Savannah, Georgia – 1858
Celia Browning dreams of the day when her childhood sweetheart Sutton Mackay comes home to Savannah after two years in Jamaica managing his family's shipping interests. Sutton has all but proposed, and their marriage will unite two of the city's most prominent families. But just as Sutton returns, a newspaper reporter arrives in town, determined to pry into twin tragedies that took place at the Browning mansion on Madison Square when Celia was a child.
While the journalist pursues his story, someone is trying to frighten Celia. When she receives a series of anonymous notes, and a bracelet imbued with a chilling message, Celia realizes that her family’s past has the power to destroy her future.
As the clouds of war gather over Savannah, and her beloved father’s health worsens, Celia determines to uncover the truth about what really happened all those years ago.
Inspired by actual events in one of Savannah’s most prominent 19th-century families, The Bracelet is the story of a young southern woman whose dreams fracture under the weight of her family’s tragic past.
"Historical romance with a sprinkle of secrets for readers to solve, Dorothy Love's latest puts a new spin on an old idea." —Romantic Times, 4-star review
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
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By Dorothy Love
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Dorothy Love
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Savannah, Georgia, September 15, 1858
At the sound of male voices in the entry hall below, Celia Browning left her window overlooking the garden and the redbrick carriage house. She set aside her book and opened her bedroom door just wide enough to afford a view of the door to her father's study down below. The house was quiet, the entry hall now empty. Dust motes swirled like snowflakes in the late afternoon sunshine, pouring through the fanlight above the front door and reflecting in the ornate gilt mirror on the wall. She cocked an ear to listen, but the conversation taking place behind the massive mahogany doors was lost in the vast space.
"Oh, fiddlesticks!" Frowning, she leaned against the polished mahogany banister and wondered what she was missing.
Papa often included her in discussions of the shipping company that had made him the fourth richest man in Savannah, behind Mr. Low, Mr. Green, and their neighbor on the square, Mr. Sorrel. She relished the lively discussions regarding Browning Shipping Company's fleet of snows and schooners that transported cargo to ports around the world. She liked keeping up with the prices of timber, cotton, and turpentine and the news of markets that might soon admit ships from Savannah. Most of all she loved that her father treated her as an equal, allowing her the occasional visit to his counting house on Commerce Row, overlooking the river.
Celia jumped at the sound of Ivy's voice. Ivy grinned, one brow raised.
"I'm not eavesdropping. Even if I wanted to, I can't hear a thing."
Ivy eyed Celia's bare toes peeking from beneath the pink bell of her skirt. "You'd better not let Mrs. Maguire catch you running about without your shoes."
Celia waved one hand. "She won't care. She secretly likes looking after us."
"She likes looking after you and Uncle David. I'm only the poor relation who causes more trouble than she's worth."
Celia studied her tall, sharp-faced cousin. Ivy had come to live with the Brownings when Celia was eight and Ivy ten. After fifteen years it was hard to remember a time when Ivy had not occupied the bedroom across the hall from Celia's in the terra-cotta-colored mansion on Madison Square. Papa had done everything possible to make Ivy feel welcome, but lately Ivy's usual determined cheerfulness had been replaced by periods of dark abstraction that lacked an apparent cause. It seemed she looked for opportunities to remind the Brownings that she didn't really belong to them. Or to Savannah, a city Celia and her father loved almost as much as they loved each other.
"What's the matter?" Celia placed a hand on her cousin's arm. "It isn't like you to feel sorry for yourself."
"Oh, don't mind me." Ivy lifted one shoulder in a tiny shrug. "I'm out of sorts today. I don't feel sorry for myself, and I don't want anyone else to, either." She tucked the book she'd been reading beneath her arm. "I've been an orphan for so long that I actually find it quite liberating."
"You're certainly in an odd mood today."
A burst of laughter escaped from below. Celia peeked down and saw that the door to Papa's study had opened. Now he stood in the foyer with his clerk. Elliott Shaw was a slight, thin-shouldered man of uncertain years whose generous mouth and thick eyelashes gave an almost feminine cast to his pale features. Celia had met him a few times at Papa's office. Mr. Shaw was always courtly, if a bit shy, but his movements, so awkward and constrained, made her feel ill at ease. Still, nobody knew accountancy and maritime law better than he.
Mr. Shaw retrieved his hat and took his leave. Papa returned to his study. Celia padded silently along the upper hallway, passing portraits of generations of Brownings and Butlers, and ran lightly down the carpeted stairs, one hand trailing along the polished banister that gave off the pleasant scent of lemons and beeswax.
"Papa? Do you have a moment?"
He looked up from the stack of papers on his desk, a smile creasing his handsome face. "Always have time for you, darling. Give me a moment to finish signing these."
Celia plopped into her chair and tucked her bare feet under her. A sultry breeze stirred the curtains at the open windows and carried with it the sounds of horses' hooves plodding along the unpaved street, the voices of children playing in the tree-shaded square. The rustle of Papa's papers mingled with the faint ticking of the clock on the mantel above the fireplace. Celia watched a woman and a small boy hurrying along the street, the child clinging like a barnacle to her voluminous skirts. A flock of sparrows rose and fell along the rooftops.
Celia released a contented sigh. She loved every room of this house—the drawing room where she entertained her friends, the spacious dining room with its massive mahogany table and a marble-topped sideboard that held the family silver. The library, bursting with books and filled with warm Georgia sunlight that poured through the tall windows facing the street. But Papa's study was her favorite. Dark-green walls were adorned with paintings depicting ships at sea. Books on maritime law sat side by side with novels by Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Scott, and Mr. Dickens. A glass-fronted secretary held her father's cherished mementoes: medals for his service to the army, a framed drawing of Celia's that had won a prize at school, a pair of silver-handled antique dueling pistols purchased on a trip to France, and a miniature portrait of her mother, painted shortly before she was lost in the Pulaski steamship disaster.
Papa set down his pen and pushed his papers aside. "Now then, Celia. What's on your mind? I hope you aren't cross at having missed my talk with Mr. Shaw just now."
"Well, I am disappointed. But I can never stay cross with you, Papa."
He smiled. "You didn't miss a thing. Shaw only wanted to bring by these papers before he leaves for Cassville to spend a few days with his sister. She hasn't been well these past months. We discussed nothing of consequence." Papa removed his gold-rimmed spectacles and folded them carefully. "How is your work for the asylum coming along?"
"Very well. Mother's friends are happy I've decided to finish the work she started all those years ago. I only wish I could have taken up the cause much sooner."
"Your schooling had to come first."
Papa had paid two hundred dollars a year for her and Ivy to attend the female academy in Atlanta. They had spent six years learning French and astronomy, science and mathematics, needlework and music. Celia loved science especially, but marriage, motherhood, and charity work were the only permitted aspirations for a woman of her station. In the five years since graduation, she'd devoted herself to various causes, including improving the lives of the girls at the Savannah's Female Orphan Asylum.
"I wish Mother could know how much progress we've made with the girls. But there's still so much to be done, and all of it takes a good deal of money."
Papa nodded. "I saw Alexander Lawton at the club last week. He said Mrs. Lawton intends to make a generous contribution."
"I thought she might. She's working hard to gather more support for the indigents at the hospital too. She feels as I do, that improving the lives of the least fortunate will benefit all of Savannah." A thick dark curl escaped its pins, and Celia tucked it behind her ear. "I wish you could see how much progress Annie Wilcox has made. She has been at the asylum less than a year and already she reads as well as I do. And she's a genius at trimming hats. Mrs. Clayton thinks Annie might one day find a position at Miss Garrett's."
Her father's brows rose in a silent question.
"Miss Garrett owns one of the finest millinery shops in Charleston. Wouldn't it be wonderful if Annie could work there and one day open a shop of her own?"
His expression grew tender. "Seeing those girls succeed is terribly important to you, isn't it?"
"Yes, and not only for the sake of Mother's memory. Most of the girls are working so hard to learn something that will allow them to live a respectable life. I can't help hoping they will succeed. But we need more books and perhaps one of those new sewing machines everybody is talking about for those who want to learn dressmaking. And a piano for Iris Welborn. She's a musical genius who plays much better than I do, even though she has never had a lesson in her life. If she learns to read music, she might one day earn a good living as a music teacher."
"Savannahians are generous people. I can't imagine that you won't raise enough for those things."
"Oh, I think we will. Several of the ladies have already pledged their support. But we need to expand the building too. Just last week three new girls arrived. That place is bursting at the seams."
Papa took off his spectacles and polished them on his sleeve. "A building expansion is quite an ambitious undertaking."
"I know it. But if men like you and Mr. Green and Mr. Low will help, I'm sure we can do it."
"Of course you can count on me, but you must remember most of Savannah is still recovering from last year's financial crisis." Papa raised an eyebrow as if to remind her of the importance of tact. "Many of our friends fared much worse than we did."
"I'll be circumspect, Papa. I'm planning a quiet reception later this fall where people can come to socialize and contribute to the fund anonymously. That way everyone can preserve appearances without feeling compelled to give more than they can really afford."
He glanced out the window. "I'm pleased things are going so well, but something tells me you didn't come here to give me a progress report on the Female Asylum."
She shifted in her chair and dug her bare toes into the thick carpet. "Alicia Thayer called here this morning with the most exciting news. I hope it's true."
"Ah. Is this about Sutton Mackay?"
"Then it is true! He's on his way home?"
"I haven't spoken to Burke Mackay about it yet, but I saw Mr. Stiles this morning, and he says Sutton left Kingston last week. I imagine young Mr. Mackay will turn up here any day now—just in time for the start of the social season."
"May we host an entertainment for him, Papa? Nothing too elaborate."
"The last time you said that, we wound up with fifty guests for Christmas dinner."
She laughed. "I will admit it. That one got a bit out of hand. But people still talk about how much they loved the food. And the Mysterious Fantasticals."
"And well they should. Do you have any idea what that dinner cost me?"
"Mrs. Stiles says one never should discuss the cost of hosting guests. Or of anything else for that matter."
"And she is right, of course. Forget I said anything." Papa rose and retrieved his pipe from its stand on the corner of his desk. He took his time filling it while he stared absently out the window at the leafy, parklike square.
"Were you and Mr. Stiles talking business this morning? Or politics? If the former, I am quite piqued at being left out."
He puffed on his pipe to get it going and sat down heavily behind his desk. "William prefers not to discuss business with women present."
"Too bad. He could learn a lot from us. We women know much more than most men think."
Papa smiled. "You didn't miss any news from Commerce Row. William is concerned about the next presidential election."
"He says there's some talk Mr. Lincoln from Illinois might run. Lincoln says he has no wish to meddle in our affairs despite his opposition to slavery. But William is certain his election would spell doom for the South."
Celia plumped the needlepoint pillow behind her back. "Last week at tea, Mrs. Quarterman said the Dred Scott decision should have settled the entire issue. She says the court has decided that a slave is the property of his owner no matter where he goes. But if we secede, I don't think the Northerners will care what the judges say."
Her father nodded, his expression thoughtful. "I'm proud that you're so well informed, Celia. But I regret that the ladies of Savannah find it necessary to spend so much time worrying about politics." He gestured with his pipe. "The election is nearly two years away. There's no sense worrying about it today."
"I agree. But Mrs. Quarterman said some of the Negroes are starting to talk politics in the streets, and not just in Currytown and Old Fort. She says they're becoming outspoken right here in our own neighborhoods too."
"There have been some noisy discussions in the streets of late. I do want you and Ivy to be careful when you leave the house. If you need to go farther than Reynolds Square, please have Joseph drive you." He set down his pipe. "Now, what type of entertainment are you contemplating for the esteemed Mr. Mackay?"
"I haven't had much time to consider it, but in the carriage on the way home this afternoon, I was thinking that a masked ball might be just the thing. Nobody has given one in quite some time, and I know Sutton would enjoy it. I'm sure people don't host masquerades in Jamaica."
"Perhaps not." Papa opened his leather appointment book. "I must make a trip to Charleston at the end of the month, but we could arrange something for early October. The weather should permit us to serve a buffet on the rear terrace."
"I suppose that's enough time for us to send the invitations and for our guests to assemble their costumes."
He ran his finger down the page. "Does Saturday the ninth of October suit you, my dear? Assuming of course that Sutton is home by then. Sea voyages can be unpredictable this time of year."
"Perfect. Thank you, Papa. Will you ask Sutton the moment he arrives home?"
"I shall inform him of your intent at the first opportunity. And I'll see his father at the club tomorrow. I'll mention it to him then." Papa took another draw on his pipe and sought her gaze. "I'm glad to see your happy anticipation, darling. I know how fond you are of Sutton. But I must caution you not to wear your heart on your sleeve."
She laughed. "I'm afraid it's entirely too late for that. Everybody in Savannah knows how Sutton and I feel about each other."
"A childhood friendship is not the same as marriage. People change with time."
"He hasn't been away that long."
"Two years is a long time in my book. You are not the same young woman you were when he left the city."
"I hope not. I hope I'm wiser now. Certainly I'm old enough to marry, and there is no one on earth I'd rather marry than Sutton Mackay."
"All the same, I don't want you to fix your affections too hastily, Celia. Take your time getting to know Sutton again, to be certain his habits and principles are still a good match for your own."
"Of course, Papa." But deep down she couldn't imagine any fault of Sutton's that would dampen her affection for him. He possessed all the qualities of an ideal suitor—good blood ties, a fine education, solid economic prospects, and impeccable manners. He was quick to laugh, slow to anger, quick to forgive. And he was the handsomest member of the Chatham Artillery, the most prestigious of all the city's volunteer companies. His letters from the Mackays' shipping port on Jamaica's Black River, though infrequent due to distance, were full of lively observations of local life and news of his thriving business, and they left little doubt about his intentions regarding their future. That suited Celia perfectly. She hated the whole tiresome notion that a girl must wait to be chosen. With any luck, her wait was almost at an end.
A carriage rolled past the window, the horses' hooves kicking up clouds of sand. A fire bell sounded in the distance. Papa knocked the ash from his pipe. "Now you must excuse me, my dear. I must attend to some correspondence before dinner."
"All right." Celia rose, her silk skirts rustling, and planted a kiss on the top of his head. "Don't work too late. Mrs. Maguire has made a beef roast for dinner and syllabub for dessert, and you know how she fusses if she has to wait to serve it."
She frowned. "You are worried, Papa. And not only about politics. What's troubling you?"
Excerpted from The Bracelet by Dorothy Love. Copyright © 2014 Dorothy Love. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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