Magnolia Creek

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One of the most beloved authors in women's fiction today, Jill Marie Landis touches the heart as she illuminates every exhilarating page with natural warmth and tenderness. Now, in her stirring new novel, Landis takes readers to a place where pride can be as unforgiving as the past and finding the courage to love again will be nothing short of a miracle.
On the eve of the Civil War, Sara Collier marries the dashing Dru Talbot, just before he rides off to join the Confederate ...
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Overview

One of the most beloved authors in women's fiction today, Jill Marie Landis touches the heart as she illuminates every exhilarating page with natural warmth and tenderness. Now, in her stirring new novel, Landis takes readers to a place where pride can be as unforgiving as the past and finding the courage to love again will be nothing short of a miracle.
On the eve of the Civil War, Sara Collier marries the dashing Dru Talbot, just before he rides off to join the Confederate army. But fate cuts short their chance for happiness when Dru dies tragically on the battlefield. As a widow, Sara rises above her grief, refusing to mourn her life away. But one wrong choice, made with an open heart, takes her away from her hometown—and challenges Sara in ways she never imagined. Though she returns to Magnolia Creek an outcast, the sorrow in her life makes her stronger.
A year after the war has ended, battle-scarred surgeon Dru Talbot surprises everyone when he returns home, clinging to the dream of starting over with his bride. Yet nothing could prepare Dru for the truth that awaits him in Magnolia Creek. Heartbroken, Dru tries to forgive the shadows of the past. Unable to surrender the only man she has ever loved, Sara dreams of rekindling the passion they once shared, turning betrayal into reconciliation.
Written with rare beauty and emotion, Magnolia Creek is a heartfelt lesson in second chances—and a moving celebration of life's most precious gifts.

About the Author: The author of fifteen bestselling novels, Jill Marie Landis lives with her husband, Steve, in California and Hawaii. Her list of award-winning books includes Come Spring, Blue Moon, Sunflower, Just Once, and her latest bestseller, Summer Moon.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786246656
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Series: Core Collection
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 490
  • Product dimensions: 6.92 (w) x 9.92 (h) x 1.06 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Southern Kentucky

May 1866

A young woman clothed in widow's weeds rode in the back of a crude farm wagon and watched the landscape roll by through a cascading ebony veil draped over the wide brim of her black hat. The misty veil not only cast the world in an ominous dark pall, but hid her auburn hair, finely drawn features, clear blue eyes, and the swelling bruise that marred her left cheek. Her arms were wrapped around her daughter, a toddler with golden cherub curls who was bundled in a thick black shawl to protect her from a brisk afternoon breeze. Sound asleep with her head on her mother's shoulder, the little girl was as oblivious to the chill on the late spring air as she was to the utter desperation in her mother's heart.

Sara Collier Talbot had traveled for days. She had walked south from Ohio along roads shredded by war, circumvented byways stalled by downed bridges and trails clogged with foot traffic, carts full of soldiers going home and liberated Negroes heading north. Carrying her child, Sara had begged rides in carts, on the backs of crowded wagons, atop piles of straw, wedged herself between barrels of dry goods. She had sold her other clothing to help pay for the mourning ensemble.

She had no place to call home, no money, no pride, nothing but an old weathered satchel that held a fresh petticoat, two gowns for the child, a dozen saltine crackers, and the heel end of a stale loaf of bread. Her love child, Elizabeth, a child born of shame, was the only treasure she could claim.

She shifted her precious daughter higher on her shoulder, stunned that fate had brought her home to Magnolia Creek. An unexpected breeze skimmed across the open farmland, teasing theedge of her veil as the sun raked the tops of the trees bordering the road. Behind the protective anonymity of the black veil, Sara contemplated the only other passenger besides herself and Lissybeth riding in the farmer's wagon.

An ex-soldier still dressed in tattered gray wool, the remnants of a uniform of the once proud Confederate States of America, lay curled up in the far corner of the wagon bed. Sad-eyed, defeated, he was so thin that he resembled a skeleton far more than a man. With no more than a nod to Sara when she first climbed aboard, he had promptly fallen asleep. Thankfully there would be no small talk to suffer.

A pair of scarred crutches padded with rags lay on the wagon bed beside him. He was missing his right foot. His cheeks were covered with sparse salt-and-pepper stubble, his sunken eyes surrounded by violet smudges.

Sara sighed. In one way or another, the war had made invalids of them all.

Looking away from the soldier, she stared out across the surrounding landscape: gentle rolling hills, yellow poplar, sycamore, oak, chestnut, walnut trees all gathered into woods between open fields now lying fallow. Here and there, trails of chimney smoke snaked up from the treetops, signs of cabins hidden in the wood.

The Kentucky countryside had changed very little since she saw it last, but not so the look of the travelers along its byways. Before the war, back roads pilgrims were mostly farmers, a few tinkers and merchants, or families on their way across the state. The majority were war refugees--many of them Confederate soldiers hailing from Kentucky, men banished and marked as traitors after the state legislature voted to side with the Union. Now, a long year after surrender, those men were still making their way back home.

There were far more Negroes on the roads now. Former slaves who had feasted on the first heady rush of freedom, but now wearing the same disoriented look as the white casualties of war. They wandered the rural countryside searching for a way to survive the unaccustomed liberty that had left so many displaced and starving in a world turned upside down.

Sara had spent nearly all she had to buy the black ensemble to wear while she was on the road. The South was full of widows; the North, too, if the papers were to be believed. The sight of a woman alone in drab black garb was not all that unusual and she blended in, one more casualty of the war between the states.

On the outskirts of town the wagon rattled past the old painted sign that read, Welcome to Magnolia Creek, Home of Talbot Mills, Population three hundred and eighty-one. Obviously no one had bothered to change the sign. Sara knew, painfully well, that there was at least one who would not be coming home.

For the most part, the town of Magnolia Creek looked the same, the streets evenly crisscrossed like a fancy piece of plaid that was a bit worn and frayed around the edges. The brick buildings along Main Street showed signs of weather and shelling, as battered as their occupants must surely feel.

Melancholy rode the air. She could feel it as she viewed wood-framed homes with peeling whitewashed siding that lined every even street.

A few of the shops and stores around Courthouse Square were still boarded up, their broken windows evidence not only of Yankee cannon fire, but the shortage of replacement glass. The courthouse still remained proud and unbattered. The Union stars and stripes flew triumphantly over the grassy park surrounding the impressive two-story building. She remembered walking Main Street for hours the day she had first moved into town, recalled staring into storefront windows at all the bright new things. Now she barely gave those same windows a second glance as the wagon rumbled by.

The farmer finally reached his destination, pulled the team up before the dry goods store and set the brake. Sara gingerly lifted Lissybeth off the floor beside her. The exhausted soldier didn't even stir as she stepped from the back of the wagon onto the wooden porch that ran the length of the storefront. She thanked the man for the ride and when her stomach rumbled, Sara stared longingly into the store's dim interior before she turned away and started walking toward Ash Street two blocks away.

"Not far now, baby," she whispered to Lissybeth. "Not far." She prayed that she was doing the right thing, that once she reached the Talbots fine, familiar house, a hot meal and safe haven would be waiting, even if only for a night. Number 47 Ash Street came into view the moment she turned the corner. Set off behind a white picket fence with a wide lawn, it was still the grandest house in town.

Sometimes late at night she would lie awake and wonder if the magical time she had spent living in the Talbots' home had been real or merely a figment of her imagination. Her life before the war seemed like a dream; at fifteen she had moved in to care for Louzanna Talbot; at seventeen, after two glorious, golden weeks of a whirlwind courtship she had married Dr. Dru Talbot and thought to live happily ever after.

Five years later, it was hard to believe she had ever truly been the innocent, starry-eyed girl that he had taken for his bride.

Now she was not only Dru Talbot's widow, but a fallen woman in the eyes of the world. She was no better than a camp follower. She was a woman who had lost the man she so dearly loved to war, a woman who then put her faith and trust in the wrong man and now had nothing save the child of that union.

Sara lingered across the street from the Talbots', staring at the wide, columned porch that ran across the entire front and side of the house and tried to make out some sign of movement behind the lace curtains at the drawing room windows. Then, mustering all the confidence she could, she shifted Lissybeth to the opposite shoulder and quickly crossed the street.

The gate in the picket fence hung lopsided on its hinges. The flower beds bordering the front of the house overflowed with tangled weeds. The same, deep abiding sadness she had felt earlier lingered around the place, one that thrived beneath the eaves and lurked in the shadowed corners of the porch behind the old rockers lined up to face the street. The lace draperies at the windows, once so frothy white, hung limp and yellowed behind weather-smeared, spotted panes of glass.

A sigh of relief escaped her when she spotted a familiar quilting frame standing inside the long parlor window. An intricate bow-tie pattern made up of hundreds of small, evenly cut squares of print and checkered pieces was framed and ready to finish quilting. Louzanna Talbot's world had been reduced to fabric patches and thread that bound cotton batting between patchwork tops and backing.

Sara stared at the front door while trying to shush Lissybeth's whining. She lifted the brass knocker and stared at the black, fingerless gloves that hid the fact that she wore no wedding ring. She pounded three times, then tightened her arms beneath her little girl's bottom and waited patiently. When there was no answer, she lifted the knocker again and let it fall, wondered why Louzanna Talbot's Negro manservant, Jamie, was taking so long to answer.

A flicker of movement caught her eye. Someone was inside the house, standing near enough to brush the edges of the curtain against the window in the center of the door. Sara pressed her nose to the pane but could not make out a shape through the layers of her veil and the sheer curtain panel at the oval window.

"Hello? Is anyone home? Jamie, are you there?" She pounded on the doorframe. "Louzanna? Can you hear me?" A recluse afraid of her own shadow, Louzanna suffered from severe bouts of hysteria. Sara resolved to stand there all evening if she had to as she pressed her forehead against the windowpane and tried to see through the curtain.

"Louzanna? Lou, open the door, please." She lowered her voice. "It's Sara."

Finally, a latch clicked, then another. The door creaked and slowly swung inward no more than six inches. All Sara saw of Louzanna was a set of pale, slender fingers grasping the edge of the door and thick braids of wren-brown hair pinned atop her crown.

"Louzanna, it's me. It's Sara. May I come in?" Sara knew what it cost her former sister-in-law to open the front door at all.

Dru's older sister was thirty-eight now, but her translucent skin, hardly ever touched by sunlight, was barely creased at all. Her hair was streaked with a few wisps of gray, but for the most part, it retained its fullness and soft brown hue. Silence lengthened. The knuckles on Lou's hand whitened. Finally, in a weak, low voice, the woman on the other side whispered, "Is it really you, Sara? Is it really, truly you?"

Tears stung Sara's eyes. She frantically tried to blink them away. "It's really me, Louzanna. Please, let me come in." Another pause, another dozen heartbeats of despair.

Louzanna's voice wavered. More of her braids showed, then her forehead, then pale, hazel eyes peered around the edge of the door. Those eyes went wide when they lit on the child in Sara's arms.


From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    exciting Reconstruction Era romance

    In 1866, Sara Collier Talbot returns to the Kentucky home of her deceased spouse looking for shelter for her and her little girl, born out of wedlock to a northerner. After her own father recently beat her and rejected her and his granddaughter, further dismissal would not shock Sara. Instead her sister-in-law Louzanna welcomes the fallen woman and her niece ¿Lissybeth¿ to live with her. <P>The next day, Sara¿s spouse Dr. Dru Talbot comes home after serving time in a northern prison and recovering from amnesia. He is stunned to learn that his beloved, the only reason he survived the war, had cuckolded him with another woman. He cannot even look at her lovechild without ire. As Sara tries to atone for her transgression and regain what she once had before the war, an epidemic threatens to destroy the town. <P>MAGNOLIA CREEK is an exciting Reconstruction Era romance that is more of a historical character study of the aftermath of the deadly American Civil War. The story line uses coincidence (or as Louzanna felt divine intervention) to move forward the plot yet engages the audience through the trials and tribulations of the lead characters and the secondary cast that does not always end in happily. Fans will understand the dreary pessimism of the locals as Jill Marie Landis makes the audience feel the pain from the loss of loved ones and the suffering from economic ruin. <P>Harriet Klausner

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