Emma Baden is swept into the dangerous world of radical union organizers in the silk mill town of Union Hill in 1911. She is drawn to the charismatic socialist leader Frederick Mossler, who charms her into becoming a speaker for his cause and, later, his wife.
When an evening rally suddenly turns violent, Emma is forgotten by Frederick but rescued from the panicked mob by Max Keppel, the handsome heir to the town’s largest mill. Their attraction is immediate, yet he is married to Lavinia and considered an enemy of the unions. Still, their friendship survives, and Max is there for Emma at the most opportune times.
Real life is not always a storybook tale, and sometimes Emma wonders: Is she just a pawn of fate, or do her choices make a difference for herself and others?
“Why do you tease me, Emma? You’re a quiet young girl one minute and a passionate woman the next. I don’t think you know what you want.”
He pulled her to her feet. “I’ll wait until you decide. Not long, mind you. I’m not a patient man. I want you, but you have to want me, and with the same passion you show on the podium.”
“I think I might surprise you, Frederick.”
He kissed the palm of her hand. “You are most interesting. Come, let’s walk to the Embankment.”
New York flickered before them as they walked along the narrow dirt path leading down the Palisades. On one side were the mansions of Weehawken, on the other the silent Hudson River, silent but for the occasional ship horn.
“It’s so beautiful here, I’d love to live in one of those houses overlooking the harbor,” Emma said, leaning against the rock wall. “One day I’ll ride around that city and see all those buildings.”
Frederick put his arms around her waist. “I’ll take you there one day, if you want. We can catch the ferry right there,” he promised, pointing to a small fleet of white boats anchored off a pier.
She nodded. “New York is all lights and people, any time of the day or night.”
Frederick turned her around. “You’re making a dreamer out of me, Emma. Come on, we’d better walk back.”
As they reached the main road, a car swerved to avoid hitting them. She recognized the Keppel coat of arms, but it was not Max in the back seat; it was a small woman. Emma stared as it drove away.
Frederick pulled her closer. “Is that what you want?”
Emma tossed her hair. “No, of course not. It’s just interesting to see how the owners live, isn’t it?”
Frederick smiled. “They have so much, and yet their workers have so little. One day it will all be equal. Keppel better enjoy his life while he can.”
He turned back toward the harbor. “Look at that dock over there. See that ship? It’s the Mauretania, one of the biggest ships afloat, over thirty-one thousand tons. Her sister ship, the Lusitania, just broke the transatlantic record from Ireland to New York.”
Emma strained to see what he was talking about. “How do you know so much about it?”
“Ever since I came to America in steerage, I’ve always dreamed of returning to Germany in a great ship like that.” He stopped, embarrassed.
Emma couldn’t help herself; she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. He returned her kiss, and Emma felt her knees go weak. He was right about Max Keppel. She meant nothing to him. He was never going to mean anything to her or the union. He was only protecting his mill.