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A Touch of Charm

A Touch of Charm

Chapter 1       

"Hurry. We're already late." Charisma Sullivan glanced over her shoulder at her dawdling sisters, but didn't wait for them. Waiting for Grace and Belle to get ready for this outing had already taken long enough. Up ahead, she could see the crowd gathered around the visiting lawyer, William Barclay, a candidate for a seat in the Colorado senate.

She resisted the urge to run, hearing her mother's voice in her head. Young ladies never run.

Young ladies didn't do a lot of things. Most of which were fun. Though her family was wealthy now, Charisma often missed the more casual life when her father had been merely a miner. There hadn't been so many rules and Papa and Mama had rarely fought then.

"Wait for us, Charisma," her older sister, Belle, called out. "You don't want to appear unchaperoned."

Charisma sighed, but paused in the wide dirt road leading to the Colorado Springs Hotel. The only way she'd persuaded Mama to let her attend Mr. Barclay's speech was to have her sisters accompany her. "Please, hurry."

When her younger sister, Grace, tripped over the hem of her gown, Charisma sucked in her breath, waiting for the inevitable disaster, but Grace managed to right herself and finally joined her sisters. "I've missed most of his talk already," Charisma said, spurring her sisters into motion again.

"I don't understand why you should be interested at all," Belle said. "Women have no place in politics. We can't even vote."

"That will change." Charisma felt sure of it. "Mrs. Woodhull said it was only custom, not the Constitution that keeps women from voting."

Belle shook her head. "Just because Mrs. Woodhull ran for the position of President--unsuccessfully, I might add--does not make her words sacrosanct."

"She has many excellent ideas." Ideas Charisma believed in as well. Why couldn't a woman make a difference? While living in Leadville, she'd seen how women held the families together while men worked in the silver mines. Women made critical decisions, worked just as hard as the men. Didn't they deserve just as many rights?

Charisma reached the edge of the crowd surrounding the front porch of the hotel. While she could hear Mr. Barclay's voice, she couldn't see a glimpse of him, not even when she stood on tip-toe.
"...and in conclusion, I believe all individuals have rights, be they simple shop clerks or General Palmer himself." His voice was deep, well-educated, and filled with conviction.

If only she could see him...

"Thank you."

Applause rippled through the crowd as he stepped down to shake hands. Charisma's heart sank. She'd missed it.

But she would meet him.

Ignoring Belle's protests, Charisma wove through the diminishing crowd toward the front to find a small cluster of young women surrounding someone. Mr. Barclay? Why would so many young women be interested in politics? Most of those Charisma encountered in social functions dismissed her "passionate championing" of equal rights for women as wild ideas.

Unable to proceed any further, she waited for a lull in the female chattering, then raised her voice. "Mr. Barclay, do you think the Leadville Strike of 1880 could have been avoided?"

Several women turned, recognized her, then dismissed her just as quickly. Charisma only lifted her chin. Would Mr. Barclay answer?

"Excuse me, ladies."

She heard him approaching.

"It's just Charisma Sullivan," Edith Wagner said, loud enough for the entire group to hear. "Her father is one of the new silver kings."

"A miner, wasn't he?"

Charisma couldn't see who spoke, but the haughtiness of the tone made her frown. Her papa was every bit the equal to General Palmer or Doctor Bell, both revered leaders in prosperous Colorado Springs.

The gaggle of women parted as a young man stepped out to face Charisma. No wonder they had clustered around him. She found herself unable to stop staring. He was younger than she'd expected, perhaps in his mid-twenties, and devastatingly handsome.

His features were well-defined--an aristocratic nose and sharp cheekbones with fine lips and a strong chin, but it was his dark brown intelligent eyes that drew her interest as he looked at her.

"Did you ask the question?" he asked.

Charisma blinked, recalling why she'd spoken. "Yes, I wanted your opinion on the Leadville Strike. Do you believe miners have equal rights as well?"

He hesitated, studying her, his expression serious. "I certainly do. They were well within their rights to ask for eight-hour days and increased pay for their dangerous work. However, I also believe the violence they used to get attention for their cause was not the proper way to win sympathy. The citizens of Leadville were justified in asking the governor for help."

He spoke to her as an equal and Charisma's pulse grew unsteady. Most men she'd questioned treated her as a child or simpleton. Emboldened, she continued. "What about unions for miners?"

His gaze held hers for a moment, quizzical at first, then serious. "There are good and bad things about unions, Miss..." He trailed off. "I fear we have not been properly introduced. I am William Barclay from Denver."

Though Charisma knew she should wait for someone else to introduce them, she thought it a silly custom when plain talking could make it so much easier. "Charisma Sullivan." She glanced back and saw her sisters approaching, Belle disapproving and Grace clearly awed. "These are my sisters, Belle and Grace."

Mr. Barclay bowed slightly. "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance." His fine eyes rested on Charisma again and she experienced a sudden extra thump in her chest. "You ask knowledgeable questions, Miss Sullivan. Is a member of your family involved in politics?"

"No, but I have an interest in the issues." Charisma saw the corner of his lips quirk upward and she smiled. "Do you believe women should have the right to vote, Mr. Barclay?"

He released a full smile then, and Charisma caught her breath. She was willing to vote for him just based on that smile.

"I believe women are fully capable of understanding the issues and should be allowed to have some choice in our elected officials."

Clever. Charisma tilted her head. "That is neither a yes or a no."

"Exactly." Humor danced in his eyes.

Before Charisma could question him further, Dr. Bell approached. "Time to go, Will." He paused and addressed Charisma and her sisters. "Miss Sullivan, Miss Charisma, Miss Grace. I must say, Mr. Barclay draws more women than our usual orators."

Belle and Grace responded with polite smiles, but Charisma saw no harm in answering him. "I find discussion of these issues very interesting."

He drew back, startled, then smiled. "Admirable. Now, if you will excuse us, ladies?"

He led Mr. Barclay away and Belle placed her hand on Charisma's arm. "You must learn to watch what you say. If Mr. Barclay were not such a good-natured man, you might have offended him."

"By asking questions?"

"It's how you ask the questions." Belle took the sting from her words with a warm smile.

Charisma turned toward home. "No one ever said I was charming." In fact, they often said the opposite.

She tried to change. In fact, she'd even made a wish to become charming.

Frowning, she recalled the day last spring when she and her sisters had gone to the majestic Garden of the Gods with male escorts, each pleased that they'd finally been invited for themselves. They'd been sorely disillusioned when they overhead the men mention how Mrs. Sullivan had paid them to escort the sisters. Even worse, the men had openly disparaged the sisters in regard to their names. Belle, they'd said, had no beauty. Charisma was far from charming and Grace was more dangerous than graceful.

Hurt by these cruel words, the sisters had stood before the pillars of the Three Graces formation and made fervent wishes to receive the embodiments of beauty, charm and grace to fit their names.

And Belle's wish had come true.

Not that she'd suddenly become beautiful, but she'd learned to dress better and take care of her appearance, which had made an amazing difference in how others perceived her. Plus she'd recently become engaged to Christopher Stanhope, the son of a British Lord. No doubt this accounted for the rosy glow that gave Belle real beauty.
Charisma sighed. She'd wished aloud for charm, but thus far hadn't noticed any difference. She tried. She really did, but words often escaped her lips before she could form them into more tactful phrasing.

Besides, that hadn't been her only wish before the serene red rocks of the Three Graces. She'd also made a silent plea--to make a difference in the world. Though Mrs. Woodhull hadn't been elected President, she had called attention to Susan B. Anthony's and Elizabeth Cady Stanton's movement to get women the right to vote. Charisma doubted she could do anything on that scale, but she firmly believed she could do something.
But what?

"What did you think of Mr. Barclay?" Grace asked, breaking into Charisma's thoughts.

For once, Charisma tempered her words before she spoke. "He is an excellent candidate." And a pleasure to look upon. She had no difficulty in recalling his face, his expressive eyes and mouth.

"You didn't even hear his speech," Belle said. "How can you know that from a few questions?"

"I found his answers very satisfactory." Charisma glanced at her sister and a found a twinkle in Belle's eyes.

"He was extremely good-looking as well," Belle added.

"Yes, indeed." Charisma had to grin. "But should you be noticing that? What about Kit?"

"Oh, Kit is far more handsome."

"To you." Charisma found Mr. Barclay a great deal more appealing.

"Perhaps you will see Mr. Barclay again." Grace pushed a low-hanging tree branch out of her way, then released it, nearly smacking Charisma in the face. Fortunately, Charisma had had years of living with her accident-prone sister and managed to duck in time. She sighed and continued walking.

"Perhaps." The Daily Gazette said he planned to remain in Colorado Springs until the election in November. If so, they were likely to meet at some of the social functions in town.

A shiver of anticipation danced along Charisma's spine. She would not find that a hardship at all.

Will Barclay nodded in agreement with his host's comment, still unable to believe his good fortune. He was actually here in the El Paso Club, the city's exclusive men's organization. "I thank you again for giving me this opportunity, sir."

"I'm happy to do it, my boy. It's up to you to make something of it." Dr. Bell led Will across the room toward the El Paso Club's current president. "Sam, let me introduce you to young Will Barclay. He's running for the senate. Mr. Barclay, Dr. Samuel Solly."

Dr. Solly extended his hand and gripped Will's. "Barclay, eh? One of the Denver Barclays?"

Will accepted the hand, hoping his nervousness didn't show. He really wanted to win this influential leader to his cause. Dr. Solly had come over from England and was now the ranking specialist on consumption. However, more than a doctor, he conceived grand schemes and used his influence to make them happen. Even now, an enormous new hotel was being built at the end of Pikes Peak Avenue. A project conceived by Dr. Solly and financed by General Palmer.

"My family," Will admitted, a fact that could help or hinder him.

"Good people," Dr. Solly added. "I believe your father has supported my sanitariums."

"Yes sir." Will had counted on the doctor remembering that. "I hear it's been quite successful for you thus far."

"So it has." The doctor waved toward an empty chair. "Have a seat and tell us more about your campaign."

"Thank you." Exactly the opening he hoped for.

Will spent the next several hours outlining his platform, drawing a crowd, which allowed him to entertain questions and enter into a rousing debate. By the time Dr. Bell claimed his attention, Will felt certain he'd won the support of several influential citizens. Not a bad start for his first week in Colorado Springs.

"I should warn you Cora is planning a picnic to welcome you," Dr. Bell said as he led Will to the door. "Unless you want to be fighting off all our single women instead campaigning, I suggest you find a young lady to escort to this affair and other social functions."

Will grimaced. He had no interest in spending time with young ladies at this point in his life. Winning the senate seat was what mattered now. "I am unacquainted with the ladies here."

"I'll find someone to introduce you around. I can probably stall Cora for a few days, but she's determined to show you off. You know how much she loves to entertain."

The men climbed into Dr. Bell's buggy and Dr. Bell turned toward the Colorado Springs Hotel, where Will had rooms. "Perhaps I can find someone for that one function," Will murmured, the image of the young woman he'd met earlier that afternoon appearing in his mind.

He'd found Miss Charisma Sullivan extremely attractive, with her strawberry-blonde hair, creamy skin, and flashing blue-green eyes. Her questions had surprised him. Very few women paid much attention to politics and fewer still asked intelligent questions.

The other women who had cornered him before Miss Charisma arrived had only been interested in his family and fortune, not his views on what the Colorado government should be doing for its populace.

But Charisma hadn't asked about his family at all. During their short conversation, he'd sensed an underlying passion which intrigued him. She'd been very direct--blunt almost. A result of her passion, no doubt.

Will nodded to himself. Perhaps he could find an escort for Mrs. Bell's picnic. After all, it would only be one function. What could go wrong with that?


The Three Graces relaxed on the top of Mount Olympus, sipping their afternoon tea. Aglaia beamed at her sisters. "Now that I have Belle happily engaged and all her wishes answered, you must see to Charisma, Thalia."

"I am looking forward to it." Thalia, the embodiment of charm, set her cup on the table. "Though fulfilling all her wishes should prove to be challenging."

"Does she have more than one?" Euphrosyne asked.

Thalia nodded. "Her spoken wish for charm, of course, and her unspoken wish to make a difference in her society. Plus the wish she isn't even aware she harbors."

"When will you begin?" Aglaia asked.

Thalia stood. "Right away, of course."

A stylishly dressed woman came to meet Will as he descended the stairs at the hotel the next morning. Her dark day gown was obviously of high quality material and cut in the latest fashion. In her late thirties, perhaps, she had black hair twisted into an ornate bun and a welcoming smile that he couldn't help but return.

"I am so pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Barclay," she said. "Please forgive my impertinence in introducing myself, but Dr. Bell was unable to accompany me as he'd promised and I dared not wait to speak to you."

Ah, a friend of Dr. Bell's. With all the assistance the older gentlemen was providing Will, the least he could do was greet his friend. "The pleasure is mine," he said. "But I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage."

"Didn't Dr. Bell tell you I was coming?" She shook her head. "I see by your expression, he didn't. I must speak with him about that." Her warm smile softened her words. "I am Thalia Papadopoulos. As my deceased husband was very active in Wyoming state politics, Dr. Bell felt I might be able to help you fit in here."

"That is very kind of you." Will struggled to keep from jumping with joy. To have this kind of assistance would be invaluable. "Would you care to join me for breakfast so we can discuss that?"

"I'm afraid I haven't time right now." She glanced at a small silver timepiece pinned to her bodice. "We are scheduled to be at the Sullivan home within the hour."

Will blinked. The Sullivan home? "I beg your pardon?"

Mrs. Papadopoulos patted his arm. "When Dr. Bell explained your predicament, I knew exactly where to go for help. Patrick Sullivan has three lovely daughters. I'm sure one of them can masquerade as your escort for the duration of your visit."

"Escort?" Will had the horrible feeling he'd lost control shortly after meeting this petite woman. He'd only considered the idea of finding a young woman to assist him late last night. In the bright light of day, he wasn't entirely sure such a thing was necessary. "Please don't go to such trouble. It's only one picnic."

"For now." Mrs. Papadopoulos gave him a knowing smile. "Cora's picnic will only be the first of many invitations you'll receive while you're here. If I may make a suggestion..."

"Of course." She was so charming, Will could hardly tell her no.
"You will appear a much more responsible candidate if you are married or, at the very least settled with one young lady."

Married? Will's collar suddenly felt too tight. "I do not wish to be married." He'd been sadly disillusioned about marriage after seeing the disastrous life his brother and his wife had made for themselves. "Nor do I wish to become involved with any young woman at this time. I need to devote my attention to my campaign."
"Rightly so." Mrs. Papadopoulos smiled. "But I believe we can persuade one of the Sullivan girls to merely act as a companion for you. Provide the façade without the actual involvement."

That would solve one of his problems. "Would a young lady be willing to do such a thing? I thought they all had marriage on their minds."

Mrs. Papadopoulos laughed. "Many do, but I believe you'll find Miss Charisma or Miss Grace are less husband-oriented than most of the young women in Colorado Springs." She led Will outside to the warm summer sunshine. "And Mr. Sullivan much more reasonable about allowing his daughter to accompany you."

They were a block from the hotel before Will realized he still hadn't agreed to this. Mrs. Papadopoulos hadn't allowed him a chance to refuse. He grinned. Definitely a politician's wife.

"I believe you will find it worth your time to appeal to the married women in town during your campaign as well."

"But women aren't allowed to vote." An issue that Will planned to avoid during this campaign.

"No, but they do influence their husbands." Mrs. Papadopoulos's eyes twinkled. "And a charming young man like you can make a very favorable impression on women...married or not."

Though Will answered with a self-deprecating grin, he had to admit she had a point. His brother wasn't above using his good looks to gain votes or influence ladies. Will's smile faded. In some cases, whether the ladies wanted to be influenced or not.

His newly designated mentor continued, "If you are seen to be involved with only one young lady during your stay here, then you will have more freedom, spend less time fending off our eligible females and fathers will worry less."

True enough. "But I won't have much time to devote to any woman. I plan to be busy campaigning. The election is only a little over two months away."

"Ah, but the right woman will be an asset to your campaign. She can help you, not hinder you."

The right woman. Like Charisma Sullivan? She'd been intelligent enough and knowledgeable on the issues. Plus very pleasant in appearance. If she agreed to this unusual scheme of no romance, she could be useful.

"You may be right," he admitted.

Mrs. Papadopoulos only smiled in reply.

Charisma stretched out on her bed, the day's newspaper spread before her. Surely there had to be some mention of Mr. Barclay's speech yesterday. She wanted to read more about the intriguing candidate.

But all she found was information on General Palmer's latest railroad expansion and the upcoming Mendelsohn Quintet performance at the Opera House. Nothing at all on Mr. Barclay. How frustrating.

Grace bounded into the room, jostling the table beside the bed as she arrived. "Charisma, we have company."

Charisma reached out in an automatic gesture and caught the lamp before it fell, then gave her sister an indulgent smile. "Who is it? Miss Kingsley?"

"No. Guess." Mischief sparkled in Grace's green eyes.

"I can't imagine you'd be this excited about Kit's arrival." Charisma straightened suddenly, her breath catching in her throat. Oh, no. "Don't tell me Aunt Margaret has come for a visit?" Her mother's sour-faced sister always made Charisma feel as if she were six years old.

"Better than that." Grace danced from one foot to another, bumping the table again, and Charisma intercepted a book before it tumbled to the floor. "Guess again."

"Just tell me, Grace." Charisma had to grin at her sister's excitement. This visitor had to be special.

"It's the man from yesterday. Mr. Barclay." Grace revealed the name as if divulging a special secret.

Charisma jumped from the bed. Surely she'd heard wrong. "Mr. Barclay? Are you certain?"

Her sister nodded. "He's accompanied by a woman I've never seen before. They're in the parlor with Papa."

"With Papa?" What would a political candidate want with her father? Perhaps he was asking for funding. Or Papa's support. A former miner and now a mine owner, Patrick Sullivan held considerable sway within the mining community. That must be it.

However, if she happened to pass by the parlor as he was leaving...
Charisma snagged Grace's hand. "I suddenly feel the need to visit the parlor, don't you?"

With a giggle, Grace nodded.

They'd only reached the first landing when Belle met them. "Papa is asking for both of you to come to the parlor," she said.

Charisma exchanged a wide-eyed glance with Grace, then hurried the rest of the way down the staircase. She didn't need another invitation.

She paused outside the parlor doors to draw in a deep breath and glance down at her simple morning dress. It would have to do. She rapped once, then heard her father call for her to enter.

Stepping inside, she found Mr. Barclay at once, looking even more handsome than she remembered in a plain gray suit that made his dark hair and eyes appear even blacker. An attractive woman stood beside him, much older than Mr. Barclay. She had an aura of elegance that made Charisma want to curtsey.

"Yes, Papa?" she asked.

Her father glanced past her. "Where's Grace?"

"She was just behind--"

Grace hurried into the room, lagging behind as usual, filled with exuberance, but her kid-leather boots slipped on the polished wood floor, sending her tumbling into Charisma. Unable to keep her balance, Charisma staggered forward with a gasp, as horrified as she was startled. This was not the kind of impression she wanted to make.

But instead of falling to the floor, she found herself caught and held in Mr. Barclay's arms.

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