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Suzanne Willoughby is a slim green-eyed beauty, spirited and adventurous. As the Civil War erupts, she finds herself unable to leave her Baltimore grandparents to return to her plantation home in Charleston, SC. While war rages and Suzanne’s confusion between emancipation and slavery escalates, she falls in love. But two very different men think Suzanne is fated to be his bride. One suitor, Thaddeus Stuart, is a ruthless slave owner and widowed attorney. He is a friend of Suzanne’s father, who encourages Thaddeus to court and marry his daughter. The other man, Tyrone Sterling, is a Union Captain of the SEA QUEEN, a carrier of mysterious cargo back and forth across the war-torn borders. Suzanne meets one suitor’s ardor kiss for kiss, but can she save her virginity for the man she will ultimately marry?
I hate it. I hate it, I hate it, Suzanne thought vehemently. A war with the North will destroy us all. With the low murmur of voices behind her, Suzanne Willoughby stood tense and restless by the large window overlooking the impeccably manicured and terraced front lawn of Royal Oaks Manor. Although huge oak trees stood like sentinels scattered across the landscape, Suzanne thought it misnamed. As far as she could see, ancient weeping willow trees, with slender pendulous branches forming a graceful and sweeping welcome, flanked either side of the long approach to the plantation. In her mind, the estate should have been forever Willoughby Heights.
The manor splashed across the horizon atop a rolling knoll overlooking the Ashley River where it met the Cooper River to form the entry, which flowed forever into the Atlantic Ocean. On a clear night, from her bedroom balcony on the second floor, Suzanne could see the lamps of Charleston glittering through the darkness.
The roof of the wide veranda stretched across the anterior of the house, supported by colonnades. The pillars and manor in addition to the slave quarters, the smokehouse, and all other buildings on the grounds, gleamed white in the sparkling sunshine of daytime. But now, the muted glow of dusk was complete. A gentle April breeze rippled through the open front door, through the foyer and into the library.
Spring was happening, but Suzanne shivered as she watched the descending darkness. It filled her with a baffling sense of dread. Their snug world had gone all wrong, Suzanne conceded, since Abe Lincoln was elected president the previous November. And especially since South Carolina seceded from the Union a month later.
A sharp oath pierced the drone of voices behind Suzanne. Startled, she turned around. Her father, Aman Willoughby, a big, rawboned man with a ruddy complexion and a head of thick, tightly curled black hair, roared again. The recipient of his wrath was their dinner guest, Thaddeus Stuart, Aman’s friend and attorney, and their closest neighbor.
“Come on, you two,” Suzanne said. “For months you’ve discussed no other subject except war between the South and the North. You’ve agreed and argued, by turns and dead ends. Whatever is it this time?”
Aman and Thaddeus were dressed exactly alike in black trousers, vests, and frock coats with front-pleated white shirts and black cravats. They stood at either end of the massive fieldstone fireplace. Aged oak, floor to ceiling bookshelves bordered each side of the fireplace. The library served as office and refuge to Suzanne’s father.
Ignoring her, Aman waved his brandy snifter precariously. Steely gray eyes emitted sparks as he swore, softer this time. “Damn it, Thaddeus, what are you trying to tell me? I ask you for a simple favor—to see my daughter safely delivered to her grandparents in Baltimore. I’ve even offered you my ship, the Annebella, for a speedy trip.
Suzanne looked at Thaddeus. The recent widower had a lean middle-aged face with sunken, but flushed, smooth pink cheeks. His opaque, usually impenetrable blue eyes leered at her.
Suzanne knew she looked her best, that the green evening gown intensified the color of her eyes. Earlier, in front of the mirror, she had admired the new frock. The soft silk crossover bodice fell delicately over her breasts. Short puffed sleeves, generously trimmed with ruffled lace and worn off the shoulder, exposed smooth bare shoulders. The narrow forest green velvet trim and bow, with streamers fluttering down the front of the full gathered skirt, set off the Basque waist.
Sadie, Suzanne’s beloved old nanny, had stood behind her. “Miz Suzanne, you is growin’ up uncommon purty. You gonna break dem boys’ hearts one of dese days. Dem little round breasts is pure seduc’ive. Dat face is a perfec’ oval an’ you gots a temptin’ curved-up mouth.”
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 338
Paper Weight (lb): 14.2
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