governess of Highland Hall
- "The Hatmaker's Heart contains love, betrayal, and family secrets--all the elements that delight fans of Downton Abbey."—Kellie Coates Gilbert, author of Mother of Pearl
- "A fascinating journey into the world of couture fashion in the 1920s! "—Anne Mateer, author of A Home for My Heart
- On Sale
- Jun 3, 2014
- Page Count
- 320 pages