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About the Author
Award winning author, Meg Hennessy, lives with her husband in Wisconsin. Besides writing, spoiling her first grandson or pampering her horse, she enjoys backyard birding and admits to being a gardening addict. With her father born and raised on Mississippi's gulf coast, Meg grew up immersed in the culture of an old Southern family and writes with a strong Southern flavor. It was her sense of wonderment when visiting her grandmother's home as a child that now bubbles upward into her writing.
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Dark Secrets, Deep Bayous
A Secrets of the Bayous Novel
By Meg Hennessy, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Meg Hennessy
All rights reserved.
New Orleans, 1815
Warm milk to a kitten, that was the plan, or so her parents had said, but one hour to go and still no ... cat. Where was Jordan Kincaid?
Aurélie Fentonot looked away from the clock above the door of the Théâtre de St-Philippe. The ball was close to an end and her cat in disguise, Jordan Kincaid, had not yet arrived. Perhaps the man — who claimed not to want a wife — had cleverly slipped through her parents well-set marriage trap.
She drew a deep breath, gently fanning her face, desperate for a cool breeze. In spite of the fall night, the air had been stifling hot. Her lungs felt tight and stiff, refusing to reach out to an uncertain future. Though it had been nearly eleven years since the night she had heard the drums, her destiny was still to reclaim Yellow Sun.
After two years of being educated in Paris, her recent return to Louisiana had been timed to coincide with the Bal De Cordon Bleu, an elegant dance held in New Orleans, where wealthy Creole families introduced their daughters to white male society.
Unlawful to marry a woman of mixed blood, the arrangements were referred to as a plaçage, but more distinctly, it was an expensive contract for services as a mistress. The financial advantages of merging Liberty Oak with her father's plantation, Les Richesses du Bayou through a common heir were understood. Her family would gain politically as well, for Jordan Kincaid was a powerful man, a white man.
To Aurélie, a plaçage with Jordan Kincaid provided the only way to reclaim what had been stolen — Yellow Sun. If her experience as a child had been nothing more than an old man whispering tales, she might have forgotten about it as she grew older. But she had heard the drums, had felt the heartbeat in her hand, and had often wondered about the curse. How did it affect the Kincaid family?
Aurélie chewed on her lower lip, allowing her interest to migrate back to the lively ballroom, wondering about the absence of the American landowner. The smell of salty ocean waters weaved through the steamy night. Wall sconces and the overhead chandelier reflected off the highly polished floors and sprinkled a thin halo of light over the dancers.
A heavy scent of perfume wallowed in the damp air as prospective white protectors wooed the ladies of mixed blood. Draped in silks, jewels, and plumes, many of the women sipped wine and cordials while awaiting an invitation to dance, always under the watchful eye of their chaperone parents.
The men all wore masks for tonight's October masquerade dance, but the women, wanting to be coy, carried theirs daintily on sticks and seductively secreted their eyes. Aurélie's mask was of black, trimmed in sparkling gemstones with golden bobbles hanging from both sides.
Her dress clung to her damp skin as she adjusted the capped sleeve of her emerald satin-wool gown. Her long black hair, drawn around her head and plaited with silk ribbons, had been decorated with pearls. On her bosom hung a dainty locket, a special locket, filled not with the hair of a loved one or a painting of one's likeness, but with the speck of the soil entrusted to her care the night she had heard the drums.
"May I have this dance?" asked a thin American with reddish hair, cropped short and combed forward, in the latest fashion for men. Though his mask hid the remainder of his face, she recognized the American standing before her. He was a dreadful bore.
Aurélie scanned the room to catch her mother's eye for intervention but she was nowhere in sight. Neither was her father, who had been playing vingt-et-n most of the evening.
Her breath eased through her already strained lungs. With no other choice, Aurélie nodded and gave her hand to the waiting gentleman. As she did, she caught sight of another man who stood across the room. He was a tall man in a black mask, who casually leaned against the wall. When he gave her a slight nod of acknowledgment, she sensed he had been watching her for a while.
He was dressed in a black tailcoat that accentuated the broad width of his shoulders and his well-fitted tawny breeches made him appear tall and slender. Light falling from the chandeliers reflected off his polished Hessian boots and highlighted his shoulder-length, honey-colored hair. His mask hid most of his face but his dark eyes settled on her with a light feathery touch. Her mouth parted slightly as she moistened her lips and breathed slowly through them.
Could he be ... Jordan Kincaid?
She acknowledged the man's obvious interest with a polite nod of her head before shifting her attention to her gentleman partner. The redhead took her hand as he paraded her to the floor to join the other quadrille dancers.
The music began.
She bowed to her partner, but her gaze migrated beyond his shoulder to the man who leaned against the wall watching her. He again nodded and though he wore a black mask, she felt his gaze.
In spite of knowing the steps by memory, she stumbled once and fell offbeat. Her partner reached out to steady her, but her gaze still hovered on the mysterious man in black.
Aurélie's partner swung her to his right, promenading to the eighth step. They dipped in unison and glided across the floor. Over the heads of the dancers, the man watched from the shadows of his dark mask. She became emboldened. Raising her fan to her lips, she tapped lightly. He gave her a nearly invisible nod, having caught the message that even shocked herself. You may kiss me.
Aurélie closed her eyes, wishing she hadn't been so forward and not able to explain why she had. Her flirtation had not gone unnoticed by her American partner. The moment the music ended, he snapped his heels, bowed, and vacated the floor, leaving her alone.
She turned and watched as the mysterious man in black pushed away from the wall and walked toward her until his dark eyes met hers beneath the dim light. Her breath hung to the back of her throat making her fingers tingle. The beat of her heart nearly vanished as she stood ... waiting. Was he Jordan Kincaid?
"Mademoiselle." He bowed low before her, placing a warm touch to her wrist. "Perhaps this time, you honor me with a dance, oui?"
He spoke perfect French, a rarity at this ball. Soft little sensations fluttered along her spine with the sound of his rich, accented voice. He could not be Jordan Kincaid. Her prospective husband was an American.
As a woman with French blood and education, she liked the idea of marrying a Frenchmen; it would be a more perfect match than an American planter. Though she had been prepared as the daughter of one of the richest Creole families in Louisiana to be the woman for whom she had been bred and educated, she couldn't help the soft yearning of her heart to freely choose her own love.
The music again started with the orchestra playing an elegant dance, "Valse à Deux Temps." The stranger's warm touch melted around her arm. She nodded slightly to accept his invitation. "Oui, monsieur."
Once on the dance floor, he slid an arm around her waist and pulled her toward him. A tight gasp caught in her throat but he ignored it. The moist heat of his skin melted into her gloved palm, igniting a hot spark that soaked deeper inside of her until her entire body felt flushed. Soft sounds of music floated around her like a magical spell.
He pulled her closer, allowing the scandalous touch of their bodies in public and glissaded the two of them out onto the gallery ... away from the others.
She looked up at her new partner as he gently turned her to the music. The black silk mask that framed his dark eyes implied deception with a dash of danger. His rugged scent wafted through the heavy humid air of the night with a subtle hint of lavender oil that only gentlemen would wear. The evening's soft twilight surrounded them, crowned by the magical twinkle of the overhead stars.
Finally, she caught her breath, realizing how inappropriate it was to have left the ballroom unescorted. "Monsieur, I beg you, please return to the ballroom. My mère —"
"Your mère is detained," he whispered in that same low voice that rolled over her with the soothing sound of a French accent. "You like to dance, n'est ce pas?"
"Oui, Monsieur, but we are out here alone. It is most improper."
"Move with me, mon chérie."
The soft beat of the music and movement of his body lulled her back into the illusion. A soft moan rose from her throat as each beautiful note of magic whispered through her mind.
Aurélie closed her eyes, allowing her hands to glide along the solid muscles of his arms, exploring the top of his shoulders. Enjoying her daring adventure, she looked up at him, parting her lips, willing him to kiss her, relishing the pure recklessness of it. Her spirit, normally, smothered beneath propriety, fluttered to life.
He took her invitation without hesitation.
His lips were soft and warm as he lightly brushed her mouth with his until the kiss became complete. So penetrating was the heat of his touch, her breath vanished, leaving her feeling faint as if her body had melted into an elixir and drained through his fingers. Being held aloft in the strength of his arms, her knees caved and her legs nearly curled beneath her as her spirit took flight.
Incoherent thoughts of Yellow Sun swirled inside her head, battling the strange awakening that stirred within her heart. She pushed his arms away, taking in a deep breath to clear her head of the dreamy illusions.
Who was he?
He stepped back. "Pardonnez moi, mademoiselle. I have overstepped, n'est-ce pas?"
"Oui." She kept her breathing controlled in spite of her desire to experience such a kiss again. Releasing the tension from her lungs, she reeled in her heart and reset her sights on the prize, Liberty Oak. "Oui, monsieur. You have presumed."
"I offer my apologies," he said in French. Seeming to have caught her yearning tone, he added, "What is it you wish for with such a sigh? A real marriage, n'est pas?"
"Of certain, monsieur, I'd prefer a real marriage, a man of mixed blood —" She sucked in her breath, realizing her error, for the night's purpose was for her to land a white protector. The lump in her throat sank heavily to her stomach. She brushed her hand across her middle, trying to ease the sudden pain of knowing she'd never have such a choice.
"Monsieur —" Moisture flooded her eyes, she blinked the emotion away. "Monsieur, me pardonner, I misspeak."
"I think not, mademoiselle," he said in a soft voice that carried a note of regret. He bowed stiffly from the waist. "For the dance, merci."
"Aurélie!" Her mother stood in the archway of the gallery and from her expression, she was a very angry mère. Aurélie instinctively glanced around her mother, hoping Monsieur Kincaid had not witnessed her indiscretion with the French man.
Her mother rushed out to meet her, whispering in French, "I looked everywhere for you."
"Me pardonner, I was with monsieur —" Aurélie turned to introduce her masked stranger but he had disappeared. "He was here —"
"He took the stairs to the street. But of no matter, your père has given his word for a most profitable match." Her mother took Aurélie's hand and led her back under the twinkling candlelight of the ballroom, which no longer held the same mysteries, as all the illusions had faded. "We have success, mon choux, Jordan Kincaid."
"He was here? I see him, non?"
"Not here, non. He sent his solicitor to make the arrangements. A much-profitable plaçage, oui?"
Her mother's jubilation was understandable. Aurélie only wished she felt the same, but the stranger's kiss — the sweet taste of freedom — still lingered on her lips, unraveling her dutiful daughter facade and blurring her memory of the night of the drums.
In spite of her family's victory in snaring the American planter, Aurélie drew a sharp breath meant to clear her head and purge her heart of lingering emotions. There were no courts to rule, no deeds to argue, no property rights to debate, only her faith in her ability to right a wrong. Chosen by her ancestral spirits to hear the drums, she had to reclaim the land before it died, even if that meant she must sell herself to the very man who had stolen it.CHAPTER 2
"I have on my special dress, Papa, to meet my new mother." A small voice interrupted Jordan's thoughts. "Do you think she will like it?"
Jordan Kincaid turned and saw his little girl beaming up at him with a smile that scrunched her chubby cheeks. Long blond ringlets that only ribbons held in check, parted over her shoulders. The pure spirit and image of her deceased mother, little Maisie curtsied.
A knot formed in his throat, seeing his daughter's excitement over the impending plaçage to Miss Aurélie Fentonot. A slight twinge surrounded his heart, a tug of uncertainty about his contract with the woman. Would bringing her here cause Maisie more heartbreak? For this marriage was nothing more than a convenience to an end, a fraud.
"She is our guest, Maisie. Who spoke to you of a new mother?"
"Mama did. ..."
He halted in tying his cravat, watching as Maisie spun around, enjoying her fancy dress. His wife had died shortly after Maisie's third birthday. But at the tender age of six, Maisie would often speak of conversations with her mother and had remarkable knowledge of things that only her mother could have told her. Putting that disturbing thought to the back of his mind, he nodded. "Your dress is pretty. Why would Miss Aurélie not like it?"
"Will she like me? She will like me, right, Papa?"
"What is not to like?" He bent down to be eye level with Maisie and lightly brushed her curls aside, wishing he could magically make her world beautiful. "You are perfect as you are. Miss Aurélie will like you."
Maisie smiled and again spun around, unraveling the ribbon in her hair. "I know I will like her, right, Papa?"
"Most likely. Go find Hattie and she'll get you ready."
"Yes, Papa." Maisie dipped at her knees before leaving his room. The heels of her laced boots clicked against the hard wooden floor, reminding Jordan of how quickly she was growing, how much time had passed, how much time had been lost in his quest.
Straightening his cravat in the smoky mirror, he squinted to see his reflection in the dimly lit room, not liking who he saw looking back at him, the fake gentleman planter. He smoothed his hair into a queue and tied it off. Tonight he'd meet Mademoiselle Aurélie Fentonot, at least formally. The marriage pact had been decided three weeks ago at the Bal De Cordon Bleu.
He unraveled the cravat and started again.
Bringing a woman into the house truly complicated his life. He didn't want a wife, not even a mistress. He had too much to hide.
His sister's abduction at sea, three years ago, had changed their lives. His father had searched for Colette, exposing himself to pirates, and had been killed for his efforts, found dead in Port au Prince. But one clue about Colette had been left behind, hidden within the lining of his valise. Her medallion. Colette had been wearing it the night she was taken.
So where was Colette? And why after three years of searching had they come up empty-handed? If it had not been for the medallion, Jordan might have given up the quest, have given up hope of ever finding her, but three years later, the medallion had suddenly surfaced. It meant something and that something might have cost his father his life. It was then that Jordan and his younger brother, Loul, had made their decision to finish what his father had started.
Find their sister.
Wanting to keep their identity secret and not meet their father's fate, he and his brother had donned masks, stolen a ship, renamed her Le Vengeur for vengeance, and had plunged into the world of piracy.
Excerpted from Dark Secrets, Deep Bayous by Meg Hennessy, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2014 Meg Hennessy. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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