Love as Sweet as Southern Iced Tea Welcome to the Old South where hospitality is king and charm is queen. Can lasting love been found here amidst chaotic life challenges? The Belle of the Congaree by Lauralee Bliss Columbia, South Carolina—1866 Mason Bassinger reluctantly travels to post-war South Carolina seeking lands his carpetbagger brother can buy. Elisa Anderson barely survives after her family’s plantation was destroyed. She welcomes visits by the handsome and wealthy Mason who makes the cottage by the Congaree feel like a home. But when Mason’s true purpose is revealed, will her heart be broken by betrayal? Thoroughbreds by Ramona Cecil Lexington, Kentucky—1918 A family tragedy reunites Ella Jamison with her childhood tormentor, igniting surprisingly different sparks. Clay Garrett questions why God would allow him to fall in love with the one woman least likely to return his affections. But when love blooms against all odds, old secrets threaten to destroy it and, in the process, tear an entire family apart. The Marmalade Belle by Dianne Christner Ocala, Florida—1893 A decade-old note draws Maribelle Sinclair into the arms of Jackson, her childhood hero, but the Cavalry dragoon’s soul appears dark and dangerous as the Florida everglades. Virgil, on the other hand, is sweet as mama’s orange marmalade and optimistically forthright. If hearts are windows, like the glass-bottomed boats on nearby Silver River, Maribelle can trust hers to make the right choice. Debt of Love by Lynn Coleman Palatka, Florida—1868 Adeline Edwards, a Southern Belle with strong calloused hands from tending cattle, no longer attends balls. Banker, Phineas George Hamilton III, arrives at the plantation to recover the bank’s debt and discovers strong-willed Adeline doubts the bank’s claim. Can they figure out the debt, or will they find balance in love? Hometown Bride by Patty Smith Hall Marietta, Georgia—1870 Jilly Chastain never lied, but when her mother fabricates a marriage with her childhood sweetheart, Grayson Hancock, Jilly goes along with it, never expecting Grayson to show up, ready to make their make-believe marriage real. Miss Beaumont’s Companion by Grace Hitchcock Baton Rouge, Louisiana—1892 When lady’s companion Aria St. Angelo is coerced into posing as her political employer’s absent daughter for the evening at the Louisiana Governor’s masquerade ball, she wasn’t planning on falling for Byron Roderick, the most eligible bachelor in the capitol. Above All These Things by Connie Stevens East central Georgia—1855 Pre-conceived opinions and stubborn pride builds walls of resentment between Annulet Granville, the belle of Thornwalk Manor, and a visiting stranger. Annulet’s parents urge her to find a husband, but she labels Peyton Stafford the enemy. So what is she to do with Christ’s command to love her enemies?
|Publisher:||Barbour Publishing, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
LAURALEE BLISS has always liked to dream big dreams. Part of that dream was writing, and after several years of hard work, her dream of publishing was realized in 1997 with the publication of her first romance novel, Mountaintop, through Barbour Publishing. Since then she’s had twenty books published, both historical and contemporary. Lauralee is also an avid hiker, completing the entire length of the Appalachian Trail both north and south. Lauralee makes her home in Virginia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her family. Visit her website at www.lauraleebliss.com and find her on Twitter and Facebook Readers of Author Lauralee Bliss.
RAMONA K. CECIL is a wife, mother, grandmother, freelance poet, and award-winning inspirational romance writer. Now empty nesters, she and her husband make their home in Indiana. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers and American Christian Fiction Writers Indiana Chapter, her work has won awards in a number of inspirational writing contests. Over eighty of her inspirational verses have been published on a wide array of items for the Christian gift market. She enjoys a speaking ministry, sharing her journey to publication while encouraging aspiring writers. When not writing, her hobbies include reading, gardening, and visiting places of historical interest.
DIANNE CHRISTNER lives in New River, Arizona, where life sizzles in the summer when temperatures soar above 100 degrees as she writes from her air-conditioned home office. She enjoys the desert life, where her home is nestled in the mountains and she can watch quail and the occasional deer, bobcat, or roadrunner. Dianne was raised Mennonite and works hard to bring authenticity to Mennonite fiction. She now worships at a community church. She’s written over a dozen novels, most of which are historical fiction. She gets caught up in research having to set her alarm to remember to switch the laundry or start dinner. But her husband of forty-plus years is a good sport. They have two married children, Mike and Rachel, and five grandchildren, Makaila, Elijah, Vanson, Ethan, and Chloe. She welcomes you to visit her website at http://www.diannechristner.net
LYNN A. COLEMAN is an award winning and bestselling author of Key West and other books. She began her writing and speaking career with how to utilize the Internet. Since October 1998, when her first fiction novel sold she's sold 38 books and novellas. Lynn is also the founder of American Christian Fiction Writers Inc. and served as the group's first president for two years and two years on the Advisory Board. One of her primary reasons for starting ACFW was to help writers to develop their writing skills and to encourage others to go deeper in their relationship with God. "God has given me a gift, but it is my responsibility to develop that gift." Some of her other interests are photography, camping, cooking, and boating. Having grown up on Martha’s Vineyard, she finds water to be very exciting and soothing. She can sit and watch the waves for hours. If time permitted she would like to travel. She makes her home in Keystone Heights, Florida, where her husband of 42 years serves as pastor of Friendship Bible Church. Together they are blessed with three children, two living and one in glory, and eight grandchildren.
PATTY SMITH HALL is an award-winning, multi-published author with Love Inspired Historical and Heartsong/Harlequin. She currently serves as president of the ACFW-Atlanta chapter and is active on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. She calls North Georgia her home which she shares with her husband of 30+ years, Danny; two gorgeous daughters and a future son-in-love. Visit her website at www.pattysmithhall.com.
Grace Hitchcock is a Louisiana Southerner living in Colorado with her husband, Dakota. She is a member of ACFW and has a Masters in Creative Writing. The Widow of St. Charles Avenue is her first Barbour novella in The Second Chance Brides Collection.
CONNIE STEVENS lives with her husband of forty-plus years in north Georgia, within sight of her beloved mountains. She and her husband are both active in a variety of ministries at their church. A lifelong reader, Connie began creating stories by the time she was ten. Her office manager and writing muse is a cat, but she’s never more than a phone call or email away from her critique partners. She enjoys gardening and quilting, but one of her favorite pastimes is browsing antique shops where story ideas often take root in her imagination. Connie has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2000.
Read an Excerpt
Looks as if you're about ready."
Am I ready? Is anyone ever ready for anything in life? Especially when doubt comes sneaking in, ready to trip up plans or steal away the confidence that once led to a firm decision. Mason Bassinger glanced at his saddlebags thrown over the croup of his mare Honey, the wool blanket that once adorned Mother's bed, or so his brother Harold told him, rolled up and tied to the back. He was just a lad when she passed away and couldn't recollect things like the blanket on her bed. Harold had been the one to remind him of the past. Harold raised him. Provided for him. Guided him in the things of life.
Now Harold was telling him it was time to leave. But all Mason could envision was falling off a rocky precipice if he rode away.
Harold squinted at him. "It's going to be just fine," he said, trying to alleviate the doubt that sought to disrupt the plans. "You know what to do. We Bassingers have it in our blood to do good. It's a part of us."
Of course Mason knew what to do, but did he want to? Could he construe this mission as something good and godly? "I will go, Harold. But this is the last time."
Harold stepped back, his brown eyes widening. "What do you mean?"
Mason threw his foot up to catch the stirrup and drew himself into the saddle. "Just as I said. I — I need to do other things."
Harold's mouth fell open. "You can't turn your back on what's happening. The business is doing so well. With what I've been told about the land down there in South Carolina after Sherman's march, there's a fortune to be made."
Mason adjusted his hat atop his crop of dark brown hair, gritting his teeth as he did. He wished he could speak the words from the Good Book he'd read last night about the root of mammon and Harold's incessant desire for money. Mason understood where it stemmed from — a life as boys growing up in a ramshackle cabin, with Papa drunk on whiskey and Mother trying to sew for wealthy neighbors to put bread on the table. Harold confessed to him one evening, through narrow eyes and a face red like the sinking sun, that he would never again live the life of a pauper. He would have what he deserved, his castle here on earth. Being ten years Harold's junior, Mason went along with whatever Harold said. Harold had helped him through the difficult times. When they lost both Mother and Papa in a flu epidemic, Harold had been by his side to make sense out of life and provide them food to eat.
Now Harold had made a name for himself by buying up lands ravaged by the war. Many folks called them carpetbaggers. Sometimes scoundrels, scalawags, even scum. To Harold, buying land not only helped him fill his pockets but helped those suffering, which he emphasized as the good part of the business. Mason believed him. He had no choice. Harold had been steadfast and sure in the difficult times of his life when he had no other. He owed his brother a debt of gratitude.
Since turning his heart to Christ a few months ago at a prayer meeting, new feelings had begun to surface in Mason's reborn soul. Almost as if God had now taken Harold's place as the Provider, leading him to new paths for His name's sake. Maybe it was the prayer he'd uttered — looking now to heaven's reward rather than anything here that could turn to tatters. He would rather trust the One who cared not only for his body but also his soul. Especially now, after years of a terrible conflict that saw thousands die. The scars of battle remained on the land and in people's hearts. Except for Harold, whose craving to make money off the misery left Mason to question their business and the profit they made. God's way of thinking looked much more promising and enduring to Mason, and compassionate too. But Harold was kin. Mason pledged to make this one final trip before life took him elsewhere.
"Well, you'd better get going, as daylight is burning," Harold told him. "I'll be looking for your telegrams. You got the map I gave you?"
Mason felt for the square bulge in his pocket that Harold had secured — a map of South Carolina with the place of interest circled. Harold had heard from a contact in Columbia of a rail town called Kingsville in an area once teeming with plantations and good timber lining the Congaree River. "I have it right here."
"And the money?"
He checked the leather purse that jingled under his fingertips before reining Honey about to face southward. "Yes."
"Good. I'll be waiting to hear any news. ..." His voice trailed off.
The echo of Harold's words reverberated in Mason as if the unspoken words of "or else" were meant to be added. He shouldn't read so much into it. Harold had never been threatening but only supportive. Mason knew well the words in a telegram that would tickle his brother's ears, describing families who'd lost all they had to Sherman's rampage and now wanted a new life. And that meant surrendering property that had been in the family for generations. Mason had with him the gold that would appeal to the sad and depraved families. Gold would speak above the groan of misery from a wounded heart. Harold was counting on it. But at that moment, the purpose of this mission weighed Mason down. He prayed God might yet have the final say over all these plans and release the burden he felt. What that plan might be, I don't know.
* * *
"Yep. Should do ya right fine."
After a week's journey to this place from New York, Mason already felt worn out but ready to fulfill his duty as quickly as possible. The roguish fellow with a reed poking out of his mouth didn't even look at Mason but only stared at the gold coin reflecting in the light of the noonday sun. As Mason knew it would, money did something inside a man hungering for the feel of wealth after the depravity of war. This fellow was no different. Though right now, as Mason looked over the boat with paint peeling off and cracks running the length of the boards, he had to wonder if the craft would even bear him to where he needed to go. "And you're certain it's seaworthy?" he began.
"Course. Ain't no reason not to be."
Mason watched again as the man flipped the coin back and forth between two dirty hands thick with calluses while his grin grew even wider. "I ain't never seen nuthin' so purty in all my born days." His gray-blue eyes now settled on Mason. "Where'd you get this? Ain't nuthin' like this round here. Only got Confederate money or them Yankee greenbacks, and all worthless."
"I worked hard for it," Mason said, picking up the pair of oars lying on the ground. Though he questioned this particular man's integrity, he was thankful to have found a reputable stableman to board Honey while he went about his business. The town of Kingsville still appeared prosperous, though it had tasted Sherman's wrath, with the burnt-out shells of buildings once belonging to the railroad standing as stark reminders. When he first arrived, the sight of Northern aggression sent trepidation racing through him, and he'd made a decision then to scout the lay of the land by the way of the Congaree River here in South Carolina. He would take Harold's map and make an inconspicuous sweep of everything. He would write down the kind of timber he found and anything else of value. He would also check out the effects the war had on the area. Harold said property by the river might be valuable. He could imagine his brother's glee when he wired him about several properties secured by the coins he carried, ready to deliver in triumph. Once Mason finished with his mission, he would move on with life.
"So is there good land along the river?" Mason asked the man.
"Sure. Jus' go on down there a spell and you'll see it all. Won't be too flooded neither. Not the storm season." He pocketed the coin. "And there's a mighty fine filly living down there too — sweet looking like sugar candy, but hoo-wee, what a temper. Lost her family's home in the war, you see. Seen her on the river a lot in her pappy's old boat. She owns a lot of land."
Mason was all ears. He reached inside a saddlebag for a piece of paper and the stub of a pencil. "Do you have a name?"
"Ha. I call her the Belle of the Congaree. Hair lak fire with a temper to match. Claims the river's hers, ha-ha. Now if yer lookin' for a quick-tempered, mean-spirited woman ..."
"I'm not," Mason said hastily. "I'm interested in land."
The man squinted at him "Hey, you ain't one of them Yankee scalawags I hear talk about?" He spit a wad of something brown and oozy onto the ground.
Mason's stomach lurched at the unseemly gift of tobacco. "I am a gentleman of the North and ..."
"Ha! You must be one of them all right. But never you mind. I lak yer money all the same. Anyways, jus' go on down there a spell and you'll run into her." The man cackled as he withdrew, leaving Mason to wonder if the man had left him to the claws of some unknown evil, whether it be the boat he'd secured or this woman with fiery red hair called the Belle of the Congaree. "What is her name?" he finally asked the man, who began sauntering back to his old donkey hee-hawing in protest as it stood tied to a tree.
"Miss Anderson." He lifted his hat. "And tell her that Chester T. Wilson gives her a mighty fine howdy-do."
Mason twisted his lips, already vowing not to give some nice southern woman a taste of any howdy-do from the rather unseemly Chester T. Wilson. He returned to his task at hand and the dilapidated boat that pitched helplessly under his weight. He hoped and prayed this had been a good idea even as doubts rose over his plan to sneak up the river to where this fiery belle lived. Maybe her family still possessed weapons. He could envision her red hair flying in the wind, her father armed and ready to drive him off their land. Especially if any of them caught wind that he was a scalawag from the North. A bullet could come sooner rather than later.
A half hour went by, and already large beads of sweat were rolling down Mason's face and trickling into his eyebrows, stinging his eyes. Stains appeared on his shirt. He took out a handkerchief to wipe his face, recalling with pain the hot and humid days when he last came to this part of the country. He'd traveled farther south and east then, near Savannah, and there he secured several properties for his brother. He could hardly revel in the open window of opportunity when he saw the lands disrupted by wartime and the helpless faces as people signed over the only homes they ever knew to a carpetbagger from New York. Those were the images that drew him to church and then to the altar of repentance to heal him of the guilt he felt.
Mason heaved the oars, wishing he had more strength. The river was stagnant, with flies swarming around both him and the boat. Trees lined the riverside, veils of Spanish moss drooping over the branches, untouched by war. The area still breathed life and God's favor amid the storm. The vast acreage of timber alone would make Harold's eyes glow in appreciation. Mason fetched his notepad to scribble down some observations. There was much good to be said about this place if not for the sweat that soaked him from the blazing sun and his parched throat begging for moisture. Mason finally took a tin cup from the saddlebag and scooped up brown, tepid river water. It tasted like a freshly plowed field. He poured most of it over his head, hoping not to collapse under the oppressive warmth.
The rowing soon turned difficult as his arms cramped from the relentless battle with the turbid river water. He tried to shift his mind to searching the riverbank for any sign of this fair red-haired belle. He saw no manner of civilization in these parts, no homes or roads or any living thing save the gnarly trees and tall grass in a swampy land.
Mason shifted then and felt a strange sensation as his feet suddenly became nice and cool. He glanced down to see a pool of water forming in the bottom of the boat. "Oh no!" His fear had come true. The boat leaked, and leaked badly. Mason scowled. Talk about scalawags ... that Chester T. Wilson was the epitome of one by taking his gold for a leaky dinghy. And now he presumed the miscreant occupied a table inside a Kingsville saloon, laughing with his fellow buddies, showing off the coin while boasting how he bested a Yankee carpetbagger at his own game.
This was a bad idea. Mason groaned. Worse too was his rowing ability that amounted to mere splatters of the oars in the muddy water. He moved his saddlebag to his lap when the bottom of it became soaked from the rising water. Mason inhaled a deep breath and tried with all his might to row to the safety of the shore before the boat sank deeper into the murky depths.
Water soon reached midcalf. His anxiety began to rise. Why hadn't he kept to dry land? Why did he have to act like a serpent and sneak around? Am I my brother after all? And so began a list of mortal sins he felt he must have committed to be in this predicament.
Suddenly a voice called out to him. He looked to his right to find another boat on the river, proceeding rapidly in his direction. When the boat drew close, he managed to see the occupant — a young woman, dressed in gray, her large straw hat and veil masking much of her features. She commanded the oars and the situation like a captain in charge of a vessel. "Are you all right?" she called.
"My boat is filling with water," Mason confessed in a strangely calm voice that nowhere near matched the anxiety he felt. "I think it is on the verge of sinking. ..."
"You must abandon your boat immediately, sir. Hand me your belongings before it's too late."
Mason passed over his drenched saddlebag and his hat.
"Remove any other heavy clothing. I will not look." The woman turned away but added over her shoulder, "Remove your boots also. Nothing must weigh you down, or you will sink along with the boat."
Mason did as she said. He attempted to give her his boots, but the boat lurched and they slipped out of his hands and fell into the murkiness as he fought to stay upright. He sighed but focused instead on the rising water inside the boat. Quickly he entered the river and made his way toward her craft. Thankfully, there was no current tugging him in the opposite direction. He grabbed for the edge of her boat and somehow climbed into it. The craft pitched wildly and nearly capsized but for the woman who shifted to the other side to keep it upright. She never flinched or showed any concern at the thought of being tossed into the water. Even in his predicament, he had to admire her steadfastness and strength. "You — you are a miracle," he sputtered.
"A miracle indeed! Look at you. You nearly drowned."
Mason wiped away streams of water from his face. "Allow me to at least row. I will not have a woman do it."
"I have done just fine, but you may assist me." She handed him an oar, and together they maneuvered the boat to where an old dock still stood with splintered wood toasting in the noonday sun. Mason tried to get a closer look at his benefactress as she rowed, but the veil and hat masked her features. "Tell me how it is you were on the river this day?"
"One must eat." She pointed to the pail of river water with fish floating quietly about as the boat drew near the dock. She threw a loop of rope over a wooden support.
He wondered what else he could offer in the conversation, especially to a woman who appeared to fight every day to live. Only one thing came to mind, given the circumstances he had found himself in. "Thank you. You were sent by God."
The straw hat spun about, the edge of it nearly nipping him on the cheek. Suddenly the woman swept back the veil as if she were by some great marriage altar, ready to greet her groom. It revealed a set of deep green eyes matching the Spanish moss decorating the tree limbs. Ringlets of auburn hair rested beside cheeks colored from either the sun or their conversation. The hair reminded him of what Chester Wilson had said back in Kingsville. He sucked in a breath. No doubt she must be the infamous Belle of the Congaree. He nearly opened his mouth to inquire then shook his head.
"Why do you shake your head like that? Am I so awful to look at?" She laughed as she stooped to pick up the pail of fish.
"Of course not. Please, allow me to carry the pail. I insist."
She left the pail and gathered her skirt in one hand while holding her large hat with the other. She did not look wanting of money or anything else in particular but rather appeared confident and proud as any fine southern lady.
"Do you realize I was introduced to you earlier?" Mason offered.
She glanced at him. "Oh?"
"By a Mr. Wilson in town."
She sighed loudly. "I declare, he is an awful, vulgar man. Why have you anything to do with him?"
"I paid him for use of the boat."
"Ha-ha! What a terrible misfortune for you. I would ask why you are taking a pleasure trip on the Congaree in any boat of Mr. Wilson's. At least you are out of danger."
"Thanks to you. I–I'm glad you decided to go fishing."
"Not a chore a lady ought to be doing, but one I must in order to live. Like everything else here. And I can see, from your clothing and your accent, you are not from these parts. Maybe even a Yankee?"
"I won't deny it. I'm from New York, yes."
"A Yankee from New York, sailing along on our river. I'm sorry, Mister ..."
"Bassinger. Mason Bassinger."
"Mr. Bassinger. I'm sorry to say, but this does sound like another enemy invasion to me."
Mason swallowed hard as he caught a glimpse of her staring at him, but the veil suddenly fell forward, cooling the otherwise fire in her eyes. He wished then he had heeded his doubts at the very beginning of this venture and refused to come. She was right about one thing. Here in Southern territory, he was most assuredly the enemy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Southern Belle Brides Collection"
Copyright © 2018 Lauralee Bliss.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Belle of the Congaree,
The Marmalade Belle,
Debt of Love,
Miss Beaumont's Companion,
Above All These Things,