|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.73(d)|
About the Author
Dubbed "the steel magnolia of women’s fiction," Jennifer Blake has written more than seventy books, including Shameless, Royal Seduction, and Garden of Scandal. A charter member of Romance Writers of America, she has been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame and is the recipient of the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. Her novels have been translated into twenty three languages and sold more than 35 million copies worldwide.
Read an Excerpt
The Mississippi river flowed wide and deep, rippling gently with its current, reflecting the pale light of the quarter moon with a dancing silver sheen. The water gurgled around the edges of the flatboat that rode high on its flood. It tugged at the heavy craft so that it strained against its mooring ropes, nudging the levee with a slow and regular rhythm. The motion lulled Cyrene Marie Estelle Nolté where she sat on a low stool with her back to the unpeeled logs of the flatboat's cabin. She yawned and settled deeper into the quilt she had wrapped around her against the damp chill of the night.
A low laugh sounded from somewhere on her right. The moonlight caught a faint golden gleam from the thick braid trailing over her shoulder as she turned her head. A quick grin tilted one corner of her mouth. Gaston was at it again. What a satyr he was becoming, forever chasing after women. Not that the one he was talking to there in the tree shadows minded being caught, for the right price. The question was, Did Gaston have the fee? Livres were not particularly plentiful just now.
It appeared that he had struck a bargain of some kind; he was leading his light-o'-love toward the rear of the pothouse where the woman had her accommodations, just down the muddy track beyond the levee. It was not unknown, of course, for Gaston to trade on ready compliments, his engaging smile, and the promise in his brawny shoulders to win a woman's favors. He was a charming rascal.
But he would be lucky indeed if he was able to charm his way out of the trouble he would be in if his father and his uncle were to catch him away from his post. It was Gaston's turn as her guard, and Pierreand Jean Breton did not brook dereliction or excuses. Not that the two older men were so far away themselves, any more than they ever were. They had gone to the pothouse for a drink or two and a few hands of faro.
From the flatboat, which was riding on the flood behind the embankment of the levee as if it were on a high road, Cyrene could just see the pothouse with the track of the river road like a pale ribbon before it. The bulk of the building was dark except for the stray gleams around the shuttered windows and the occasional long yellow shaft that was flung into the darkness as the door opened and closed with the coming and going of customers. Beyond it, through the trees to the left, the rooftops of New Orleans made a jumbled pattern of moonlit and shadowed squares and angles. To the right and behind the pothouse lay the swamp, a dark, far-reaching stretch of uncleared land with trees so big that it took four men to reach around them, strange and too-luxuriant plants, green-scummed water, and a singing silence in which lived vicious insects and slithering creatures.
The night was black, the hour late. Cyrene was alone, a fact she realized with dawning amazement. She was not afraid, any more than she feared the river or the swampland beyond. What she felt was sudden joy. Alone. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, savoring the rare experience. She was alone.
It was not that Cyrene didn't appreciate the reasons for the close watch kept over her; she knew well enough the dangers of the riverfront, especially for an unattached female. Still, there were times when the constant surveillance kept on her made her want to do something desperate, to slip away and go sauntering through the streets in her lowest-cut bodice, to take the pirogue tied to the flatboat and paddle away down the river--anything to gain some sense of freedom. How long had it been since she had felt truly free, when she had been without one of the Bretons at her elbow? It must have been years. The best part of three years.
They had done their best, Pierre and Jean Breton and Jean's son Gaston. It had not been easy, having a young woman thrown among them. No one had thought, when the Bretons had taken Cyrene and her parents in after they had stumbled off the vessel from France shaking with ship's fever, that it would be so long. But first her mother had died of the illness, then her father had sought to lose his sorrow and shame for their exile because of his debts in drink and gambling. There never seemed to be enough money for other lodgings, or else the time was never right to shift their place of abode. Her father's evening hours were spent staggering from one gambling den to another with friends, if such they could be called; friends who were as indigent as he and as full of wild schemes for easy riches and a glorious return to France. His daylight hours were devoted to sleeping off the excesses of the night before.
Cyrene had seen little of him, hardly more than she had as a child in France when her days had been spent in the company of her nursemaid and governess. It mattered little; she and her father had never been close. She had hardly mourned at all when he had disappeared one night nearly a month before. It was assumed that he had missed his step and fallen overboard on his return to the flatboat, since his friends had seen him winding that way. His body had not been recovered, though that was not unusual. Few men were found once they vanished beneath the rippling surface of the river. The Mississippi had a habit of keeping its dead.
Cyrene had remained with the Bretons. She earned her way by helping with the cooking and laundry and by keeping the account books in which the trading transactions of the two brothers were set down. The latter was something she was good at, something she enjoyed nearly as much as the trading itself: the give and take of bargaining, the challenge of turning a profit. Her father had said that she had a bourgeois soul like her grandfather, her mother's father who had been a respected and wealthy merchant from Le Havre. She could not deny it.
Life on the river suited her also. She liked dressing as she pleased: going without a coif, or cap; wearing her hair braided down the back of her head; and rolling the sleeves of her chemise to her elbows like an Indian woman or a peasant. She loved the smell and the movement and the ever-changing face of the great waterway. She did not think she could sleep, now, without the rocking of the flatboat to lull her. Nor could she envision living without the convenience of a constant source of water flowing past the doorway, water that did not have to be drawn laboriously from a well, water that swiftly bore away even the worst accumulation of slop and garbage.
Cyrene allowed her gaze to drift over the river and along the levee toward the wide crescent bend that swept around the town. She stiffened, sitting erect. There was movement in that direction, in the shadows just beyond the pothouse. Two men were emerging from the trees. Though indistinct in the pale moonlight and distance, they appeared to be carrying a cumbersome burden. Portions of it flopped and dragged as they struggled up the slope of the levee. There could be little doubt that it was the body of a man, and even less of what the two men meant to do with it.
Cyrene got to her feet, shrugging the quilt from her shoulders so that it crumpled to the stool. She flung her long braid back over her shoulder and, with her hands on her hips, stepped to the front of the flatboat. The night wind caught the fullness of her rough skirt, flapping it about her bare ankles, and molded the sleeves of her chemise to her arms. She ignored the chill, narrowing her eyes as she stared into the glimmering darkness.
The pair wrestled the dead man over the top of the levee, slipping in the mud, then gave the body a slow swing back and forth. At the top of the final swing, they heaved. The body arched out over the water, turning slowly. There was a glint of silver, then it struck the surface with a great splash. Water rose in a sparkling fountain, cascading, faintly splattering, closing over the long, lean shape. There was a quiet moment, then the body rose, gently bobbing to the top as it began to move downstream toward the flatboat. The two men swung away from the river, then strode away, leaping back down the levee in the direction from which they had come.
Cyrene did not hesitate. Her face alight with purpose, she whirled and ran toward the pirogue at the flatboat's stern. The flash of silver she had caught meant one of two things. It had come either from a piece of jewelry or else from silver lace, the ornamental braiding on a man's coat, probably a gentleman's justaucorps. It was unusual in the extreme for a body to be disposed of without having had the valuables and clothing removed. She did not actually hope for jewels, but she would be glad of the coat. Garments of any kind were costly since they had to be imported from France--there was a royal edict against spinning and weaving in the colonies of New France and Louisiane--but anything with gold or silver lace was dear indeed. A man's coat with such decoration was worth well above a hundred livres even secondhand.
It would not be Cyrene's first experience with a "floater," as the bodies disposed of in the river were called. Pierre and Jean Breton, as well as being traders, were good voyageurs bred and trained in New France, which was located far to the north. They hated waste and dearly loved to get something for nothing. They were forever pulling things from the river, from logs and broken crates for use as firewood to kegs of sour wine and wads of tangled rope. There had been at least five bodies in the past three years that they had hauled aboard the flatboat to strip, throwing Cyrene the clothing to launder and also to mend where violence had been done to it in dispatching the victim. But even they had never retrieved a coat with silver lace.
Cyrene kept her eye on the floating body as she stepped into the pirogue and pushed away from the flatboat. Taking up the paddle that lay in the bottom, she pulled toward the long dark shape on the shining river's surface. The current was faster than she had thought it would be in its winter flood stage; the body was racing down toward her, rolling slightly in the swift current.
She dug in her paddle, sending the pirogue shooting forward to intercept that black form. Wavelets slapped against the sides of the small craft made from a hollowed-out tree trunk. It wallowed in the water with every dip of her strong young arms. Her paddle rose and fell, flinging a handful of water droplets forward like glittering jewels with every stroke, though the entry of the paddle into the water's surface made scarcely a sound.
The body was upon her. She dropped the paddle into the bottom of the boat and leaned forward, going to her knees. She stretched, reaching, straining. Her fingertips touched cloth, fine brocade. She grasped, pulled. The body shifted toward her. She saw the limp, wet spread of hair in the water. She released her uncertain grasp of the coat and sank her fingers into the thick strands, dragging the waterlogged shape of the dead man. He was surprisingly heavy; he must have been tall and broad or else his pockets were weighted with gold.
The body turned slowly. The pale angles and hollows of a face appeared. An arm came up with the fingers of the hand spread, reaching. It flailed toward the pirogue, striking the side, clutching, grasping.
The floater was alive!
Cyrene made a strangled, gasping sound. She released her hold, pulling her hand back. The man gave a soft groan. His head sank beneath the water. His fingers slipped from the rounded side of the pirogue.
Cyrene dived forward once more, plunging her hand and arm into the river up to her shoulder. Her fingers touched hair. She twisted them into it, clenching tight as she surged back on her heels. Once more the pale, strained face, streaming with water, came into view. The arm floated in the water, without strength.
She could not let go of his hair or she might lose him under the water. She lacked the strength to haul him by main force into the pirogue, nor could she manage to paddle back to the flatboat with her one free hand, and her left one at that. For the first time she thought of Gaston and was incensed at his amorous tendencies. If he had been where he should, he would be out here in the pirogue instead of her. For him this rescue would have been simple.
But it was not, after all, so difficult. The line that had tied the pirogue to the flatboat was lying in the prow. She reached for it with her free hand and, leaning forward as far as possible, passed it around the man under his arms, then tied a slipknot near where the rope was fastened. The extra weight threatened to swamp the unstable craft; still, his face was more out of water than in it. With the man secured to the front of the pirogue like the war trophy of some ancient goddess, she paddled back toward the flatboat.
Gaston was still nowhere to be seen. Cyrene stepped from the pirogue as it glided alongside the bigger boat, then dropped at once to her knees to hold the smaller craft against the logs of the flatboat's deck. She reached to loosen the slipknot of the rope securing the man, making a grab for his cravat as he began to slip away. She made the pirogue fast by the simple expedient of wrapping the rope around the small post set in the deck for that purpose, then towed the man toward her until he was against the log decking.
He was going to be too heavy for her to lift on board; she knew that well enough, though for the moment the water buoyed his weight. The flatboat rose and fell with a gentle motion as she considered the problem. She thought of calling out for Gaston but had no faith in her ability to make him hear her, even if he would spare her the attention to recognize her need of him. There was only one thing to be done, though it would likely cause the man she had rescued a few bruises and aggravate whatever injuries he might have. He certainly could not stay where he was. His skin was already icy from the cold water, and she herself was beginning to shiver in spite of her exertions.
Cyrene grasped one of the man's arms, bringing it out of the water, then, releasing his cravat, took hold of the other, drawing both up and resting them on the big log of the flat-boat's side. Holding on to one hand, she got to her feet, then took his wrists in a firm hold. Once, twice, she pressed him down into the river to his chin, testing his weight and her own strength, feeling the surge of the water thrusting him upward again. Then she caught a hard breath, set her teeth, and pulled with all her might.
The flatboat dipped. The man came out of the water to his armpits. Swiftly she bent and grasped him there, pulling with her muscles, heaving herself backward with straining arms and deep, panting breaths.
He was caught on something, a button or perhaps the bulge of a timepiece in his pocket. She made another tremendous effort. He was dragged forward over the end log. Again. He slid upward as slowly, grudgingly the river gave him up. She had him. His chest was free of the water. Quickly, before he could slide back again, she went to her knees once more and reached for one of his legs, dragging his knee up and onto the boat. Now it was easier. She stood, took his hands, and hauled backward. Her bare feet slipped on the logs made slippery by their splashing and his dripping clothes. She stumbled and fell.
The man was more on the deck than not. Cyrene let go and lay back. Her chest rose and fell with the rocking of the flatboat as she tried to catch her breath. She stared up at the stars swinging crazily above her. They danced, then slowed. Stopped. At last the boat was steady once more.
The man's head was between her legs, one of his hands resting at the juncture of her thighs. She rolled, scrambling out from under him, and cursed under her breath, using phrases she hardly knew the meaning of but had heard the Breton brothers use. They helped to relieve her feelings. She had not bargained for this much labor, especially when there was little hope now of a reward since a live man would require his coat. Nor was there any way of knowing if the man was worth her effort.
It was irritation that gave her the strength to drag him, bumping, across the logs and into the flatboat's small cabin. Leaving him in the middle of the floor, she moved to strike tinder and to light a tallow dip in an earthenware bowl. She stepped outside for the quilt she had abandoned earlier; then, inside once more, she added to it a length of linen toweling and a handful of clean rags. Dropping these things to the floor near the man she had rescued, she went down on her knees beside him.
Her hands were on his coat, tugging it open, when she looked at his face. Her movements stilled. A frown creased her brow. Reaching to catch his chin, she turned his head so that he faced the light. She drew in her breath.
René Lemonnier, the Sieur de Vouvray.
The community of New Orleans was a small one. There were fewer than two thousand people in and around the town, with half that number being soldiers of the king or African slaves. Everyone knew everyone else and most of their business. Any newcomer was an object of much curiosity and more speculation.
The attention paid to the man on the floor since his arrival a month before had been even greater than usual. A gentleman of noble family, he had been a favorite at the court of Louis XV, though with a far-reaching repute as a wastrel, gambler, and noted rake. The gossips would have it that he had somehow displeased the king's maîtresse en titre, La Pompadour. The result had been a lettre de cachet issued in his name. He had disappeared into the Bastille, Paris's prison for political prisoners, but there had been such a constant vigil of women, such wailing before the gate, that he had been deported instead to keep the peace.
His reception had not been that of a man in disgrace. Handsome of countenance, dark as a pirate, with the shoulders of a swordsman and the grace of a courtier, he had found favor with the Marquise de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, wife of the governor of the colony of Louisiane. Consequently, he had been much feted at the Government House in recent days. The bon mots he had let fall from his lips had been repeated everywhere. Boys had followed him as he swaggered along the streets, and the young men of the town had taken to wearing their wigs powdered and curled in the fashion he preferred and their garters tied with the knots that he affected.
None of which mattered now.
The man was bleeding.
Cyrene was brought to a sense of what she should be doing by the sight of red-tinged water trickling out of his hair. She explored his scalp, gently pushing her fingers through the wet and matted thickness of the dark waves that grew in such luxuriance over it. He had a great knot above his ear. The skin was broken, seeping blood, but the skull underneath seemed undamaged. Still, his face was gray and there was a white line around his mouth.
With more haste than care, she stripped off his coat, pausing for only a brief and regretful moment to touch the silver braiding on the lapels before laying it aside. It made a dull, clinking sound as she dropped it. The cause was quickly found. It was a monogrammed leather purse filled with coins as well as a large turnip watch in a chased gold case. That Lemonnier had not been robbed was amazing, unbelievable. She puzzled over it as she unbuttoned his waistcoat and slipped it down first one arm and then the other, casting it aside before dragging his shirt off over his head.
But either he had made enemies since his arrival in the colony or else had strayed into the wrong lady's bedroom, for he had been stabbed. The wound was ugly, the result of a vicious blow. The blade had been inferior, however, for it had broken off as it struck a rib and was still embedded in the bone. The slash was oblique, a ragged tear that extended from the back to the side, as if the assailant had stabbed from behind just as Lemonnier turned to grapple with him. The court rake had been extremely lucky or else had the agility of a Parisian alley cat, for by all rights he should have been dead.
Cyrene made a pad of one of the rags. She shifted Lemonnier, pulling him toward her onto his side. With the pad in her hand, she grasped the broken and protruding upper half of the knife blade, settled her grip, then pulled. Lemonnier jerked convulsively and a sigh left his lips. Blood welled around the blade, but it remained stubbornly encased in the rib bone that held it. She reached for another of the rags, holding it firmly around the knife blade to staunch the flow. Pressing down hard, she pulled once more.
The knife came free. Cyrene rocked back on her feet, which were tucked under her, with the suddenness of it. She did not stop but went sprawling, twisting to the side, as Lemonnier wrenched himself up on one elbow and launched himself at her. Her breath left her in a rush as his weight pinned her to the rough planking. A hard hand caught her wrist, grinding the bones so that the reddened blade fell from her numb fingers and clanged onto the floor. Before she could cry out, before she could protest, the hard edge of a forearm was across her throat, cutting off her air and sending bright flashes of pain exploding behind her eyes.
"An assassin of uncommon beauty," Lemonnier said, his voice tight, his breathing too controlled, as if it had to be measured against the pain it caused. "Would you care to try again?"
Cyrene stared up at him with disbelief skittering across her mind. He had been unconscious, she knew it. How was it that he could, on the instant, be so lucid, so dangerous? The last was there in his face beyond mistaking, shining in the icy gray of his eyes, showing plainly in the hard set of his cleanly molded lips. It left her cold, wary, and furious.
"I wish," she said, her voice hoarse yet virulent in her constricted throat, "that I had let you drown."
Surprise registered in René's mind as he recognized the anger that thickened her voice and burned in the heated color of her face, saw the pure indignation that set sparks of fire gleaming in the rich golden brown of her eyes. A peculiar fog seemed to fade from his mind, and he realized that he was not only half naked but wet to the skin. Water dripped from his hair, wetting the thin material of the chemise that the girl under him wore. It created a quite interesting effect on the mound of her breast, one he was in no condition to appreciate properly. And there was the hot glide of what he suspected was his own blood circling his rib cage, soaking into the waist of his breeches.
The clarity in his brain lasted no more than an instant. The fog began to spread, bringing with it desperate and confounding weakness. He lifted his arm from the girl's throat as best he could. His head was so heavy. He allowed it to droop until it rested on the wet yet soft and warm pillow of her breast. He closed his eyes. His tone calm yet immensely tired, he said, "I seem to have made a mistake. I tender you ... my most abject..."
He did not finish, though Cyrene thought she felt his lips move against her in his apology. She was still a moment, floundering in a confusing morass of pity and rage, admiration, frustration, contempt, and something more that had to do with the sheer male force she had sensed inside this man during the brief instant he had held her at his mercy.
But there was warm blood seeping into her skirt where he had fallen against her. With an exclamation of mingled distress and disgust, she flung him from her. She found her folded pads once more and slapped them over his wound, holding them with firm pressure as she looked around for the linen toweling to tie them in place.
The flatboat rocked, a sure signal that someone had come aboard. Cyrene paused with an unaccountable surge of fear in her chest as a shadow fell across the deck outside the doorway. The thought of the two men who had tried to kill Lemonnier flitted across her mind.
A man stepped inside, then stopped and let fall a sharp curse.
"Gaston," she cried, "and about time, too."
"What in the name of all the saints have you been doing? A bit of butchering?"
The youngest of the Bretons came forward, a square-built youth of no more than medium height, with tightly curling brown hair tied back at the nape to show the gold hoop earring that he wore in his left ear only--the recoil of a musket when it was fired being likely to tear any such ornament out of a man's right ear. There was a copper cast to his skin, evidence of his Indian mother, and his eyes were fiercely blue. In the gaze he bent upon her, there was a hint of censure but also an irrepressible teasing glint.
"I was fishing for a coat," Cyrene said shortly before nodding at the pad under her hand. "Come and hold this while I tie the bandage."
"You went out on the river for him? Are you mad?"
"The coat had silver lace."
It was explanation enough. Gaston stepped toward her and went down on his knees to help. His tone was resigned as he spoke. "Papa and Uncle Pierre will have my skin in little strips."
"Serve you right for chasing after that skirt."
"You are a woman with no heart. You have not the least idea how a man feels when he sees a beautiful and willing female."
"Beautiful, huh?" Cyrene gave him a skeptical glance as she worked.
"Well, she was beautiful to me, at least until--"
"I don't want to hear it!"
"But, chère, I was only going to say until I saw her in the light!"
"Certainly you were. Move your hand."
He complied. "I would not sully your pure ears with the details of what transpired between me and this woman. Not only would it be no fun, since you no longer blush at such subjects as you used to, but it would be unmanly. Besides, Uncle Pierre would skin me like a squirrel if he should hear."
"True," she said pointedly. "Will you now leave off talking of your amours and look at this man?"
Gaston swung to do her bidding. His breath left him in an astonished grunt. "Sacré! It's Lemonnier."
"Precisely. Do you think that Madame la Marquise will give us a reward if we send to tell her he is saved?"
The younger Breton grinned. "She very well might, though I'm not sure Lemonnier will thank you. They say he's avoided her invitations to a tête-à-tête with some success so far."
The governor's wife was a woman with an eye for younger men. Her husband, the marquis, was himself fifteen years her junior. Their marriage seemed to be one based on mutual respect, mutual avarice, and mutual ambition. It was the goal of the couple to obtain for the marquis the governorship of New France, a post that had been held by his father. The colony was also the place where the marquis had been born. There were whispers that the office was his. He was an able administrator with a sound knowledge of the shifts required to govern a far colony inhabited by savages, an ill-assorted collection of displaced French subjects, and a set of voyageurs and coureurs des bois who had been in the wilderness so long they had taken on its wildness. But the appointment was not yet official, nor would it be until a man could be found to replace him in Louisiane. In the meantime, Madame was swift to reach out for what riches and comforts she could discover in the colony.
The thought of René Lemonnier with Madame de Vaudreuil was distasteful. Cyrene pushed it from her mind. Her tone sharp, she said, "Hand me the quilt, and let's get it around him. Then you may remove his wet breeches."
Gaston's expression of shock was, she saw, real, at least in part. "Well, he can't stay in them, can he? He'll never get warm!"
"If Papa and Uncle Pierre come back and find you not only with a notorious womanizer like Lemonnier, but a naked womanizer--"
"He's half dead! Besides, he'll be decently covered."
"It won't matter. They'll kill me."
"In that case, you may as well help me get him into my room."
Gaston's tone of resignation abruptly left him. "Your room? Never!"
"He can't lie in the middle of the cabin floor forever. It's the only place where he'll be out of the way."
The room she called her own was little more than a lean-to the size of an armoire built onto the side of the flatboat. It held her sleeping hammock, which was slung from wall to wall, and in one corner the trunk containing her clothes. The other corner was stacked high with animal traps and cages and a few extra trading blankets and rolled furs, along with various other debris of questionable usefulness from which the Bretons could not be parted.
Gaston protested and grumbled and composed epitaphs for himself both comical and profane, but he could find no alternative to her suggestion. At last, he helped her make a pallet of a buffalo fur, blankets, and a bearskin coverlet on the floor under her hammock and shift Lemonnier onto it. Only when he had covered the unconscious man with the bearskin did he strip off Lemonnier's breeches and fling them at Cyrene.
They were of heavy brocade, like his coat. She stood, turning the garment right side out, smoothing the rich cloth with absent care as she stared down at Lemonnier. "I should have made him drink some brandy while he was awake."
"Why didn't you?" Gaston said in mock accusation, then gave a shout of laughter when she told him.
"It wasn't funny!"
"Poor little Cyrene, caught in the arms of the master of rakes, and what takes place? Nothing. It isn't fair." His blue eyes danced with amusement that was only slightly lascivious, while the hoop swinging in his ear gleamed gold in the candlelight.
"Out," Cyrene said between her teeth.
"Where's your sense of humor?"
"Out!" She flailed at him with the breeches, following as he backed away into the main room and warded her off with his hands.
Then came the noise of a man clearing his throat that was half growl, half command for silence. Gaston and Cyrene swung to face Pierre Breton, who stood in the cabin doorway surveying the spilled blood and the ragged, bloodstained cloths scattered over the wet floor. "You will tell me, please," the older man drawled with mildness that was belied by the hard light in his eyes, "just what is going on here?"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cyrene saves a notorious womanizing rake, Rene Lemonnier, from the river while she lives with her over-protective guardians, the Breton brothers. What she asks for in repayment sweeps Rene into becoming her protector besides her lover. In the 1800s in the French colonies of Louisiana politics, pirates, passion and betrayal set even the wildest of hearts ablaze. Very few get out alive, especially with the grandest treasure of all—true love. Cyrene and Rene must fight hard to win all or risk losing everything if they gamble their hearts and souls to the wrong people, places and desires along the way. A fabulous read by Jennifer Blake…Louisiana Dawn is just as its title sounds—a warm, hot, welcoming, promising ray of sunshine. I loved reading this amazing book!