Surrender in Moonlightby Jennifer Blake
Jennifer Blake, one of America's romance queens, once again conquers readers with a scintillating tale of love and treachery. From the bloody battlefields of the Civil War-torn South to the lush and exotic islands ofthe Caribbean, heroine Lorna Forrester is pursued by the brazen blockade-runner Ramon Cazenave. From the moment they meet and make love under the moonlight, they are inextricably bound to one another by chains of passion.
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- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)
Read an Excerpt
The quick tread of Lorna Forrester's riding boots was muffled by the thick Kirman carpet runner as she moved along the wide hall. Without pausing in her stride, she slipped the loop that caught up the flowing fullness of the skirt of her blue-gray poplin habit over her left wrist, tucked her crop under her arm, and began to tug on the calfskin gloves. There was a mutinous set to the finely molded curves of her mouth, and in her gray eyes a look of grim determination. She would not rest before dinner, would not lie in genteel fatigue upon her bed with warm milk punch at her elbow and a maid in attendance.
The passageway was dim with the failing light of late afternoon, a condition unimproved by the dark maroon brocade that hung on the walls or the peculiar green light of an April storm that threatened beyond the end windows. After the heavy meal at noon, the cool dampness and early twilight had driven everyone else to their bedchambers, or so it seemed. Lorna was not tired, not even after the long steamboat trip upriver the day before. In truth, she was too overwrought to rest. If she did not escape from Beau Repose and the people the great plantation house held, including her uncle and aunt, she might well succumbed to the urge to scream and throw things. That would not be conduct at all becoming to a happy bride-to-be.
An inane giggling, high-pitched yet masculine, drifted on the still air. It came from an open doorway a few yards ahead of her. Lorna recognized the sound. A spasm of what might have been dismay or disgust crossed her pale face, but her footsteps did not falter.
As she drew near the bedchamber from which came that gratinglaughter, a low moaning blended with it. Rich, female, the soft, panting moans took on a higher note. "Wait, Masts' Frank, that hurts now! Don't do that, Masts' Frank, just be nice. Please, I-oh, don't, don't!"
The import of the sounds, the words, did not immediately reach Lorna. It was only as she came even with the doorway that they took on meaning. In that instant, she glanced inside, and the breath was driven from her lungs in a startled gasp. She checked herself.
On the rumpled surface of the four-poster bed within the room, a man and a woman strained and heaved in a tangle of white and black limbs. It was Franklin Bacon, the man she was to marry, with one of the housemaids. That he was hurting the girl, digging his fingers into her hips, and forcing her to take his hard, bestial thrusts, was immediately plain.
The soft sound Lorna made drew the attention of the pair on the mattress. Franklin reared up, staring, his pale blue eyes bulging in stunned, vacuous surprise. His reaction was slow; then with a strangled cry, he floundered, pushing from his partner, kicking her away. He scuttled sideways on the bed in obscene and hairy nakedness that showed too well his barrel chest and swollen belly above the short, powerful legs and the wet and strutted jut of his manhood.
"Lorna," he croaked, his voice rising behind her as she swung sharply away. "Come back! I Aeneid doing nothing. It's all right. You shouldn't have seen me, you shouldn't. You should have been laid down resting, like everybody else! Lorna? That'll Papa say? Lorna!"
She did not look back, though she heard him plunge out into the hall behind her. With her chin tilted and her face set in lines of tight control, she moved on along the hallway and down the great staircase. Her footsteps might have been a trifle fast, the hold on her crop a threat to her glove seams, but there was nothing else to reveal the agitation that gripped her.
As she neared the bottom of the stairs, a man emerged from a room that opened to the left, the paneled library with its rows of books. He stood frowning, watching her descent, a folded newssheet in one hand as if he had been interrupted at his reading.
"My dear girl," he said as she neared the bottom step. "What can be the matter? What is the shouting about?"
His voice was soothing, unctuous, indicating that he had guessed well enough. A man of medium height with heavy features and a compact frame, Nathaniel Bacon was of early middle age. He wore his hair, a nondescript brown streaked with silver, swept straight back in a pomaded pompadour style left just a trifle long to blend with his muttonchops whiskers in the manner of an elder statesman.
Lorna sent him a harried glance from clear gray eyes. "I must speak to you-" she began.
"Yes, perhaps you had better come inside," he interrupted as Franklin, still unclothed, appeared above them, whining excuses. A short, hard gesture silenced his son's protests and sent him scurrying back out of sight. Turning with a smooth smile, he ushered Lorna into the library.
"You appear to have inadvertently seen my son in a, shall we say, less than complimentary light. Regrettable, regrettable, but can assure you that you need not fear it's happening again."
"That is, of course, a great comfort," Lorna answered, turning to face the man who would be her father-in-law, with her hand on the back of a leather armchair, scarcely aware of what she said.
"It is no more than the truth. Franklin will be faithful to his marriage vows. I swear it."
"I would as soon he-you-found another to take my place."
"That would be impossible at this late date; you know that as well as I," Bacon returned, moving past her to where a great walnut desk held pride of place in the room.
She might have known her plea would be ignored. Clenching her teeth in an effort to hold back another just as useless, she looked around her. The soft crimson, gold, and brown of the library, with its atmosphere of quiet erudition, did not suit Nathaniel Bacon. As if to point up the fact, he had been perusing a newssheet noted for its heavy humor and application to business concerns, rather than one of the new and expensive calf-bound volumes that lined the shelves of his retreat. Cigar smoke hung in a thick cloud, and the fumes from a brandy glass vied with the smell of the fine, leather book bindings. In build much like his son, Nathaniel Bacon-Nate to his close acquaintances-showed the same results of rich living in his rotund, short-legged body and the veining that made a telltale tracery on his thick nose.
Pulling out a desk drawer, he rummaged inside, then moved to face her, holding out a box covered in midnight-blue velvet. "I had meant to present this to you tonight at dinner, or rather have Franklin make you the gift of it, but I think now is as appropriate a time as any."
When Lorna made no move to take the box, he snapped the catch, revealing the glitter of sapphires and diamonds. It was a bracelet, symbol of betrothal in this society along the Mississippi River where the customs of the French-speaking population had come to the fore. Lorna's eyes widened at the magnificence of the jewels, the sheer ostentation of their size and brilliance. At the same time, she was acutely aware of the satisfied smile of the man who faced her as he noted her reaction.
"Do you think," she said distinctly, "that this trinket will be sufficient to persuade me to forget what I witnessed just now?"
"No, no," Nate Bacon protested, his smile disappearing as calm reassurance coated his tone. "I realize such a thing must be impossible for a lady of sensitivity, one as carefully reared as yourself. I only hoped you would consider, try to understand the depth of my son's gratitude for your sacrifice, and his awe at the coming union. If he were not so fearful of being wed to such a beautiful and gracious female, he would not be forced to seek bolstering for his low self-esteem as the wedding day draws near."
"You speak eloquently for your son, sir, but I cannot be impressed by sentiments I have not observed in Franklin."
Between Lorna and her fiancé's father lay the knowledge that it was Nathaniel Bacon, and not his son, who had initiated what might be called, by those with a sardonic bent, the courtship of herself. She was, in cold fact and despite the pretense otherwise, being given in marriage to the half-witted son of this man as partial payment of a debt contracted to the owner of Beau Repose by her Uncle Sylvester. The elaborate charade of normality that her future father-in-law insisted on bringing to the arrangement was abhorrent to Lorna, and somehow sordid.
Nate Bacon seemed to divine something of her feelings from the tight expression on her classical features and the stiffness of her carriage. "Come, it will not be so bad. Franklin can be quite engaging on occasion. With your intelligence, you should be able to manage him easily. That is the main reason I selected you above your cousins, your uncle's own daughters. Charming creatures, all of them, but none, I venture to say, over-endowed with either wit or strength of will."
"You flatter me, sir," she answered, lowering her gaze to hide her contempt for this blatant appeal to her vanity.
"Not at all." He tilted his head, trying to catch a glimpse of her features under the rolled brim of the shallow-crowned hat drawn low on her forehead, perched above the smooth figure-eight coil of hair the color of wild silk on the back of her head. "No, indeed, you were the pick of the bunch. You will be able to attract and hold my son by your beauty, and control him by your superior understanding of his needs and appetites. He is a perfectly normal man, despite the accident that robbed him of a portion of his mental powers."
She knew precisely what was meant; it had been carefully, if delicately, explained to her by her aunt. At the same time, it had been impressed upon her that she could not refuse the flattering suit by proxy pressed by the man who held her uncle's note-of-hand, one of the richest men among the wealthy planters along the great river.
"Yes," she said, allowing her gaze to move to the windows of the room that overlooked the river, framing the stretch of flowing water before the white-pillared mansion, and also the gray afternoon. "I am aware." He reached to take her hand, placing the velvet box in her nerveless grasp. "Accept this token of my esteem, then, and of my son's recognition of his proper duty toward you. Regard it, if you will, as a surety of his future conduct. I promise you that his behavior will, from this day, be all you would wish in respect and honor, and that from your wedding day tomorrow you will have no cause for complaint, nor reason to regret the bargain you have made."
From the tenor of his words, Lorna thought Franklin's father entertained some notion that she feared her husband-to-be might forsake her bed for that of his brown mistress. How wrong he was! He should know better for it had been he, just the night before, who had interrupted when Franklin had cornered her on the gallery after dinner, only hours after their arrival. Her fiancé had pushed her against one of the great, soaring columns, attempting to capture her lips with his wet, open mouth; pawing, squeezing her breasts with hurtful, clumsy hands. Her shuddering distaste must have been obvious to any man not willfully blind. But, reluctance to acknowledge the engagement was not the only reason she hesitated to accept the bracelet being thrust upon her.
"I cannot, must not, take it," she said.
"Come, I insist."
"It wouldn't be right, not at this time," she insisted in a low tone, "not while women all over the South are giving their jewelry, even their wedding bands, to aid the Confederate cause and bring an end to this war."
"Such matters should not concern a pretty thing like you."
"No, really, I couldn't bring myself to wear it."
"Then, you must keep it until your tender conscience dictates otherwise."
"That will only be when this conflict is at an end and our men can come home-if I still have it then."
An opaque expression seeped into Nate Bacon's light blue eyes, so like those of his son. "Is there just maybe a special young man you are waiting for now?"
"No, nothing like that," she answered without hesitation.
"Good," he said, smiling once more. "Good."
She grew aware that he still held her fingers in his warm, damp grasp. She pulled them back slightly, but could not free herself. "If you will excuse me now, I had meant to ride."He released her, and, though he appeared reluctant to break his hold, he retained his grasp on the jewel box, taking it back into his possession. "As you will, though it looks as if we may be in for a storm. If you will be guided by me, you will reconsider."
"I ... would rather take my chances."
He looked for a moment as if he might insist. Lorna stared at him with a shading of defiance in her level gray gaze. Finally, he shrugged.
"I will send to the stables to have a mount saddled and a groom ready to accompany you." His thick, formless lips lifted in an indulgent smile. "I expect you will be glad enough to scurry back to shelter at the first thunderclap."
She had been fearful that he meant to come with her; there had been a hint of calculation in his pale eyes, as if he were weighing the pleasure of her company against the effort required to venture forth. The comforts of his study, the news-sheet, the cigar, and glass of brandy that awaited him won, and Lorna made good her escape.
There was no such thing as true escape, however. She was just as much a hostage to her uncle's failure as a businessman outside the house as within it. If keeping to the bridle path that was carved through the fields and woodlands of Beau Repose, while perched upon the proper and uncomfortable dignity of a sidesaddle with a groom trailing ten paces behind her, did not satisfy her yearning for freedom, the fault lay within herself; for a female there was nothing closer to be had. She would have to make the best of it, just as she must learn to endure the marriage that awaited her on the morrow. Escape from that, and all its attendant duties, was also impossible, though she would rather give herself to any man other than the mindless and vicious creature to whom she would be joined. Any man at all.
Catching one side of her bottom lip between her teeth, Lorna considered going to her uncle and pleading to be released from this betrothal. Even as the idea came, it was banished by the image of her aunt: stem, overbearing, with deep etchings of disappointment along either side of her long nose. Uncle Sylvester would listen to Aunt Madelyn, would do as she said, and it was her aunt's contention that women were born to sorrow and shrinking from their wifely obligations, regardless of the man they married. Her aunt thought it reason for congratulations that she was not marrying a poor man, that it would not be necessary for her to scrimp and be eternally saving in order to feed and clothe her children, and any other unfortunate waif who might be foisted upon her.
The last was a reference to Lorna herself, who had come to live with her aunt and uncle some ten years before. She, with her mother and father, had traveled from Georgia to Louisiana at her Uncle Sylvester's, her father's brother's, invitation. The plan had been for the two men to go into partnership in a new plantation of some three thousand acres that Sylvester Forrester had already bought. Their method of transportation had been by ship to New Orleans, where they had intended to put their household furnishings on a steamboat going upriver. But, as they were in the city, the largest in the South, they decided to spend a few days shopping and attending the theater. It was then that Lorna's parents had succumbed to cholera in one of those sudden deadly epidemics that sweep through seaport towns. In the confusion of that terrible time, with the hospitals, houses, and even the streets filled with the dead and dying, their money, the gold brought for investment, had disappeared. Whether it had been taken by the servants at their lodgings, the men who loaded the bodies onto the wagons for the trip to the cemetery, or merely by some of the scum who risked the ravaging disease to rob the stricken, was never discovered.
Instead of fresh capital to put his plantation on its feet, Uncle Sylvester had acquired funeral expenses and another mouth to feed, Lorna. The accusation of being an added burden had, from repetition, lost its power to wound, however. The most disturbing thing that had come from the conversation with her aunt had been the recognition that she must bear Franklin Bacon's children, that, indeed, an heir for Beau Repose was one of the most important reasons for a bride's being found for him. Unfit as he was to manage the large estate Nate Bacon had built, he could still sire a son to do the job. There was no other choice; Franklin was without brothers or sisters. His mother, Nate's wife, had been in ill health since he was born. Prostrated by the incident in her son's childhood when he had been kicked in the side of the head by his pony as he sought to beat it into submission, the accident that resulted in the loss of his mental powers, she had taken to her bed and not left it since.
Even knowing, as Lorna did, that Franklin's lack of intelligence was not an inherited condition, she could not conquer her revulsion at the thought of carrying his child inside her body. If the mere idea made her feel unwell, what would the reality be like?
"Mis'Lorna! Could you slow down, Mis' Lorna? I got to stop a minute!"
She reined in, looking back as her horse sidled, and drew up to where the Beau Repose groom had dismounted and was running his hand along the foreleg of his mount. The roan gelding whinnied, throwing up his head, his mane, and tail streaming in the rising wind.
"What is it?" she called.
"Fool horse shied at a rabbit just now, kicked a log on the side of the trail. I think he's gone and hurt himself."
Though not one of the family mounts, the horse was a good riding hack kept for guests and was stablemate to the mare Lorna rode. There could be no chances taken with his welfare.
"Is he limping?"
"Yes ma'am, just a bit," the elderly groom admitted, shaking his grizzled head.
Lorna hesitated, her brows, which were like dark brown wings, much darker than the pale gold of her hair, drawing together over her eyes. "You must return with the horse, I know, but I believe I will go on."
"I couldn't leave you, Mis' Lorna; it would be as much as my hide's worth, if I did. 'Sides, it's goin' to storm soon."
"I don't mind a little rain. And surely Mr. Bacon would not blame you if I go on alone?" The wind caught her words, flattening their sound.
"You don't know that man. He's not like the old master, M'sieur Cazenave. Masts' Bacon, he don't laugh. He's a hard man, mighty hard."
With a sigh, Lorna nodded. She could do nothing that would bring punishment down on the groom. That concern, allied to the convention that said she must not ride alone, was too much to combat. Still, she sat her horse with the trailing length of her riding skirt lifting and fluttering in the wind and her eyes narrowed against its growing force. The groom turned and began to lead the limping gelding back the way they had come. She looked beyond, down the bridle path that led back to Beau Repose, then swung to stare at the winding trail that lay ahead. As she glanced back, the groom paused, waiting.
"You go on," she called. "I'll ride just a little farther before I catch up to you."
"Don't go far, will you, Mis' Lorna? I tell you, it's goin' to rain!"
As if to add emphasis to his warning, there came a distant rumble of thunder. "Yes, yes," she cried over her shoulder as she set her heel to her mount's side. "I know!"
It was a useless impulse, of course. What could be gained by a few brief moments without supervision, without companions, without the somber knowledge of what awaited her? Regardless, pleasure in this solitude-broken only by the shrill call of a bird blown by the increasing wind, by the thrashing of branches overhead, and the echoing thuds of her own mount's hoof beats-ran with exhilaration in her veins. The wind whipped color into her cheeks and tossed the curling feather that lay along the brim of her hat. The gathering darkness had no power to alarm her; nor did the momentary flicker of lightning overhead. She wanted to ride on and on, to leave both her past and ugly, uncertain future behind and never return. Never, never, never.
Cold raindrops striking her face jerked her back to reality from that brief exultation. She drew rein, and her mare's effortless canter dropped to a walk. In a lull in the oncoming storm, she could hear the spatter of scattered rain against the crown of her hat and its quiet clatter among the leaves of the arching trees. She was not sure how far she had come, how long it had been since she had left the groom. She should be turning back. She would, definitely, in just a moment.
Lightning flashed, a silver stitching across the sky. Hard upon it came the shattering concussion of thunder almost directly above her. The wind rose in a keening surge. Her mount tried to rear, neighing in fright. As she fought for control, she heard the ominous splintering of wood; then, behind her there came the gathering crackle, the rattling, whistling roar of a falling tree.
It hit the ground with a mighty crash only yards away. The wafted air of its fall was filled with bits of bark that stung as they struck, and the smell of scorched leaves caught in her throat. Her horse bolted, surging forward along the path. Jerked backward, she was nearly unseated. Her riding crop flew from her hand as she grabbed for the saddle horn. Leaning forward against the wind of their swift passage, she gathered up the reins once more, but the mare did not respond. She had the bit in her teeth, and was running as if she would outdistance her terror, carrying Lorna farther away from Beau Repose.
It was only a few seconds before she was able to control the mare, but in that short span of time the bridle path came to an end, emerging onto a wagon track that, in turn, joined the river road. Mat great, winding stretch of water, swollen to near-flood level, lay before her as she pulled the mare in at last. Screened by the willows and the great oaks that overhung the road, the river was a gray and forbidding expanse in the gloom.
Then, as she scanned the open sky above the surging, rain-speckled flow, she saw it, the dragging curtain of the storm, sweeping toward her. It pounded the surface of the water to froth, set the trees to swaying wildly with its slashing onslaught, and took the last light from the sky. With a cold rush, the storm caught up with her, a wind-driven, icy torrent that carried the tiny, sharp blows of falling hail. The balls of ice peppered down, bouncing on the road, growing larger as they tore through the leaves of the branches around Lorna and pummeled her shoulders.
She had to find shelter. Her mount, already nervous, would not stand such punishment for long; nor could she. The trees that lined the road were little protection, but if she could push her way among them, deeper into the woods, they might serve.
It was then that she saw the house. It sat back from the road at the end of a drive lined with dark, thrashing sentinels of live oaks from which hung swaying tatters of Spanish moss. A gray ghost of a house, it showed no light, but sat four-square and solid, a mansion in what was called the West Indies style, two stories in height with a wide-hipped roof covering deep galleries that were supported by square brick columns on the lower floor, and white, turned colonettes on the upper. The design of the building was that favored by the Creole aristocracy along the river, those Louisiana descendants of French and Spanish colonists. Comfortable, built to make the best of a hot and damp climate, it was in sharp contrast to the Greek Revival splendor of such houses as Beau Repose, built by members of the English-speaking community. The Creoles were known for their hospitality; and, though it did not appear that the family was home, they would not mind, perhaps, if their servants took her in for a short time, until the storm passed.
As she dismounted before the front entrance, she saw what she would have recognized sooner in better light. The family would not be returning; the house was empty. The fan-lighted front door of the main living quarters, on the second floor, stood open. Shutters hung ajar at the windows, and the whitewashed plaster that covered the soft, handmade bricks was falling away in great mossy patches. Weeds and vines grew right up to the brick floor of the lower gallery, sprouting in the cracks, winding around the balusters of the outside stairs that mounted at an angle from under the gallery up to the second floor. The first floor, used as a raised basement for servants' quarters and the safekeeping of foodstuffs, had been taken over as a storage area for baled cotton.
There was no time for a closer inspection. Leading her mount, she stepped onto the dirty brick floor of the lower gallery. The rotted upper gallery would at least provide some protection from the driving hail, and there was little damage the animal could do that had not already been done. Looking around her, she saw a rusty iron loop set into the wall, once the support for a torch to light the entryway. It would serve admirably as a hitching ring.
When she had secured the mare's reins, Lorna stood quietly rubbing the horse's soft muzzle, watching the hail and rain. She thought of the groom somewhere back on the bridle path, and hoped that he had not been caught in the open. Soon, she would have to start back; she certainly did not want to get the man in trouble. But, perhaps he would wait for her if he were truly as frightened of Nate Bacon as he seemed.
What had the man meant when he spoke of the old master, M'sieur Cazenave? It had been a casual reference, as if he thought she should understand. Maybe she would have, if hers had been a normal betrothal, though it seemed unlikely a couple happy in their coming nuptials would spend their time speaking of the past owner of an elderly groom.
The hail slackened, stopped, but the rain still fell, splashing down from the leaden sky, falling in streams from the high roof, and spattering onto the floor of the lower gallery. It was wetting the hem of her habit, and the gusting wind made her shiver in the dampness. She glanced around in search of more shelter.
She pushed wider the door to the lower rooms of the house, peering inside, stepping gingerly over the threshold. Cotton bales, compressed cotton wrapped in gunny sacking, greeted her gaze. There was cotton everywhere, stacked to the low ceiling, bulwarks of white and brown that formed tunnel-like walkways leading into other rooms where, more cotton was packed bale upon bale, with a passage to a window left here and there for light. There was also an open space around a narrow closet door that concealed the sneak stair leading to the main floor.
What was it about an empty house that invited exploring? Was it the sense of the lingering imprint of other lives, the opportunity of satisfying the eternal human curiosity about the places where other people have lived and died, or merely the possibility of discarded treasure? Lorna did not know, but she could not resist the urge to climb the stairs. Though she placed her weight on each tread with care, they seemed sound enough.
The upper rooms were large and well-proportioned. Perhaps because of the time and effort it must have taken to bring any load up the outside stairway, they were only partially filled with cotton. There were plaster medallions of exquisite workmanship on the ceilings, and carved frieze work and moldings around the walls. Delicately colored wall hangings were still in place, faded, but serviceable. Though the rooms were empty of furniture, draperies heavy with dust hung at the windows, and on one door, there remained an unbroken china knob painted with faded roses and violets, as perfectly executed as any piece of art.
Thunder rumbled overhead and lightning flickered beyond the windows. Absorbed in the examination of her surroundings, Lorna scarcely noticed. She discovered a few spots of mildew, great swags of spider webs, the hard mud nests of dirtdobbers, and the yellow-brown circles of damp where the roof was leaking in the rain, and yet there seemed to be nothing particularly wrong with the house. Why, then, had it been deserted? Who would use such a fine home for the storing of cotton, when any barn or shed would have done just as well? It didn't make sense. Unless, perhaps, there had been a tragedy. It could happen sometimes, the death of whole families from some disease or malignant fever. With no heirs, no tenants, the vacant houses fell victims to decay and the relentless encroachment of nature, the ferns and weeds that grew on the wood-shingled roofs, the vines that strangled the galleries, the birds that found their way inside to build their nests in the elaborate ceiling medallions, or the raccoons and opossums who had their young behind the doors.
Copyright © 1984 by Patricia Maxwell
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Loved this book. History, romance, adventure, suspense,sex, Really keeps your attention. It is a very good read. I could Not put it down.