While her sister lies on her deathbed, Abby Fischer prays for a miracle. What Abby doesn’t expect, however, is for God’s answer to come in the form of the handsome Dr. Robert King, whose experimental treatment is risky at best.
As they work together toward a cure, Abby’s feelings for Robert become hopelessly entangled. Separated by the tragedy of the mighty San Francisco earthquake, their relationship suddenly takes a back seat to survival. With fires raging throughout the city, Abby fears for her life as she flees alone through burning streets. Where is God now? Will Robert find Abby, even as the world burns around them? Or has their love fallen with the ruins of the city?
About the Author
Karen Barnett is the author of Beyond the Ashes, Out of the Ruins, and Mistaken. Named the 2013 Writer of Promise by Oregon Christian Writers, Karen lives in Albany, Oregon, with her husband and two kids. When she’s not writing novels, she loves speaking at women’s events, libraries, and book clubs. You can learn more at KarenBarnettBooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
Out of the Ruins
Book 1 The Golden Gate Chronicles
By Karen Barnett
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Karen Barnett
All rights reserved.
San Jose, California August 16, 1905
The doctor could be wrong." Abby's words cut through the suffocating silence in the bedroom. She placed her fingers on the sun-warmed windowsill, but it did little to thaw the chill gripping her heart.
Cecelia's voice barely stirred the air. "He's not."
Abby glanced down at the novel she'd been reading, her thumb holding a place between the pages. If only she could stick her thumb on this day and prevent life from moving forward. When had time become the enemy?
She rose from the window seat and paced back to the wooden chair pulled close to her sister's bedside. The faded rosebud quilt covered Cecelia's body like a shroud. Abby kept her voice crisp and no-nonsense. "Papa telephoned Cousin Gerald last night. Gerald thinks there might be doctors in San Francisco who could actually do something, despite what Dr. Greene says."
Cecelia opened her eyes, the flash of blue seeming out of place in her otherwise colorless face. Her unbound hair—once like so many strands of golden silk—now covered the white pillowcase, tangled and matted.
Abby fingered her own brown braid. She hadn't even bothered to pin it up this morning. "I'm not giving up, and neither should you."
Cecelia's eyes closed again, dark circles framing their sunken depths. "I'm too tired. If God's calling, I'm ready to go home."
Abby thumped the novel down on the bedside table. "Stop saying that. I'm not going to let you die and leave me here alone."
Her sister shifted under the covers, as if the very weight of the quilt caused her pain. "You're—" she stopped for a breath, "not alone."
The deluge of fear returned, sweeping over Abby like waves across the shore. Who would she be without Cecelia?
She returned to the window, staring at the summer sky strewn with a few lacelike clouds. Back when they were children, Papa always called Cecelia his "sky-girl" because of her blue eyes and her grace. And a sky-girl she remained, even as they aged. Until this illness, Cecelia had moved with charm and style, bringing light to a room simply by entering. Young men flocked to her side, anxious to spend a moment captivated by her beauty and her gift for conversation.
Abby, a year younger—nineteen to Cecelia's twenty—had none of her sister's poise. Instead, she took turns stumbling over her tongue and her feet. And with her brown hair and eyes, and those incessant freckles, the only thing she ever attracted were mosquitoes on a warm summer evening. If Cecelia was the sky, Abby was the earth.
So while Cecelia danced at the parties, Abby strolled in the family orchard, content to talk to the peach trees. There she could speak her mind without worrying about social graces.
But if Cecelia left her ...
"Abby—" Cecelia broke off with a weak cough.
Abby crossed the room in a heartbeat. "What is it? What do you need?"
Her sister lay silent for a long moment, staring up at her. Finally, after a labored breath she pushed the words out. "Have you prayed?"
"What?" Abby sank down into the high-backed chair where she had spent so many hours. "Cecelia ..." Her voice faltered.
Cecelia sighed, her eyelids closing. "I thought maybe you would make an exception ... for me."
Abby's heart sank down into her stomach. Her sister never did play fair.
"Just talk to Him. It's all I ask."
Fidgeting, Abby twisted the hem of her apron. Her sister's ragged breathing snatched at her heart. Abby squeezed the fabric into a ball. "Fine. I will."
The corners of Cecelia's mouth turned upward with a meager hint of a smile. "God will answer." She stirred under the covers once more. "You'll see."
When her sister's breathing finally evened into sleep, Abby reached over and smoothed the quilt. As she gazed at Cecelia's chalk-white face, Abby's throat clenched. The doctor's words chanted in her mind like a group of bullies in a schoolyard.
She tiptoed to the doorway. Catching a quick glimpse in the looking glass, Abby frowned at her unkempt hair and wrinkled dress. Turning away, she continued down the hall, pausing to glance into the nursery where her brother napped. The sight of his flushed cheeks brought a different kind of ache to her heart. No one but four-year-old Davy slept well these days.
She stole down the stairs and out through the kitchen, hearing her parents' hushed voices in the family room. They must be discussing the doctor's announcement, even though he'd left no room for debate.
Pushing open the back door, Abby escaped into the fresh air, untainted by sickness and the decaying scent of fading hope. She trudged through the pasture and up the hillside toward the orchard, dragging the weight of her family's problems with her. By the time she reached the edge of the trees, beyond sight of the house, the heaviness lessened and she picked up her skirts and fled.
As she charged into the orchard, Abby's throat ached with words held captive. First Dr. Greene discounts Cecelia's symptoms, now he has the audacity to say we should prepare for the worst?
Abby curled her fingers around the branch of a large cherry tree, placed a foot against the trunk, and hoisted herself upward into its leafy heights. Seeking to lose herself in the greenery, she climbed until her rust-colored skirt wedged between two branches. Holding on with one hand, Abby yanked the fabric loose with the other. Several years had passed since she had climbed one of these trees, and her arms and legs trembled with the effort. My skirts were shorter back then, and I never cared about soiling them. A grown woman doesn't climb trees.
Unless her sister is dying.
When a bough bent under her shoes, she halted. Wrapping one arm around the trunk, Abby laid her head against the tree. She slapped the palm of her hand against the bark until her skin stung.
Cecelia's request echoed. "Just talk to Him. It's all I ask."
Abby sighed, brushing a loose strand of hair from her face. Maybe prayer came easily to some people, but to her, God seemed too far away and indifferent. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "God, save her. I'll do anything—anything you want."
The words sounded foolish, like a child wishing on a star. Abby forced herself to continue. "She believes You love us. If it's true, then it makes sense You should heal her whether or not I ask. You know Mama and Papa couldn't bear to live without her. And Davy—" her breath caught in her throat as she thought about her baby brother.
Straddling a branch, Abby rested her back against the tree's strength and let her legs dangle. "The doctor says there's nothing more he can do." Abby paused, letting the thought soak in. "So, I guess it's up to You to take the cancer away."
Her stomach twisted at the word. Mama didn't like it spoken aloud, as if naming the disease would make the nightmare real.
The doctor had no such reservations. With today's visit, he added an even more formidable word: leukemia. "Some cancers you can cut out, but leukemia is in the blood." He raised his hands in surrender. "You can't fight it."
Abby tightened her fist and pressed it against her thigh. Maybe you won't fight it, but I will. Somehow.
She continued her prayer, speaking as much to herself as to any higher power. "I—I don't want to live here without her." She picked at a piece of lace dangling loose from its stitching along the hem of her dress. "I don't want to be alone."
Abby gazed up through the tree limbs. When her eyes blurred, the branches looked like jagged cracks in the sky. Was God even listening? Why should He care about her wishes? She'd never wanted anything beyond her family and the orchard she loved. The peach and cherry trees were better friends than any schoolmate, standing forever faithful in their well-ordered rows. She'd tended them by her father's side since she was old enough to hold the pruning shears. Papa promised someday they would belong to her. What more could she need?
The sound of footsteps crunching through the leaves stole the thought from her mind. She pulled her feet up to the limb and gripped the branch above her head to steady herself.
A man strolled through the orchard, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his gray twill pants, a dark jacket slung casually over one shoulder.
Abby bit her lip and leaned to the side for a better view. As she shifted her weight, the limb cracked, the sound echoing through the orchard. Abby grabbed the branch above her just as her perch gave way. Swinging awkwardly, she wrapped her ankles around the tree trunk.
"I'm okay," she whispered, under her breath.
"Are you sure about that?" An amused voice floated up.
The man had removed his derby and looked up at her with eyes as brown as Aunt Mae's irresistible chocolate fudge.
From her clumsy vantage point, Abby examined his strong jaw and pleasing smile. Of course—he's handsome, and I'm hanging from a tree like a monkey.
"There's a sturdy-looking branch just below you and to the left."
Stretching out a foot, she groped for the limb with her toe. Locating it, Abby tucked her skirts tight around her legs before scurrying down.
The stranger reached up his hand to assist her on the last step to the earth. "I suppose I should apologize for frightening you."
Abby plucked a twig from her apron. "You surprised me." She regretted not taking time to fix her hair before leaving the house. Or put on a hat. What must he think?
A crooked smile crossed the man's face. "Well, then we're even, because no one ever told me girls grew on trees here in California. If I'd known, I might have gone into farming instead of medicine." He slid his hands back into his pockets. "I certainly didn't expect a beautiful woman to fall out of one."
A wave of heat climbed Abby's neck. "I didn't fall out." She straightened her skirt, annoyed to find this smooth-talking stranger waltzing through her family's orchard. Beautiful, indeed. She narrowed her eyes at him. "Who are you, anyway?"
As he nodded, the light glinted off of his dark hair. "My name is Robert King—Dr. King. I'm Dr. Larkspur's new assistant. Are you Miss Fischer?"
The breath caught in Abby's throat. "Dr. Larkspur—you mean Gerald? He's here?"
"Yes, we drove all night—"
"I'm sorry—I've got to go." Abby grabbed up her skirts and raced back through the meadow toward the house, her braid bouncing against her back. Halfway across the field she realized her rudeness at leaving their guest in the orchard, but she pushed onward. Manners could wait.
Spotting an automobile in front of the house, surprise slowed her steps. Automobiles belonged to rich men. She'd never thought of her mother's cousin in those terms.
With a fresh burst of speed, Abby pounded up the stairs onto the back porch, finishing her prayer in a rush. "God, I'll do anything. I'll be anything. Whatever You want—name it. Just make her better."
As she grasped the doorknob, Abby paused to catch her breath. "And You'd better be listening God, because I'm going to make one last promise. If You dare take her away ..."
She pulled the door open, casting one last glance toward the stranger in the orchard.
"... I'll never speak to You again."CHAPTER 2
Robert took a deep breath, the earthy smell of the country air delighting his senses after so many months in San Francisco. He crossed his arms and leaned against the gnarled trunk of the cherry tree, chuckling as the lady scampered across the field like a rabbit. When Gerald had spoken of his cousin Clara's two daughters, Robert pictured them being much younger. Miss Abby Fischer was clearly an adult, probably only a few years younger than Robert, even though her undisciplined behavior suggested otherwise.
And the shreds of leaves tangled in her hair only made her more intriguing.
He shook himself out of his thoughts. Gerald had probably examined the patient by now. Robert had wanted to give his friend privacy for the exam, but now impatience drew him forward.
Since he'd heard about this case, anticipation burned like a fire in his blood. Cecelia Fischer sounded like the ideal candidate for their research project. And, if they succeeded, not only would they make medical history, but Robert would have his pick of positions and research grants. On impulse, Robert had suggested they drive Gerald's new automobile instead of hiring a horse and buggy for the trip.
His friend's brows had furrowed. "Is it wise? Are the roads good enough?"
"I think it's worth the gamble."
Now Robert pressed his hands against his aching back. Bouncing down the rutted road all night had left him stiff and sore, not to mention the two times he'd repaired flat tires by lantern light.
Gerald showed an amazing lack of sympathy. "Your idea, remember?" A wry smile lit up his features.
Remarkably, they made it in one piece.
Apparently, his mentor was willing to take chances—as long as he had an assistant to deal with the consequences.
Convincing him to take a risky gamble with his cousin's health might be an altogether different matter.
* * *
Abby hurried down the hallway, thankful for the thick carpet runner muffling her footsteps. Mingled scents of roses and pipe tobacco perfumed the air. She paused in the shadows outside the half-closed door, pulling off her apron and running a hand over her skirt to remove any evidence of her afternoon activities. I should go change my clothes and fix my hair before I greet everyone.
Gerald's voice carried out into the hallway. "It's a difficult case."
Abby held her breath.
Her father had spent years ridding himself of his German accent, but in this moment, he sounded as if he had stumbled back in time. "Bitte.... There must be something you can do."
"Herman, Clara—you know I care for Cecelia as if she were my own sister, but in cases like this—"
The familiar weight crushed against Abby's chest. As she swung open the door, silence dropped over the room like a velvet theater curtain. Gerald sat beside the fireplace, his somber expression making him appear much older than his twenty-eight years. Her mother sat in the upholstered chair opposite him, while Abby's father leaned on the mantel.
Their sudden silence grated at her heart. Abby folded both arms across her midsection hiding trembling hands under her elbows. "Don't let me stop you. 'There's nothing we can do.' Isn't that what you were planning to say?"
Mama frowned, her dark green gown casting a sallow hue on her downturned face.
Gerald smoothed his vest. "Abby, as I was telling your parents, Cecelia is in a terrible state."
"It's not exactly news to us."
"Abigail, show some respect." Mama lifted her head, her pale hair tied back in a tight knot, so unlike the soft pompadour she generally wore.
Abby bit her tongue and walked to her mother's side, resting her hand on the back of the chair. "I'm sorry, but Gerald didn't drive all night just to give us bad news. He must have found something."
Gerald studied the floor as if weighing his words.
Abby forced herself to remain still even though the unremitting tick of the mantel clock jarred at her nerves. Every passing second brought Cecelia's fate a step closer.
Her father stepped away from the fireplace and stood over Gerald, his massive height throwing a large shadow over the younger man. "Abigail is right, ja? What is it? You have found something we can do?"
Gerald leaned back in his chair, lines creasing his forehead. "Perhaps, but now I've had a chance to examine her ..." He lifted his hands and dropped them back onto his knees, eyes lowered.
"No. I don't accept that." Abby rushed forward. "I won't let you give up on her like every other doctor we've seen. Just tell us what we have to do."
"You don't understand." Gerald ran a hand through his hair. "We'd have to transport her to a hospital in San Francisco. Even if she survived the journey, the treatment is difficult. If I'd known earlier, maybe we could have attempted it. But she's far too weak." He reached out and touched her father's arm. "This would be torture to you and your family, and in the end it would likely accomplish nothing."
Abby's throat constricted. "Nothing? Are you saying my sister's life is worth nothing?"
Excerpted from Out of the Ruins by Karen Barnett. Copyright © 2014 Karen Barnett. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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