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Murder and scandal drove Tori Kendal from her home in New Orleans and into the life of handsome, California rancher Morgan McAlister. But when her life is threatened, she questions the love that has grown between them and fears the lengths to which he might go to reclaim the mortgage she holds on everything he owns.
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 26, 1887
Lightning split the night sky but Tori Kendal didn’t notice the flash. Face pale, all color drained away by numbing grief, she bent before the hearth in her room, crumpled the newspaper, and flung it into the fire. Lips compressed, she watched the tongues of orange flames devour the pages. In seconds they were gone. If only that were also true of the headlines that remained vivid in her mind. The bold-printed words told the world what she had just recently learned. Her brother, Stephen, a swindler, ran his gaming tables dishonestly.
And there were other truths, even more shocking and painful.
The low rumble of thunder echoed throughout the house. As if in a trance, she moved to the window and drew aside the lace curtain. In the flash of another silvery arc, she saw the courtyard below. Rain hammered the flagstones bordering lush flowerbeds, and the branches of magnolias and live oaks thrashed in the howling wind. Two weeks ago, on that horrible night when her brother and Philip, her fiancé, were gunned down, the weather had been exactly like this.
Tori let the curtain slip from her fingers and fall back in place, shutting out the darkness that pressed against the windowpanes. If only she could shut out the memory of the murders and the guilt that consumed her.
Shivering, she pivoted. Her gaze fell upon the bedside photograph of the man who was to have been her husband. Everyone had said they made a striking couple--Philip with his blond hair and Nordic blue eyes. Her eyes were amber and her thick upswept hair was as black as the dress she now wore. She kissed the handsome masculine face, her mind circling back to Philip’s last words to her. "Tori, Tori, my darling, Victoria, I love you."
Tears welled as she crossed to the chaise and lifted the wedding gown she prepared to pack away--the gown she had planned to wear tomorrow. Philip had longed to see her in this beautiful dress and to make her his wife. They had both lived for their wedding day. And wedding night. Tomorrow, she thought. But all the tomorrows were gone for Philip and for Stephen; their lives violently ended by the drunken and enraged gambler who had lurched into her brother’s office, brandishing a revolver.
Reluctantly, Tori laid the satin gown inside the cedar-lined chest at the foot of her bed and ran her fingers over the lacy bodice enhanced with myriad seed pearls. Seconds ticked by before she could bring herself to lower the lid and snap the lock.
The only person she had left in the world was Stephen’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Leanza. Tori thanked God for her niece who was just five years younger than herself. They’d grown up together and were close. Now their agonizing loss had deepened the bond. However, Leanza, who hadn’t left the house since the funeral, wasn’t even beginning to cope with the tragedy or with the truth of her father’s business, which had come to light during the murder investigation.
For as long as Tori could remember she had regarded Stephen’s profession with fascination. He had owned and operated the most impressive and prosperous gambling palace on the Mississippi River. If only she hadn’t sent Philip to summon her brother home on that fateful night. But Philip was at the house and it had been so natural for her to lean on him when Leanza’s sniffles had taken a frightening, feverish turn.
The carriage clock, a gift from Philip, chimed the midnight hour. Ordinarily she was in bed by now, but she’d scarcely slept in the last two weeks. She knew it was the same for her niece. Out of concern for her, Tori put down the picture and moved into the hallway. The flickering light from the mounted oil lamps threw eerie pictures on the walls, and she gritted her teeth as another rumble of thunder reverberated throughout the house.
Irene Pascoe lives near Seattle, Washington with her husband. She has three grown children and two grandsons. She enjoys the outdoors, tending her flower gardens, figuring out new computer programs, and having fun with family and friends.
Irene and her husband love to travel and have had the good fortune to see much of America as well as many distant countries. The majority of her books are set in places she and her husband have visited. Their next journey is a transatlantic cruise to Lisbon, Portugal.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 260
Paper Weight (lb): 11.0
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