Read an Excerpt
The Desires of Her Heart
Texas: Star of Destiny Book 1
Belle Vista Plantation
New Orleans, late August 1821
"You wish to marry well? By that, Jewell, you mean marry a wealthy man?" Dorritt sat in her stepfather's lavish ivory and gilded parlor, the heavy afternoon heat weighing her down.
"There can be no other meaning, sister." Fanning herself, her younger half-sister took another promenade around the parlor.
Dorritt ignored her mother's shocked disapproval. She sensed that today was the climax of months of planning by her stepfather.
Dorritt's tambour frame and stand sat in front of her at hand level. Placing tiny artful stitches helped her conceal how her heart skipped and jumped. How would it all play out today? Dorritt looked up at her half-sister, her opposite in everything, from Jewell's olive skin and wavy blue-black hair to Dorritt's fair skin and straight golden hair. "I believe love is necessary to marry well."
Jewell made a sound of dismissal, her high-waisted white dress swayed with her wandering. "These odd humors, your peculiar comments all come from books. You read too much, Dorritt. Father always says so and mother agrees."
"Then it must be so." The heat of the afternoon was squeezing Dorritt like a sodden tourniquet. She put down her needle and pinched the bridge of her nose. Over the past months, she had stood back and read the signs of her stepfather's devious manipulation of facts and circumstances. Of course, Jewell had no idea that the culmination of these might come today. But Dorritt knew well what red ink in a ledger meant.
With a handkerchief, hermother blotted her rosy, perspiring face, which still retained a faded beauty. "Please, Jewell, you must sit down and relax; compose yourself."
"Why hasn't André come yet?" Jewell attacked the lush Boston fern sitting on the stand by the French doors. She pulled off a frond and began stripping it. "He told me he would be asking my father's permission today."
There is many a slip between the cup and lip. "Perhaps he has been delayed." Dorritt set another tiny stitch with rigid concentration.
Would her stepfather manage to work his trickery once more, bend reality to his selfish and greedy will? And more important, could Dorritt use it in her favor? Her hands stuttered and she had to pull the needle back out.
The sound of an approaching horse drew Jewell to the French doors that led to the garden. "I can't see the rider. He has already dismounted under the porte cochere. That doesn't look like André's horse," she added fretfully, and tossed the mangled frond back into the pot.
They all turned their heads to listen to the swishing of the grand front doors being parted, the murmur of their butler, the hum of another man's voice, footsteps down the hallway to her stepfather's den. If it wasn't André, who could it be?
"It could be Philippe." Jewell beamed and gave a little skip. "Maybe I will receive two offers of marriage today."
One proposal would achieve your doting father's goal, dear sister. Dorritt took a deep breath and began an intricate French knot.
"Do you think it might really be Philippe Marchand?" Their mother sounded awestruck. "Why he is worth nearly half a million."
Jewell did a pirouette and swirled her hands in the air. "And I would be mistress of Marchand Plantation and eat blancmange every day."
Dorritt imagined herself decorating her sister's face with the white jellied dessert. She bent farther over her embroidery so neither her sister nor mother would see her unaccountable amusement. More of her odd humors.
"Come away from the window, Jewell," her mother said in a low voice. "You must not appear as though you're aware of any of this."
For once, her younger half-sister obeyed. Jewell went and sat in the Chippendale chair beside Dorritt, lifting the needle from Dorritt's hand and moving the tambour frame in front of herself.
Their mother uttered a soft scold for Jewell's theft. But Jewell ignored it as usual.
Dorritt stopped to blot her face with her hankie. She could only hope that André had come to propose. If not André, then Philippe. If Jewell were married, this might ring the first bell of freedom for her.
"Don't you dare take one stitch," Dorritt ordered in an undertone, holding her own nervousness in strict check.
"I embroider just as well as you do," Jewell lied with a mocking smile. Her bitter chocolate eyes flashing, she boldly stuck the needle into the design.
Dorritt stood up. You need your face slapped, Jewell. But not by me. "I have work to do." She strolled the length of the room, fanning herself with a woven palm fan. Glancing out the windows, she glimpsed the horse hitched in the shade of the porte cochere. She halted in midstep on her way to the hall. Surely it wasn't he who had come and gone into her stepfather's den. Surely not.
Just as she reached the door of the room, she heard footsteps coming toward the parlor. It was what she feared. The widower who was pursuing her, Job Wilkinson, strode beside her step-father. Job looked like a white crane, and her stepfather waddled like a balding, plump self-satisfied gander. Not a good sign. The urge to flee nearly overcame her. But she composed herself, arranging her face into a sweet false smile. "Good day, Mr. Wilkinson. Won't you come in and I will order tea to be served." She turned in time to see her sister's flushed, irritated face.
If only Dorritt could have enjoyed this experience of for once flouting her sister's conceit. But I thought I made myself clear . . . How like a man to ignore her stated wishes.
"No tea," her stepfather ordered. "Jewell and Mrs. Kilbride, come with me. We will leave these two young people alone."
Pouting, Jewell threw down the needle and rose. Their mother quickly led Jewell out. Her stepfather closed the pocket door to the parlor, and they were alone. The Desires of Her Heart
Texas: Star of Destiny Book 1. Copyright (c) by Lyn Cote . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.