The Civil War has ended, leaving the country with a gaping wound. Lorie Blake, a southern orphan sold into prostitution at fifteen, has carefully guarded her aching soul from the disgrace forced upon her every evening. Two years have passed, leaving her with little hope of anything more. Meanwhile, three men – longtime friends – and a young boy with a heart of gold are traveling northward, planning to rebuild their lives in the north and leave behind the horrors of their time as soldiers in the Confederate Army. Fate, however, has plans of its own, causing their lives to collide in a river town whorehouse. Forced to flee, Lorie escapes and joins them on the journey north. But danger stalks them all in the form of a vindictive whorehouse madam and an ex-Union soldier, insane and bent on exacting revenge. At last, Lorie must come to terms with her past and devastating secrets that she cannot yet bear to reveal. Heart of a Dove is the first book in a gripping, sweeping romantic saga of pain, unbearable choices, loss and true love set against the backdrop of a scarred, post-Civil War America.
About the Author
Abbie Williams has been addicted to love stories ever since first sneaking her mother's copy of The Flame and the Flower. An avid lover of language, history and women's studies, when she isn't writing, teaching, or taking care of her busy family, you can find her hanging out on the dock, listening to some good bluegrass music.
Read an Excerpt
Heart of a Dove
By Abbie Williams
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Abbie Williams
All rights reserved.
Decorum. Of all the lessons my mother imparted upon me, of all the ways she attempted to educate me, from the spiritual to the practical, to classical history and a Shakespearean sonnet or two, this is the word that flashes into my mind when I think of her. This word in a vivid slice of memory. Still I am able to hear her low, melodic voice with its hint of Charleston society, of which nearly two decades in rural Tennessee was never quite able to rob her.
"Synonyms, Lorissa," she reminded and I chewed my thumbnail in concentration before Mama's right eyebrow lifted just a fraction. Immediately I resettled my hands onto my lap, my shoulders squaring. How I hated the summer lessons Mama prepared so diligently. I longed to be out under the sun, with my brothers.
"Decorum," I recited clearly and dutifully. "Synonyms include: modesty, restraint, respectability, correctness, etiquette, demureness."
"Good behavior," Mama declared to conclude, beaming at me. Her eyes were green as the stalks of Kentucky bluegrass in full splendor outside our home. "Well done."
When my heart aches enough that I am unable to bear it, when the memories of my old life come crackling up beneath the ash pile under which I deeply buried them years ago, a flame that refuses total annihilation despite my most agonized effort, this is the vignette that I allow myself to recall:
Afternoon drifting in a lazy fashion towards evening, the long-slanting sunbeams of late spring bisecting the yard outside the wide, gleaming front windows. My two older brothers were hanging on the fence, watching as my father rode his newest acquisition, a lovely blood-bay mare, in a controlled walk around the inner rim of the corral.
In our parlor, Mama closed the copy of Roget's Thesaurus she had been using for my lesson and her eyes followed the direction of mine; I was gazing with ill-disguised envy at the activity outside. She allowed, "Enough for today. Why don't you join them?"
I bounded to my feet at once. Mama called after me, "Don't scamper, Lorissa!" but the screen door clacked behind me as I dashed to the corral and climbed up three beams, enough to allow my forearms to line the top-most board, just like the men. Not for the first time I wished I was a boy.
"She's a beauty," murmured my brother Dalton, his elbows hooked over the fence, wide-brimmed hat settled low over his eyes, reminiscent of our father. Dalton was the eldest at sixteen.
"Daddy said she'll be mine," Jesse, a year younger, added. His tone was tinged with awe. I worshiped my brothers, who were lean and lanky and had a bond between them over which I was unfailingly jealous. Both of them had Daddy's curly auburn hair and his eyes, tinted the blue of the gentian salvia that grew in profusion amongst the flower beds on the south side of our house.
"What will you name her?" I asked him, watching as our father halted the mare with a controlled tug. With practiced motions, he shifted his hips and knees, using both hands on the reins, and she lifted her hooves with grace, quick-stepping in a tight circle before resuming her brisk walk in the opposite direction. Our father knew more about horses than anyone in Cumberland County. Likely the entire state of Tennessee.
"I want to ride her before I decide," Jesse said, not removing his reverent eyes from the mare. Her mane and long, proud tail were ebony, as were the bottom joints of her high-stepping legs. The rest of her hide gleamed rust-red in the dying day's sunlight. She tossed her head with a snort as our father came near, halting just before the three of us on the fence.
"What's your opinion, darlin'?" my father asked, peering at me from beneath his gray hat, low-crowned and wide-brimmed, as he favored.
"She's lovely, Daddy," I said. "I wish she was to be mine."
My father laughed, releasing the leather straps in his gloved hands to lift his hat and run the back of one wrist over his forehead.
"When you're fourteen, Lorie," he promised again. "Just like your brothers."
"I know, Daddy," I responded at once.
How could he have known that by my fourteenth birthday he would be dead, killed in far-off Virginia during the battle of Cold Harbor? Both Dalton and Jesse would be long dead by then too, slain at Sharpsburg, like so many of our fellow Tennesseans.
What would my mother have to say if I could hear her voice today? If from some heavenly plane she had the ability to peer downward upon the earth she'd left behind, into the little room that was mine in my seventeenth year? She had wanted so much for me to be a lady. It pained me almost more to imagine my father possessing the same power, able to see what his daughter, his Lorie, had become. Some nights over two dozen men jerked their hips over mine and spilled their seed within my body. Men from all walks of life, but men just the same, with one desire in mind.
I imagined the thesaurus open over my mother's lap, her extended index finger skimming over the page until she found a suitable word.
"Survival, Lorissa," she'd direct.
And dutifully I'd respond, "Survival. Synonyms include: endurance, continued existence, outlasting, subsisting."
"Carrying on," she would say to conclude, her clear green eyes with the expression of tenderness that becomes almost tangible in my memory. As though tenderness is an entity around which I can curl my fingers and cling, never to let go, rather than a heart-wrenching abstraction that tortures me if I'm not on guard.
Occasionally a man caresses my cheek, kisses me as though I mean something more than an average of seven minutes' worth of gold dust from the pouch anchored to his trousers. I am often told I am beautiful; I hear the words 'I love you' more than once a night, to be truthful. I long ago learned that it is common for men to utter this phrase during the act, eyes tightly closed, though it's anyone's guess to whom they are actually referring. Certainly not a prostitute who calls herself Lila.
Ginny forced me to change my name upon entering into her employ. I had been three months into my fifteenth year, no longer cloaked in the numbness of disbelief, though still entrenched in horror and stupefied shock at the death of my mother and subsequently the last living member of my family. Mama had succumbed to fever and chills two days past my birthday, in July of 1865, leaving me utterly alone. Our ranch hands had long since vanished, most to make a stand for the Confederacy, our proud corrals and stables empty but for the aging mare that drew our buggy into town. There was, quite literally, no one left.
Was that an excuse? God knew I often tortured myself in the early morning hours with that very question, after my final customer of the night had donned his clothes and exited my room. Just one day after Mama's death, a neighboring family, the Judsons, had assisted me with her burial. And so began the time during which I was cast about like a bad penny. Mrs. Judson, a sharp-eyed woman with seven of her own children, assured me that I was welcome in their home until arrangements could be made; I had no idea to what arrangements she was referring, near ill with loss and terror and the depths of my aloneness. I remained in their home for a fortnight. Near to August, Mrs. Judson informed me that I would be joining her brother and his wife, along with their three children, as they ventured northwest on a journey to join his wife's family in St. Louis, Missouri. Her brother's wife was sickly, she said, and needed the help.
For weeks, I accompanied Mrs. Judson's brother and his family, the Fosters, in their canvas-topped wagon as it rolled northwest. Mrs. Foster, Annelle had been her name, was kind to me, and I assisted her daily and nightly caring for the children, who ranged in age from five years to four months. Mr. Foster preferred to disregard my presence when his wife was near, though I felt a twisting in my gut at the way his eyes followed me intently when she was not. Mrs. Foster, who spit blood into her countless linen handkerchiefs, died before we'd reached our destination, only miles from St. Louis. Mr. Foster managed to bury her and subsequently get us into town before determining my fate. I'd been sick with unease at what Mr. Foster would choose to do with me; it turned out he struck a deal without my knowledge, after a night of drinking and gambling while I waited in the wagon with his children.
And that was how, in October of 1865, a fifteen year old girl once named Lorissa became an employee at Ginny Hossiter's whore house.CHAPTER 2
"Goddammit, I told you I didn't have time to show her around," grumbled the woman who had been roused from her bed, though it was well past the noon hour. She wore a rose-pink robe with gold embroidery, though it was frayed at the hem and belted loosely over her naked body. Her breasts wobbled beneath, unrestrained by any corset, and her legs were bare from the knee down. I was so shocked I hardly knew where to let my eyes rest. She looked at me with undiluted annoyance, lips cinched up like the drawstrings of a purse, and demanded, "Girl, what's your name?"
I opened my mouth to speak but found that I could not force a sound past the lump of fear. As her eyes narrowed, I cleared my throat in a hurry and responded, "Lorissa, ma'am."
"Oh, 'ma'am' is it?" And then she laughed deep in her throat, leaning back.
The man who had escorted me up the staircase spoke with sharp impatience, saying, "Ginny wants her acquainted with the place, Jola. That's what she told me, and you been here longest."
The woman named Jola shuddered lightly and said, "Don't remind me. Jesus, how did I get so lucky? Well, come on, girl, let's show you around the place."
The man sighed with palpable relief and I watched his back bounce as he descended the stairs to the ground level, before I let my eyes move cautiously back to the woman. Jola studied at me a bit more closely then, her eyes censuring. I held in a frightened breath and forced myself to remain still as her gaze swept over me from hat to hemline. She said, "Ginny'll get her money's worth with you, girl. You're a lovely little thing. How'd you end up here? Where's your family?"
Too many questions for my muddled mind; I managed, "Passed, ma'am," and then she nodded in a knowing fashion.
"So many have," she said, and I sensed that was as near to empathy as she would manage. "How old are you?"
"Fifteen," I whispered. Terror rose swiftly in my chest, and the sharp edges of sobs, but I sensed deeply I could not allow myself to lose composure.
"Same age as I was when I started here," she said. And then, "You been with a man? You haven't the look of it about you."
I shook my head. My heart was thrusting so violently that I was certain that I may very well die at her feet, here in the upper hallway of this place. Her mouth drew in again, as though she was attempting to pick up an apple seed with her lips. She tightened the belt on her robe and said, "Well, never mind that now. Come along, I'll show you to your room."
She led me past three closed doors to a miniscule room on the left side of the hall, where the door gaped open. I followed, clutching my valise. The space was dominated by a stripped bed, brass-framed, with ornate designs of roses on the posts. There was a small chest of drawers topped by an oval mirror in a wooden frame, a straight-backed chair, a dressing screen painted with peacocks, a coat rack, nothing more. No carpet to warm the bare plank floor. A single window faced west and allowed a splash of sunlight to spill across the bed; gauzy white curtains were drawn to the bustle of the day outside.
"Betsy will get this made for you directly," Jola said, indicating the bed. "And I'm supposing you haven't a thing suitable to wear. Well, the girls will have to outfit you." She stepped closer, reached and touched my hair with familiarity, again prompting my desire to cringe away. But I stood still and allowed her touch. She smoothed a strand back into my braid, trailing her fingertips over my chin, turning me to face the light. "You're angel-faced, girl. The men'll be fighting over you. Where you'd get eyes so blue-green?"
Footsteps were clicking down the hall, authoritatively. Moments later Ginny Hossiter was framed in the doorway, dressed in a full-skirted gown of emerald satin, with paste-brilliants decorating the bodice and emphasizing her considerable cleavage. Her dark hair was arranged into a coronet atop her head, further adorned with brilliants and a single peacock feather. I would not have been able to accurately guess her age; she could have been anywhere between thirty and fifty, so heavily made-up that it was impossible to discern. As they had when I was first introduced to her scarce a half hour past, her dark eyes caused my stomach to ache with fear.
She said, "This will be your room from now on." And then, again shocking me, though I should have been well beyond feeling so by now, "When did you last bleed, girl?"
I gulped, palms sweaty on the handle of my valise. I thought back desperately and then said, "Two weeks past, ma'am."
Jola laughed, dropping her hands from my face. She muttered, "'Ma'am' it is then. I could get used to that."
"Shut your mouth," Ginny snapped and Jola did so, but sullenly. Jola was perhaps ten years older than me and had likely once been quite pretty; though now her face was pinched somehow, her eyes hard as flint. Ginny went on, "Good, that's perfect timing. What is your name? I don't recall."
My vision slicked to a pinpoint, making me want to reel forward. With effort I remained upright and said, "Lorissa Blake, ma'am."
Ginny raked her eyes over me and then said decisively, "Your name will be Lila, as of today. That's a proper name for a whore, and it suits you. You've a face that will make me money." She smoothed her hands over the satin belly of her gown and then swished into the room, taking me by the elbow and turning me in a slow circle. "I was assured of your virginity, is that right?" Her eyes dared me to contradict this question.
"That's right," I whispered, my throat tight. I felt as though a giant fist was closing slowly over my windpipe and, not for the first time since Mama's death, longed for my own. How would I possibly do what would be demanded here of me? I would likely die anyway, from the shame and horror.
"That'll fetch a proper pot of gold," she said, and her lips slid back over her teeth in what I knew was meant to be a smile. Growing quite businesslike, she added, "You are entitled to a percentage of everything you earn for me. I don't expect service for nothing, you know. You'll be allowed three meals a day, laundry, bathing. My house is clean, my girls are clean. I won't stand for otherwise. I don't stand for the Frenchy sex here, either. Men can go elsewhere for that sort of thing. Otherwise you do exactly what they want, you understand? Most of them men don't last long, isn't that right, Jola?"
Jola nodded in affirmation, picking at something in her front teeth. She contributed, "And most are so happy to be getting their peckers soaked they won't mistreat you, Lila. And Horace is here if anyone turns ugly on you. Don't happen often, though."
I nodded. My chest was aching, as though I'd been dealt a severe blow there.
"When you bleed, you get them days free," Jola continued. "We all take our turns. When you bleed, you're in charge of hanging out laundry. Betsy will leave the butter douche for you to use every morning otherwise."
"The what?" I faltered, stomach lurching, and I was certain that if Jim Foster were before me in this moment, and I was fortunate enough to possess a sharp knife, I would sink its entire length into his right eye, with no regrets. Never before had such a violent notion crossed my mind.
"It's how we avoid getting caught," Jola said impatiently. "Ain't none of us wants a child, believe me. After each trick, you squat over the bowl and use your fingers to clean yourself out. Got a mixture of potash salts and vinegar in the butter, cleans out their seeds right quick."
Please, God, take me from here. Mama, oh God, Mama, help me.
Somehow, even then, I sensed no prayers were answered here. Again I could only nod, weakly.
Ginny flicked her skirts and addressed Jola. "You see that she gets outfitted today. I want her looking like a doll tonight. Damnation, it's Saturday and we'll draw a crowd with our new peach." Her eyes came back to me and she added, "We'll make them bid for you, doll."
And she disappeared.
Jola joined me on the mattress and affected an air of concern as she said, "Don't worry, honey, you'll be all right. It takes some time. But you'll get the hang of it." She looked up then, as a new figure appeared in the doorway. "Afternoon, Deirdre, this here is Lila, Ginny's new girl."
The new woman stepped into the room and considered me. She too was clad in a dressing gown, though hers was a creamy yellow, with blue forget-me-nots trailing over its length. She was winsome, pale as milk and certainly younger than Jola, with long black hair and eyes as big as a doe's in a narrow white face. She said, "Pleased to meet you, Lila."
Excerpted from Heart of a Dove by Abbie Williams. Copyright © 2014 Abbie Williams. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings An epic story that starts right as the Civil War is ending and animosity is still in the air. Lorie has lost her entire family and at a young age is sold to a whorehouse where she learns to be very independent at a very young age. As soon as she thinks that this will be the rest of her life something drastic happens that takes her on a different sort of journey. When Lorie was in the whorehouse, I had a hard time reading because it felt so real. I appreciated the authenticity, but it really was hard to read. As I had read the synopsis I knew she was going to leave and I found myself hoping page after page that she would get rescued and I loved how it happened - right out of the blue!
Heart of a Dove is a historical but romantic telling of life after the Civil War, yet it is so much more than that. After the Civil War ended there was a generation of men returning to homes that were either no longer there or had been irreparably changed by the war and life. Many families had to deal with life after their brothers, sons, fathers, uncles and others had given their lives to a cause that was unrealized. Many of these families fought for something nobler than the ability to hold slaves, in fact many of those on the losing side did not believe in slavery but in other things that were at stake. While the men were away at war, life for the women was no better and sometimes so much worse. This is the world author Abbie Williams takes us to. It could and often was a brutal and barbaric time for those unable to defend themselves. However, even in this time, love finds a way to bloom and grow. I don’t want to spoil this marvelous tale for you by giving you too much detail, so let me just give you the circumstances of interest. A lovely Tennessee girl of very good family is left orphaned and in the care of neighbors, who did not care. Her life was a living hell… When all seems lost enter three men traveling to a new home in the West. Three handsome strong and honorable men, who found something in common, her father. One takes her into his care and promises to honor and care for her. She travels west with them and one twelve year old boy, who she begins to love like she did her brothers who died. While traveling, she falls in love with one of the younger men, and he with her. There is a small touch of the fey in this relationship. They seem to be fated to be together. The man who offered to take care of her is also in love with her. The third man, loves his friends and wants her happiness like a sister. A small touch of the fea, in that the lovers can feel and hear each others thoughts and know when one is in danger...interesting. Okay, that’s the setup and I’ve purposefully left out the incredible details. To give away more would dampen the wonderful descriptive narrative of this marvelous tale. Ms. Williams’ writing flows smoothly, actually making you feel the emotions, terror, and despair as well as the beauty and love fighting for survival. The only criticism I can offer is that she may have tried too hard to convince me of the couple’s overwhelming love…I got it right away. This did not distract from the story for me. Can the situation be worked out, or will this tear the three friends apart forever? How this story and fate contrive to make this all come about is a marvelous display of storytelling, one which I’m looking forward to seeing again in the next installment of tales by this wonderful new (at least for me) author. Grab you favorite treats, some tissues, something soft you can pound things with…LOL. Enjoy this great story. I certainly did. Copy supplied by author.
I simply cannot wait to see how this book is received by readers! I was fortunate to receive an ARC from the author for an honest (and entirely unsolicited by the author) review I planned to write for a local magazine. I had hoped for an interesting read, but I had not expected to love this book. And oh boy did I love this book! In fact, I’d say it’s among the top 10 books I’ve read in all of 2014. Heart of a Dove is a beautifully written novel about a young woman who, orphaned in the days following the Civil War, is sold into the slavery of prostitution at the tender age of 15. She is eventually rescued by a former Confederate solider - a customer - who realizes that he had known her family in the days before the war. His Southern honor will not allow him to leave her behind, and together with two other men and a young boy, they begin their trek by wagon train toward a new life in Minnesota. With the “feel” of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Abbie Williams brings the sights, sounds and hardships of the wagon train to life through the eyes of its main character, Lorie - an educated young woman, gently born and raised, who finds herself trapped in the life of a prostitute in order to survive. Through Lorie, we are reminded of the inner strength we all have deep inside that can see us through the most desperate of times, and the healing that is found through unconditional love and acceptance. Heart of a Dove is a story about love, but not simply the romantic love between a man and a woman. It is, instead, the story about the love found through friendship; and it challenges the notion that family is defined strictly by genetic ties. Instead, it reminds us that family can be chosen through strong friendships and trust, and sometimes those ties are stronger than the families we are born into. This book is the first in a trilogy, but not the “cheater trilogy” where the author leaves you hanging with a cliffhanger until her next installment. Instead, this book ends at a comfortable place where the reader can choose to continue reading or not. As for me, I loved these characters so much that I want to know more about them and can’t wait to continue reading.
Historical fiction is not always my favorite genre but I do seem to be finding more and more great reads in this area. Heart of a Dove is definitely a great read. The setting was great. I loved the whore house, the farm lands, and the trails. Abbie Williams had such great detail that I could actually picture the scenes happening and envision what Lorie was seeing. Lorie was a very relatable character. She was dealt a bad hand in life and somehow managed to handle it and even come up on top many times. Even with living in a whore house, not by choice, she was able to keep her kindness and her hopes about her. When life got down and she felt the need to not go on, she managed to find something to live for and continue on with her life. Then she finally escapes the whore house and I knew that her life would end up being okay. I will not share how her life ends up, it my favorite part though. I definitely recommend reading Heart of a Dove and look forward to the rest of this series.