About the Book
Romance and suspense come alive in this uplifting Christian novel set in the South in the 1870s.
The reader will fall in love with the intriguing story of Laura who overcomes personal tragedy, and is forced to hide a secret that, if revealed, will cause her great heartache. Amidst the revitalized social scene of a South recovering from the War Between the States, Laura has to sacrifice one of her most precious desires in order to protect someone she loves above all else. Yet as the world around the Malcolm family improves they are also forced to overcome numerous challenges. Sitting on the banks of the Mississippi, Oak Grove, the ancestral home of the family, and the oaks that shaded it symbolize the Malcolms courage, resilience, and strength. Can Laura make her enemies become allies as she confronts her secret and finds the strength to forgive as well as to love again?
Saundra’s Grand Ball
On the day of Saundra’s ball, Laura let Jenny help her with her gown. The dress was one her father had insisted she get just before he had died. The gown’s pale yellow emphasized the golden highlights in her light-brown hair. As Laura knelt, Jenny helped her pull the yellow silk gown over her head. Jenny then helped smooth out the folds of shear material that draped over the dress. The hoopskirt formed a full circle that emphasized Laura’s slender waist. After putting on the gown, Laura decided to wear her hair up since that was the fashion. Hinting that she had a surprise for Laura, Jenny retrieved the brush and helped her brush her thick, curly hair. With Ruth’s help they then pulled Laura’s hair up from the front and sides and piled it loosely on the top of her head into a bun. A few curling ringlets were left to escape and fall down her back.
Soon after Laura was ready, Ruth came into the room, saying, “It’s time to go to the ball.”
Thinking it was too early to leave for the party, Laura was surprised at her mother’s comment. Still, she rushed downstairs to find Bradford, looking very dashing in a black cutaway coat and white tie, waiting for her.
Grinning, Jenny ran up to Laura and revealed, “Mr. Hampton is my surprise.” Her smile was so big, and she looked so pleased with herself that Laura didn’t have the heart to say that Bradford didn’t have to take her to the ball.
Bradford, his eyes laughing, said, “It was Jenny’s idea that I be your escort. She knew you had no way to get to the ball without riding in an open wagon.”
Jenny’s eyes twinkled, as she hoped Laura would be happy she’d thought of the idea. Trying to look pleased, Laura gave her a quick squeeze.
Bradford helped Laura into his carriage and climbed in after her. As he sat back in the seat, he smiled, saying, “Your sister loves you very much. I hope you won’t be angry with her because the company she chose for you isn’t what you would’ve picked yourself.”
Laura looked up at him. “No. As a matter of fact, I’ve wanted to thank you for all you’ve done for Jenny. She thinks the world of you.”
“It’s too bad her big sister doesn’t,” he said sadly as he gazed at Laura’s pale-yellow dress, which made her striking eyes look more violet than usual, standing out like amethysts on ivory.
Flustered, she replied, “Well, I’ve never inferred that I dislike you. I mean, it wasn’t your fault my father lost his land to you.”
Bradford burst out laughing and looked at her with puzzled blue eyes. “I had nothing to do with that. Your father begged my father to loan him the money. From a business standpoint, this was a loan my father never should have made. For personal reasons I’ve longed to understand why he did it.”
With quivering lips Laura explained, “My father borrowed the money for unselfish reasons—to help me.” Her eyes seemed to throw sparks at Bradford as she blurted, “You certainly have a morbid curiosity if you want to know why my father lost all his money.”
Before Bradford could straighten out this misunderstanding, the carriage arrived at Camellia Hall.
Saundra herself rushed out of the large white mansion to greet the carriage. She flew down one side of the enormous exterior curving staircase as soon as she saw Bradford’s coach appear. By the time he had climbed down from the carriage, she was standing on the bottom step, ready to possessively take his arm. “I see my guest of honor has arrived,” she said. “You must come in at once to meet everyone. Lots of your Northern friends have already arrived.” She turned and said, “Oh, I didn’t see you, Laura.”
Knowing it was hopeless to try to make Laura understand, Bradford turned away from her and allowed Saundra to lead him into the ballroom. The roomful of guests parted as the hostess proudly led the guest of honor to the center of the room. Laura followed them into the foyer and then into the largest ballroom she had ever seen. When she entered, an intoxicating aroma made her aware of an abundance of flowers; gorgeous flower arrangements were everywhere she looked. There were roses, gardenias, and every other imaginable flower in crystal vases placed around the room.
Ignoring Saundra’s snub, Laura entered with her head held high. She turned as she felt a light tap on her shoulder. Facing her longtime friend, she said, “Oh, Charlotte, it’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you!”
“I know you’ve been busy moving into your new home,” Charlotte said, “so I haven’t been over lately.”
“Well, at least we can visit tonight,” Laura replied happily.
“Is that the guest of honor with Saundra?” Charlotte inquired.
“Yes, that’s Bradford Hampton, the new owner of Oak Grove,” Laura answered sadly. “He brought me to the ball tonight, but I really don’t want to ride back with him. Do you think you could take me home after the party?”
“Of course,” Charlotte responded. “He’s mighty handsome, but I don’t blame you for not wanting to be obliged to him. Come on over and join our other friends. They’ll love to see you.”
Laura quietly walked over to her friends, who were sitting near the musicians. Her dance card was quickly filled with lots of eligible men. Two of them were Bradford’s Northern friends who wanted to be introduced to her. Laura enjoyed the dancing and had a lot of fun with her longtime friends as well as Bradford’s acquaintances. Yet she couldn’t fail to notice that Saundra was dancing exclusively with Bradford and always seemed to be whispering in his ear.
Bradford had felt trapped all evening. He couldn’t believe Saundra had signed his name on her dance card for every dance. When it was time for the last dance, he told her, “I’ve taken my name off of your dance card for this dance. I’m taking Laura home and must dance the last dance with her.”
“Well, I signed you up to dance with me for every dance because you’re my guest of honor,” Saundra said, pouting.
“I’ve enjoyed the party very much. My friends have too. You were very thoughtful to go to all this trouble, but I must leave now,” Bradford said, firmly excusing himself.
Turning quickly to get to Laura’s side, he rushed over to find her sitting among a host of admirers.
Bradford appeared out of the crowd to interrupt his friend, who was quietly talking to Laura. “Patrick, go and dance with Saundra. She’ll appreciate your company.” Without saying a word, he crossed Patrick’s name from the last line on Laura’s dance card and replaced it with his own. He asked, “May I please have this dance?”
Surprised, Laura agreed.
Before leading her onto the dance floor, he whispered in her ear, “You must pretend to enjoy this so people won’t think I’m the one-eyed monster you tell them I am.”
She smiled at this absurd comment and relaxed. They floated around the floor with an ease she had never found in a partner before. The smoothness and grace with which they moved made her forget their harsh words. She let him pull her close as they swirled around the floor. Around and around they turned. The pleasant experience ended too quickly as the musicians played their final notes.
Still holding her around the waist, Bradford looked down at her. Laura seemed to snap back into reality and abruptly blurted, “I made arrangements with my friend Charlotte to take me back to the cottage.”
Quickly releasing her, he bluntly remarked, “Fine!” Turning, he promptly walked back to Saundra and her smug smile.
Several hours later Laura was glad to be back in bed. As she snuggled under the covers, warmth spread over her body as she remembered being in Bradford’s arms and flying around the dance floor. Then she deduced the real reason he was at Oak Grove. He was just trying to humiliate her family. Maybe he was even going through her father’s old files she had left in the study. He surely had a perverse curiosity to find out why her dear father had lost all of the money he had borrowed. “Of all the nerve!” Laura muttered to herself. Then she punched her pillow with her fists and fell into a restless slumber.
About the Author
Ann Mock’s first novel, The Union of the North and the South, received five-star recognition by Readers’ Favorite. She lives in Florida with her husband Dave and her faithful companion, Happy. She enjoys ballroom dancing, and cruising on oceans and rivers in both Europe and the United States. Some of her favorite trips were on Mississippi steamboats that visited many of the areas mentioned in this book.