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By Jane Peart
Thorndike PressCopyright © 2006 Jane Peart
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSummer flowed gently into fall, after lingering longer than usual in the Virginia countryside. The days were brilliant still, but darkness came more quickly now.
This autumn the colors were dazzling, the elms that lined the driveway up to Cameron Hall were golden against the dark green pines of the surrounding woods, the dogwoods were ruby-red and the maples on the lawn were butter-bright tinged with crimson. The gardens too were ablaze-saffron-yellow, russet, and amber chrysanthemums glistened like jewels in the September sunshine.
This was her favorite time of year, Kitty Cameron decided as she bent over her plants in one of the flower beds. Out in the crisp fall air, the combination of scents-ripening fruit in the orchards, distant wood smoke, the rich smell of earth-was exhilarating. Even the mundane chore of digging up tulip and gladiola bulbs for winter storage gave her enormous pleasure.
Rod Cameron, coming out onto the columned porch of the stately Georgian house that had been his family's home for generations, caught sight of his daughter. He stood at the edge of the steps and watched her work, her expression one of total concentration.
After a moment he strolled over, pausing beside her. "Must be in the genes."
Kitty smiled up athim. "Well, I was named for Grandmother, wasn't I?"
It was a family joke that Kitty's love of gardening must have been inherited from Katherine Cameron, who, in spite of having at least four gardeners at Cameron Hall during its "glory days," had insisted on doing much of her own work. Looking into his daughter's upturned face, Rod was startled by a fresh recognition of how pretty she was. The sun, glinting on her auburn hair, enriched its vibrancy. One strand fell forward, and she brushed it back with an impatient gesture that left a smudge of dirt on her cheek. Her long-lashed eyes were softly brown, like his adored wife's. But where Blythe's face revealed the deep contentment of a long and happy marriage, there was something vulnerable about Kitty's that tugged at her father's heart.
He had tried to give his daughters everything possible to assure their well-being, but the one thing he had never been able to give them was happiness, so often found in unexpected places. Cara, Kitty's twin, was a prime example. She'd found hers in marriage to a penniless preacher! Unconsciously, Rod sighed. Impetuous and independent as she was, he missed Cara.
Turning his attention to Kitty again, he remarked, "I suppose you're right. As they say, 'blood will tell.'" Then with a wave he walked away, striding down the gravel drive toward the stables.
Kitty's glance followed his tall figure. Except for the slight limp, a token reminder of the wound he'd acquired during the War Between the States, her father appeared much younger than his sixty-odd years. He was still handsome with strong, aristocratic features, thick gray hair, an erect bearing.
Recalling her father's teasing, Kitty cast a brief look at the metal marker verdigrised with age, placed among the rose-bushes years before by her grandmother and read the quotation: "The kiss of the sun for pardon,/the song of the birds for mirth,/You are nearer God's heart in a garden/Than anywhere else on earth." It spoke of her serene spirit, and Kitty was glad once again to be considered very like the other Katherine.
She returned to her digging, working steadily until she heard the sound of a motorcar roaring up the drive. Kip, she guessed, even before she saw the shiny green roadster round the bend of the driveway and pull up in front of the house, scattering gravel stones as he braked.
Kitty sat back on her heels and waved to him. "Good morning!"
Kip Montrose gave her an answering wave, then vaulted over the door of his open runabout and started over to join her.
At his approach, Kitty's heart flip-flopped foolishly. It happened every time, no matter how hard she tried to control herself. Everything about Kip-his saunter, the roguish smile, his tousled dark hair, the mischievous twinkle in his eyes-caused this ridiculous reaction.
Kitty felt her face grow warm. She ducked her head, pulled up a bulb, and pretended to focus on shaking the dirt from its root. "What are you doing up and about this early?" she asked with studied casualness.
"I'm about to let you in on a secret," he teased, grinning down at her.
Kitty looked skeptical. "What kind of secret?"
"What do you mean what kind? A secret's just that, a secret," he retorted. "Come on, 'Mary, Mary,' don't be contrary. Let your garden grow on its own for a while. I want to take you someplace."
"Oh, Kip, I can't," she protested. "I'm right in the middle of all this."
"Let it go," Kip demanded impatiently. "Come on, Kitty. Making mud pies can wait. This is important."
"And what I'm doing isn't?"
"Not as important as what I'm about to show you."
"Why are you being so mysterious? Why don't you just tell me? Let me decide-"
"Trust me, Kitty. Come on."
Slowly she dragged off her gardening gloves and brushed her skirt. Thrilled as she was that Kip wanted to whisk her away with him, she didn't want to appear too eager, ready to drop everything at his spur-of-the-moment invitation.
Feigning reluctance, she said, "Well ... I'll have to change-"
"For Pete's sake, Kitty, you don't have to change!" Kip sounded exasperated. He grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. "You look fine. Just dandy."
Puzzled at his insistence, Kitty hung back. "Wait, Kip. I do have to tell Mother I'm leaving."
"All right. But hurry! We don't have all day!"
Kitty threw Kip a reproving look as she hurried past him, up the terrace steps and into the house. Kip was used to having his own way. She really shouldn't accommodate him so easily, she reminded herself. But, as usual, she didn't have the will to resist.
Inside, Kitty went to find her mother. Blythe was in her sitting room at her desk when Kitty stuck her head in the door and told her she was going for a drive with Kip.
Excerpted from Hero's Bride by Jane Peart Copyright © 2006 by Jane Peart. Excerpted by permission.
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