Magnolia

Magnolia

by Ginny Aiken

Paperback

$7.99

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780842335591
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 02/28/2000
Series: Bellamy's Blossoms , #1
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.46(w) x 8.36(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

ONE

Bellamy, Loudon County, Virginia; Present Day

"I can't believe I did that," Magnolia Bellamy muttered, holding the telephone to her chest.

She'd just hired a carpetbagger—to restore a treasure of the Confederacy. Everything in Maggie told her she'd done nothing but rain an upset applecart of trouble down on her head.

Sighing, she cradled the receiver, then swiveled her office chair. Out the window behind her desk she saw early harbingers of spring: the warm-as-sunshine forsythia blossoms that rioted against the redbrick wall of the Bellamy Post Office across the street. Too bad she didn't feel half as perky as those flowers looked.

Her intercom buzzed. "Yes?"

"Miss Louella is here to see you," Ruby Fulkes, her stout, eagle-eyed, and efficient secretary at the Bellamy Fiduciary Trust, announced. "Since your office door is still closed, I didn't know if I should ask her to wait."

"Send her in."

She might as well get the unpleasantness over. Maggie doubted the born-south-of-the-Mason-Dixon-line Louella Ashworth would relish a Yankee running the restoration of her family home and greatest treasure any more than Maggie did. But there wasn't much either truehearted Southern woman could do. Not after the phone call she'd just made.

"Mornin', honey," said the well-preserved sixty-eight-year-old as she entered Maggie's office. "I finished my hour of glowin' at the Fem Physique, and I thought I'd see what you'd decided."

Maggie gave her friend—and client—a weak smile and waved her into the leather wing chair across from her desk. "How was your workout?"

Miss Louella shrugged. "Same as always. Still and all, it doesn't do a girl any good to let herself go."

"You're a perfect illustration of your conviction. Why, you don't look a day over forty."

Narrowing her large gray eyes, Miss Louella cocked her chestnut-haired head. "Now, honey, I've known you all your near twenty-six years. And I know you're not particularly interested in my old five-foot-nine-inch bod. What are you mealymouthin' about?"

A blush heated Maggie's cheeks. After all, she'd only acted in Miss Louella's best interests—business interests, that is. Taking a deep breath, she plunged forward. "It's like this, Miss Louella. You know I was going to interview five architectural restorers, don't you?"

Miss Louella nodded.

"Well, three were Southerners, and two were Yankees. It turns out that ... you see ... this is somewhat hard to say ..."

Miss Louella's lips pursed. "So, honey, just tell me you hired a Yankee and be done with it."

Maggie's jaw dropped. "How'd you know?"

"I'm no fool. If you hadn't had distasteful news, you'd never have waffled like that. What I want to know is why our Southern boys didn't win that bid."

It was Maggie's turn to shrug. "One Yankee was insufferable, so I discounted him right away. And each of our Southerners had something not quite right. One didn't have the experience I felt we needed. Another lacked the proper credentials. And the last had references I couldn't check. You know how important I consider this project."

Miss Louella responded solemnly, "Ours is an honorable cause."

"I know. And I tried—really tried—to hire someone born and bred in the South, someone who would respect the Ashworth Mansion as it deserves. Someone who would understand the importance of returning your home to its original splendor."

"You couldn't see fit to hire any of our boys? None of them?"

"Not a one, Miss Louella. Not in good conscience. Not when I had Mr. Clayton Marlowe's résumé right next to theirs." She extended the files to her client. "I hired the carpetbagger—against my better judgment."

Miss Louella's brow creased as she turned her attention to the files, running canny eyes over their contents.

Maggie's antique schoolhouse clock ticked loud enough to beat the band as she kept her peace, waiting for Louella's answer.

Finally Miss Louella slapped the files back on Maggie's desk. "Shameful, purely shameful. Why, we should be preparin' our boys here in the South better'n that. Imagine havin' to go north to find us a good candidate." After much dire shaking of her head, she pinned Maggie with a gimlet stare. "So, girl, what are you fixin' to do about it?"

Maggie felt the urge to squirm under the pointed perusal. But instead, she straightened, determined to prove herself more hardy than the fragile magnolia she'd been named after and most folks figured her to be.

"I mean to keep the sharpest buzzard eye on that man. Nothing is going to get past me."

Seeing Miss Louella's confused frown, Maggie rushed on. "As the officer in charge of your construction loan at Bellamy Fiduciary Trust, it's my job and duty to do so. As a loyal Daughter of the Confederacy, it's my honor to do so."

Miss Louella's gray gaze raked over Maggie's curls, then her face. "I have to wonder, girl, if a wily Yankee scalawag won't be too much for you to handle, as fragile as you are."

Stung to the core, Maggie gasped. "Why, Miss Louella, I never figured you thought so poorly of me." She rose to her full five-foot-one height. "You know perfectly well that looks can be mighty deceiving. Just you watch. I'm going to hound that man as if he were the last fox in town. No wily Yankee carpetbagger is going to steal you blind and leave you holding the wool over your own eyes."

Moments later, without a hint of an apology, Miss Louella left. Maggie again looked out the window and watched her friend march down Bellamy's busy Main Street.

Oh, yes, she was going to dog that Yankee. Just let him try and make a right-on-red at her no-turn corner. He'd learn mighty quick what Magnolia Bellamy's delicate Southern-belle features hid: steely determination.

k

"You look satisfied," Grant Smith said, taking a seat on the leather couch in Clay Marlowe's parlor.

Clay closed the front door. "And well I should," he said, crossing the small foyer of his one-hundred-fifty-year-old home with his usual long strides to join his attorney and friend. "I just got hired."

"Where are you going this time?"

"Not far. Small town in western Virginia. Up in the hills. Bellamy's the name."

"Beautiful country out that way."

After working closely with Grant for the past eight years, Clay had come to read him well. "That didn't sound like a rousing endorsement."

"Bellamy may be only a few miles away from us, but trust me, the distance between Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and a small Virginia town is greater than what your odometer measures."

"What do you mean?"

The leather squeaked as Grant shifted and removed his steel-rimmed glasses. "Ever been down there?"

"No."

The lawyer said sagely, "That explains it. You need to know that too many of those folks are still fighting the Civil War. They don't look kindly on Northerners."

Clay snorted. "Give me a break. The war's nearly as old as my house. That's long enough for them to get over losing."

"Don't even think that, or you'll be sunk."

"Whatever," Clay said, shaking his head in disbelief. "Anyway, this is going to be a great job. Want to see the pictures?"

Grant took the proffered glossies. "Good grief, Clay!" he said at his first glimpse of the Ashworth Mansion. "Do you think you can salvage this mess?"

Clay chuckled. "Looks bad, doesn't she? But I'll tell you what. Even though she was abandoned years ago, she's a mess with a world of promise." He waved at his friend and counselor. "Go on. Look at the other pictures before you dismiss her."

He rose from his easy chair and sat by Grant, jabbing a blunt fingertip at the next snapshot. "Check the delft tiles around the fireplace. They're magnificent and irreplaceable. Worth saving."

At Grant's uncertain expression, Clay took the handful of photos, flipped through them, and chose another. "If only for these incredible stained-glass windows the house deserves to be restored." One more print. "Look at the hand-plastered walls in the dining room. See those bumpy things? They're friezes. Workmanship like that is rare. So are the Irish-crystal chandeliers and the mahogany woodwork. This house is just begging me to pretty her up."

"Better you than me," Grant said with mixed admiration. "I still can't figure out why you like fixing rotted wrecks."

"I love what I do, and I'm good at it," Clay said simply. "And you know I always give value for my pay."

"That's true. Not like—"

"Hal Hinkley."

"You got it. I guess it's a good thing you were hired and not Hinkley."

Clay sighed. "I praise God for that. The Ashworth had a narrow escape. Hal bid on her too. I had to turn in a low bid to get the job, but I couldn't let that scum ruin another old home."

"Can you bring it in under budget?"

Clay ran a hand down the back of his neck. "I won't make it under on this one. As it is, I'll have to work hard to stay within budget. Pray a lot too. But you know I have the experience to pull it off."

Grant assented, and his prematurely gray hair caught the light from the turn-of-the-century art lamp by his side. "I have the last eight years' worth of contracts, and you've showed me satisfied-customer letters to prove it. But why did you put yourself in this tough of a work situation? You've been turning down jobs left and right for years now. Why'd you take on this particular one?"

"The Ashworth's a gorgeous house," Clay said, grinning sheepishly. "I couldn't resist. Besides, like I said, I don't want to see another century home trashed. Remember the scandal over the Bigsby restoration?"

Grant winced. "Who in this area doesn't? It's too bad the owners couldn't get the charges against Hinkley to stick."

"You can't get a thing to stick to slime. And that's what someone who does shoddy work and uses poor-quality materials is. Pure slime. Last I heard the house is falling down around the Bigsbys."

"And the warranty's run out."

"Of course. The day after it did, the plaster began chunking off the ceilings."

"The guy's still out there scamming customers. I'll bet he wasn't happy to learn you were bidding against him."

"You got that right. And even less happy when he learned I got the job. He called this morning. I guess the banker, Magnolia Bellamy—can you believe that Southern name?—phoned the others before me."

"Any pithy comments from Hinkley?"

"Oh, yeah. The man has a gift for true eloquence. He said—and I quote—that he was going to show those dumb hillbillies they'd made a mistake by not hiring him."

"He would have gone over swell in small-town Virginia."

With a wave, Clay dismissed his rival. "I'm just glad for the challenge. I love a tough one, you know."

Grant rolled his eyes. "What about this Magnolia Blossom you'll be working with? What's she like?"

"Bellamy, Magnolia Bellamy. She sounded coolly efficient on the phone—as least as much as a pure, melted-honey, Southern accent can sound. But I've never had a problem with a banker. I'm sure we'll work well together."

Grant lifted an eyebrow. "You versus a Southern belle. Mmm ... might be interesting."

Clay rose, energized by his desire to start the new project. "Who cares about the banker? I'm just glad I can spare Miss Louella Ashworth the trouble Hal's last employers had. I can guarantee her satisfaction. Nothing's going to happen to her house while I'm there."

k

Today Maggie would meet the carpetbagger, a short seven days after she'd hired him. She hated even the thought of it. For goodness' sake, her job could very well depend on the outcome of his efforts.

Despite the eight years she'd worked at the Bellamy Fiduciary Trust, Maggie knew that Mitchell Hollings, the bank's president, took her at face value—her fragile-featured face. Why, she suspected he even thought that her pale blonde hair's lack of vivid color demonstrated a similar lack of gray matter in her brain cells.

She was tired of Mr. Hollings's inane assignments. He routinely assigned her the most ridiculous accounts—those he believed wouldn't amount to much and wouldn't cost the bank much should she fail. Like the Bellamy Community Church's loan for a new steeple. How many upright congregations had interesting, challenging business dealings? The BCC had borrowed the money, had the steeple built, and paid the loan. Ahead of schedule.

"I'm going to make sure this Marlowe fellow brings in this project under budget," she promised herself. It was the least she could do. After all, Miss Louella had not another penny squirreled away in her egg-poor nest. She couldn't afford to make some hotshot Yankee any richer than he already was.

Maggie had the sneaky suspicion that now that Clay Marlowe had the job, he'd start nickel-and-diming the minute he stepped foot in the mansion. Demanding an enlarged budget to line his pockets, of course.

But he'd have her—Magnolia Bellamy—to deal with first.

The intercom crackled to life. "He's here," Ruby hissed. So much for Maggie's warning to act normal.

Pressing the Talk button, she stood. "Show him in." She then rounded her desk, straightened her pale green linen skirt, and tugged down the peplum of the matching jacket.

The door opened. One look at the Yankee and Maggie had to fight to keep the dismay from groaning out of her.

The man towered over her, filling the doorway. From his wavy brown hair to the tips of daunting black boat shoes, he probably measured seven feet, if not more—NBA material for sure, she thought. His unusual gold-colored eyes opened wide, and his mouth gaped to match. He hadn't been expecting someone like her—that was clear.

How on earth was she going to keep that giant's toes from creeping over the line when even his little one could squash her flat?

Well, she'd just have to take control of the situation. "Come in, Mr. Marlowe," she said, pretending not to notice his unflattering reaction to her and ignoring her unnerving response to him.

The large man let his mouth creep up on one side. "Thank you. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Bellamy." He extended a hand toward her.

"Miss Bellamy, if you please." She took the paw with a certain qualm, which proved all too valid when he wrapped her fingers in his warm, work-roughened clasp.

Ooo-eee! This man was trouble. All of him—cat gold eyes, brawn, and gentle, manly grasp. Her hands were certainly going to be full with this fine kettle of Northern fish.

Discreetly she reclaimed her hand. "Please take a seat. We have much to talk about before you start the job."

His powerful, athletic stride brought him to the antique leather wing chair Miss Louella had occupied only a week earlier when Maggie had broken the distasteful news to her. Would the chair support that much man?

When it didn't collapse under him, Maggie stepped back behind her desk. Taking her seat, she met his gaze. "I hope you understand this is a significant project."

"Oh?"

"Why, yes. The Ashworth Mansion is a treasure of the Confederacy."

His mouth quirked up a hair more. "How's that?"

"Well, Mr. Marlowe—"

"Clay."

Maggie arched an eyebrow. "Not very formal, are you?"

"Formal went out with the last century, Miss Bellamy. Call me Clay."

Something about the way he said her name made Maggie feel he was making fun of her, yet no smirk marred his handsome face, no chuckle rumbled out with his words. She decided that paranoia might be flying over this cuckoo's nest.

"Very well, then. Clay it is. Where were we? Oh, yes. We were discussing the importance of this historical treasure. Why, the Ashworths entertained Stonewall Jackson overnight, right within those very walls. It's a testament to the Confederacy, I'll have you know."

His eyes twinkled, and this time she saw him fight to keep his lips from curving further.

She fixed a reproving glare on him. "I see you hold our past's treasures in contempt, Mr. Marlowe."

"Clay. And I do no such thing. It's just ... a friend warned me that many Southerners think they're still fighting the Civil War."

Maggie again rose. "You do mean the Great War of Northern Aggression, don't you?"

When he bit down on his lip, Maggie knew he was laughing at her.

Paranoia was not her problem. The carpetbagger was. For someone who always functioned at a disadvantage on account of her height, blonde hair, and blue eyes, laughter at her expense didn't sit any better with her than a lead balloon did. "Perhaps we hired the wrong man. It's not too late to call another candidate. We haven't signed any contracts yet."

That sobered the yucking Yankee. He straightened in the chair. "You don't want to do that, Miss Bellamy. I am the right man for the job."

"Not without a flyspeck of respect for what you're about to partake in."

He blinked at her words. "I have a lot of admiration and consideration for the homes I work on. I take my work seriously. I just don't take myself too seriously."

"And you're saying I do?" she said defensively.

"Maybe a bit."

She gave him another once-over. "I can see working with you is going to present quite a challenge."

Clay smiled mischievously. "Funny. I was thinking the same about you."

Irked by his attitude, Maggie forced herself back into her chair. "I believe we need to discuss how we will handle matters."

"Fair enough."

Maggie picked up the contract the bank's attorney had drawn up. "You report to me, Mr. Marlowe—"

"Clay."

"Of course. Nothing happens at the mansion without my approval. Do you understand?"

He stared at her, then nodded curtly.

Maggie saw that he hadn't liked her condition, but it couldn't be helped. She had too much riding on this account. Maggie continued. "I'll disburse funds as the restoration goes forward. And I must warn you ahead of time: there is absolutely no budge-room in this budget. Miss Louella cannot squeeze another penny out of her turnip. Do you understand?"

A disgusted look drew a furrow between his dark brows. "What? Budge-rooms or turnips? Or that you're going to hold the purse strings tightly?"

"I believe we understand each other," she answered, wondering if the understanding would extend to the next item on her agenda. If he was anything like most other contractors she'd come across, he was going to squawk louder'n a peacock on the prowl.

"The final condition I must impose," she said firmly, "is about the key. I'll be keeping it at all times."

"Impossible!" he erupted. "I can't work that way."

"Then you're not the right man for the job."

"Of course I am, but what you're suggesting is ridiculous."

"I'm not suggesting. I'm telling you how it's going to be. And it's not ridiculous. I'll meet you at the site every morning at seven o'clock, and I'll inspect the day's work before you finish for the night. There'll be no problem with doing things my way."

As she spoke, Clay Marlowe had begun to pace her office, his size and energy filling the room to capacity. Leashed power fueled his every move, his slightest gesture. Maggie found herself admiring the man.

"Oh, flapjacks!" she murmured. She couldn't afford to admire him. She had to maintain control of the situation. She had to ensure the success of the account. She had to make sure the Ashworth Mansion was returned to its former glory. It was the least a daughter of the South could do for its posterity.

Finally Clay drew to a stop before her desk. He leaned over and planted ham-sized fists on the gleaming, hundred-year-old walnut top. "Fine. I'll play it your way. But if you cause us a problem, a delay, or a cost overrun, it'll be up to you to fix it. I won't be charged with whatever your whims cost the job."

When he'd first leaned over her, Maggie's breath had caught in her throat. His eyes had burned with passion, determination. His indignation had rushed from him in waves. His strength had radiated from the knotted muscles in his forearms.

Clay Marlowe was a force to be reckoned with.

So was Magnolia Bellamy.

It was just as well each recognized it from the start. She stood and stared him square in his golden eyes. "I'm so pleased you defer to reason, Mr. Marlowe—Clay. Now, I would think you'd like to see the mansion, wouldn't you? This is an excellent time for me to give you a tour. Will you follow me?"

As they left her office, she could have sworn the giant behind her was gnashing his teeth to a pulp. But since she wasn't his dentist, she paid his irritation no mind. She had a job to do, and she was going to do it.

k

Minutes later, Clay hung on to the door handle of the cobalt Miata as if his life depended on it. Which it probably did.

Not only had he had to fold himself into a small package to fit into the tiny vehicle, but now the Magnolia blossom next to him was driving like a raving maniac.

"Gorgeous day, isn't it?" she asked in that thick, leisurely accent of hers as she screeched to a stop in front of the mansion.

After a few seconds and a couple of deep breaths, Clay's heart slowed from its recent hummingbird beat to something resembling human. He popped open the Miata's door, desperate to stretch his abused joints. "If you say so."

"Why, of course it is!" she exclaimed. At least that's what Clay assumed she said. "Just look at all that yummy sunshine and the bulbs beginning to show," she expounded. Only to Clay, her words sounded more like, "Jes look a'tall th'yummy sunshahn, an' th' bulbs beginnin' ta show."

He made a noncommittal sound, just to let her know he'd heard her enthusiasm, then focused on working the Miata-induced kinks from his body.

Miss Bellamy continued, clearly oblivious to his condition. "There it is, Mr. Marlowe. The Ashworth Mansion."

Clay craned his neck to see ... and froze. The reality of the house was worse than even the most graphic photograph had portrayed. He inventoried missing shingles and broken windows, a sagging porch with flaking paint, and a shutter on an upstairs window that creaked as it flapped listlessly in the breeze.

Even in its state of disrepair, however, Clay couldn't help but admire the home. The Victorian flourishes that embellished the structure might have struck some as excessive, but not him. He'd always enjoyed the whimsy of turned wood and turrets, of decorative trim that wasn't necessary but beautiful.

He considered those touches representative of life. One always had to deal with the necessities, but it was a pleasure and a blessing to acquire the extra bits that made life more enjoyable. Not lavish extravagances, of course—those simply wasted God's provision. But the details that brought enrichment into people's daily existence, in Clay's mind, were part of the joy God meant for his children to experience.

The Ashworth Mansion had the requisite turret—added years after the original construction—its top covered in fish-scale shingles. Gracefully turned spindles edged the verandah, and where its supports met the roof, gingerbread curlicues—also a later addition—further softened the appearance of the structure.

He noticed the teak double doors with leaded glass. Then he saw it. The window. In the middle of the second story a circular stained-glass piece of art had retained its original magnificence and now captured his imagination. Against a sky blue backdrop a dove soared above a cloud, with the sun its triumphant background.

Freedom, Clay thought. That bird made him think of the freedom God gave Christians through his Holy Spirit. And for Clay, that kind of freedom and peace had been hard won. The fabulous window indeed looked out of place in its paint-bare frame.

Clay knew that, were his lawyer with him, Grant would urge him to flee from the site. But Clay had committed to restoring the wreck, and now, after finding the window, he knew he would see the project through. Besides, he'd given his word, and he always kept it.

"What do you think?" Miss Bellamy asked.

Clay gave her a wry grin. "A lesser man would be discouraged, so you're lucky you hired me."

"If you insist on demeanin' our treasure, then I'll have to consider our contract null—"

To Clay's relief, a shout cut her off. "Hey, Mag!" called the redheaded woman zipping by.

Miss Bellamy spun around, stiffened, then waved with halfhearted intent. "Hi, Lark."

Intrigued by her response to the greeting, Clay asked, "Who's that?"

"Curious, aren't we?" Maggie shot back.

When he shrugged, she said, "My older sister, if you must know."

"Hmm ... you don't look at all alike."

Her taut stance grew a coat of ice. "So I've heard, Mr. Marlowe. Shall we?" She gestured toward the mansion, having effectively put him back in his place.

Or so she probably figured. Her reply only served to pique Clay's curiosity further. He just didn't know why.

In silence he followed Maggie up the steps to the verandah, his weight wresting creaks from the old planks. The risers would need replacing. He hoped the interior floors were in better condition, especially since he'd noticed the intricate parquetry in some of the photos Maggie had sent him and he'd rather preserve than replace.

"Do be careful comin' inside, Mr. Marlowe—"

"Please. I prefer to be called Clay. And you ... ?"

He knew she wanted him to call her Miss Bellamy. Various expressions crossed her face as she struggled with his question. Finally she said, "Call me Maggie. If you must."

He bit back a laugh. That had cost her, more than he thought it should. Why? "Thank you. As you were saying?"

She grew flustered. "Oh! Yes. I suggest you watch your head as you come inside. The doorway's not built for men your height."

"Hmm ... made 'em short, didn't they?"

Her eyes spit blue flames. "No shorter'n in the Union."

Grant hadn't been kidding. "Easy, there. I wasn't casting aspersions on your Confederacy. I only meant that men were shorter last century—as a general rule."

She gave him a top-to-toe look. "In this century they don't make them as tall as you. How tall are you?"

"Not that tall. I'm six-foot-four."

She studied his frame again. "Are you sure?"

He laughed.

She didn't.

"Of course I'm sure. Want my driver's license?"

She looked tempted but then waved dismissively. "Your height's not important—so long as you don't crash into the chandeliers and chip the crystal."

Clay chuckled again, amazed by what a Southern accent did to a simple word like chandelier. Coming from Maggie Bellamy's lips, it evoked lush images of elegant, sumptuous evenings with music and romance. "I'll be extra careful around your chandeliers, Maggie."

She whirled. "They're not mine—oh!"

With an ominous crack, the board beneath her feet sagged, and she lost her balance. Time seemed to slow as Clay reached out to catch her.

But petite, blonde, and blue-eyed Maggie Bellamy was made of sterner stuff than that. She fought gravity with the same dignity she wore like a mantle, and her sheer grit kept her from crashing to the dirty floor. She pulled herself upright and straightened her jacket.

"I'm quite all right—"

"Yoo-hoo! Maggie, dear. Ruby said you'd be here."

The woman's voice seemed to bolster Maggie, who met Clay's gaze and smiled—for the first time since they'd met.

Clay felt as though someone had launched a missile attack on his gut. What a punch the dainty lady carried! What a transformation that smile performed on her beautiful features. The lines of her face softened, sweetened, as if glowing from inside. He wondered what it would be like to be the reason for that smile.

He shook his head. He had to be nuts to think like that about a woman as prickly as Maggie Bellamy.

"Come on in, Miss Louella," she called. "But be careful. I nearly fell on a loose board."

"Oh, I know, honey," answered the newcomer as she closed the front door. "This old house is showin' her age."

"Unlike some other ladies," Clay said, stepping forward to offer his hand to the elegant woman. "Miss Ashworth, I presume?"

Shrewd gray eyes evaluated him. "Aren't you a charmer?"

"Only honest."

"Let's hope you're as good at what you do as you are with that glib tongue, son."

Clay did something he hadn't done in years—he flushed.

Maggie laughed.

He coughed. "Miss Ashworth, you're a beautiful woman, just as your home is a beautiful house. I'm sure you're aware of both truths. It's a pleasure to meet you, and a welcome challenge to restore the Ashworth Mansion."

"Maggie, dear," Miss Louella said, turning to face her, "are you sure you didn't hire one of the Southern boys after all? One cursed with a Northern accent?"

Maggie-dear answered, irony in her voice. "Maybe the boy's full of Irish blarney."

"We're Scots, ma'am," Clay countered. "From the borderlands."

"And can a Scotsman bring life back to this gem of southern American gentility?" Miss Ashworth asked.

"It's what I do best," he answered.

"Not hardly," murmured Maggie.

"I hope so, son," said Miss Ashworth, ignoring Maggie, to Clay's relief. "Because I don't intend to lose the last of my inheritance on shoddy work."

"Trust me, Miss Ashworth. I know what I'm doing. I put my reputation on the line with every job."

"It's not your reputation you should worry about, Mr. Marlowe," said Maggie. "It's your vanished freedom that'll give you problems if you so much as think of pullin' a fast trick around here. I'll call the law down on you faster'n fleas can flick from dog to dog."

Maggie's words raised for Clay the only specter that could perturb his peace.

The threat of jail.

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Magnolia 1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Amateurish portrayal of Southern belles! Unrealistic heroine, silly friends and family, and a bewildered hero. Not even a good read for those fans of clean, Christian value-based novels.