Olivia Aberdeen, destitute widow of a man shot as a traitor to the South, is shunned by proper society and gratefully accepts an invitation from Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation. Expecting to be the Hardings’ head housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned when she learns the real reason Elizabeth’s husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Not finding the safe haven she expects, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a man who seems anything but a Southern gentleman.
Branded a traitor by some, Ridley Cooper, a Southern son who chose to fight for the Union, is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him. Determined to learn “the gift” that Belle Meade's head horse trainer and former slave, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley harbors secrets that threaten both their lives.
As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for fighting against the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again.
Praise for Tamera Alexander:
“To Whisper Her Name has everything a fine historical novel needs: characters we truly care about, struggles that really matter, splashes of humor to engage us, and period details that bring the past to vibrant life. Ridley and Olivia both arrive with heartaches and disappointments tucked in their traveling bags. Watching them unpack those memories and make room for the Lord’s cleansing touch is pure reading pleasure.” —Liz Curtis Higgs, New York Times bestselling author
“Rich in history, romance, and human drama, To Whisper Her Name is a book to be savored, like a sumptuous Southern banquet. Tamera Alexander’s skills as a master storyteller have never been more evident.” —Robin Lee Hatcher, bestselling author of Cross My Heart and Who I Am with You
“To Whisper Her Name will grab you and not let go. It’s a beautiful, powerful story with unforgettable characters who face the unthinkable with honor while a captivating romance blooms where seeds should never have been scattered.” —Cindy Woodsmall, New York Times and CBA bestselling author
- This inspirational historical romance can be read as a stand-alone novel or enjoyed as the first book in Tamera Alexander’s Belle Meade series
- Book length: approximately 125 K words
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs, a recipe, and a note from the author
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To Whisper Her NameA Belle Meade Plantation Novel
By Tamera Alexander
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Tamera Alexander
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMay 10, 1866 Nashville, Tennessee
Olivia Aberdeen bowed her head as she hurried to the waiting carriage. Stares from people on the street bored into her like rusty nails, but she averted her gaze, certain if her eyes met theirs, the passersby would glimpse traces of guilt and would rush to heap further blame on her for what had happened.
Clutching an envelope in one hand, she accepted the servant's assistance into the carriage. Despite what her late husband had done to the people of Nashville—and to her—she couldn't bring herself to spit in the face of propriety. So while her heart was far from grieving the untimely passing of Charles Winthrop Aberdeen, she was properly adorned in the widow's garb befitting a woman of her station in life.
Or what used to be her life.
Settled on the carriage seat, Olivia drew in a deep breath, the first in what felt like five years. She knew it was wrong, what she was feeling. Because a widow of only a week shouldn't wish to dance a jig. But God help her, that's precisely what part of her wanted to do. Not on the grave of her recently deceased husband, of course—that would be considered rude. Just off to the side would suffice.
A swift stab of remorse accompanied the disparaging thought, and she bowed her head again, feeling the hot prick of tears. Merely imagining someone might guess her true feelings scathed her conscience. The duplicity of her circumstances wore on her already-frayed emotions, as did the knowledge that those watching her were also judging her.
But one thing she knew they would agree with her about—including the men who had successfully plotted to kill her husband—Charles Aberdeen had been among the basest of men, lacking in morals and ethics and loyalty to the Confederacy.
She'd never wished Charles dead. But she had wished to be severed from their marriage almost from the moment they'd become man and wife in God's eyes. The marriage had been arranged by her father in one of the final decisions of his life—an irrevocable partnership, as he'd explained—and Olivia had determined from the outset that what God had joined together, even without her consent, she had no right to put asunder.
Yet it would seem God himself had finally undertaken that task and had performed it with exacting precision and finality. So much so that, despite lingering doubt, she'd begun to wonder in recent days if he really did hear everything, even the silent desperate whisperings of a disillusioned soul.
The possibility brought a measure of comfort, but a greater feeling of unease when considering how little she really knew about his nature. She'd tried to be the very best wife she could be to her late husband, and this is how God repaid her.
"I got one trunk already loaded for you, Missus Aberdeen. But where are all the others, ma'am?"
Olivia sat straighter on the carriage seat, struggling to remember the servant's name. He'd only been sent to collect her. "I'm only taking the one trunk ... Jedediah. I have everything I need in there." And nothing her brother-in-law had forbidden her to take. He'd been named the sole beneficiary of her husband's estate—every last cent of which Charles had gained by cheating, lying, and swindling nearly everyone they knew. Even their friends, as it turned out. Those friends who—thanks to Charles's elder brother, the last of the Aberdeen family—now believed she'd known all along about the far-reaching extent of her husband's shady dealings.
Which she hadn't.
But one thing could be said for Charles Aberdeen ... he'd not been a respecter of persons when it came to taking advantage of someone. In that regard, he was no better than one of those Union sympathizers or fortune-seeking Northerners. And she wanted nothing that his greed and hypocrisy had garnered. Not even the wedding band—a family heirloom—Charles's brother had demanded she relinquish.
Jedediah peered up at her, his dark brow knitting tight, and she wondered if he understood what was happening to her, if he'd read the newspapers, if he could read at all. She wasn't about to try to explain it to him.
"Everything is fine," she assured, glancing down at the letter in her grip. Or soon would be. Surely Aunt Elizabeth would know what to do to help her navigate these unknown waters.
The carriage leaned to one side as Jedediah climbed to the driver's perch, and Olivia took one last glance at the handsome red-brick two-story house that had never been a home. Something went rigid inside her, and although it was ludicrous, she could've sworn she heard the scrape of mortar being spread on brick. Another layer being added to the wall she'd erected within herself. A wall that distanced her from every shed and unshed tear. Every unmet need. Every harsh word, look, and blow her strikingly handsome husband had bestowed upon her. And as much as she hated how the protective wall had changed her, hardened her, the wall also kept her safe, guarded her from being hurt again and from the sting of betrayal. She'd vowed to never place herself in a position where that could happen again.
And in the somber reflection of the moment, she silently pledged it for a second time.
She looked away, but recklessly so, for her gaze collided with that of a woman standing not ten feet away. The woman, older in years, draped in black, her pale skin sallow, her eyes sunken deep, stared at Olivia, unblinking. The woman's lips moved and Olivia braced herself for whatever she might say. Or scream. But it wasn't words that came from the woman's mouth.
The carriage started forward with a jolt, and Olivia tore her gaze away. But not before she saw the woman wipe the spittle from her chin.
Rigid as stone on the outside, Olivia trained her gaze straight forward as the carriage bumped and jarred over the rain-rutted road, purposefully not looking to the left or the right. A recent newspaper article had reported in detail about the entailment of Charles's estate onto his brother, so no doubt people were aware of her circumstances. Likewise, judging from their reactions, many of them were savoring her comeuppance.
Down Elm Street first, then Pine and Poplar, until, finally, the number of gawking pedestrians mercifully thinned.
A traitorous tear edged the corner of her eye, but she put a swift end to it, unwilling to shed one more drop of grief over that man. She didn't miss him, so what was this ... emptiness she felt inside?
Realization gradually dawned, and with difficulty, she acknowledged what she was feeling. Though she hadn't loved Charles, a part of her did miss what they might have had together if he'd been a different kind of man.
The carriage passed a school, one she'd walked by often and always with a yearning. Though not for what most women might have wanted. Oh, early in their marriage, she had asked God repeatedly for children, truly wanting a child and believing it would help her and Charles's relationship. But God had not granted that request and wisely so, looking back. Charles had blamed the lack of conceiving on her, as he had with everything. And though she still hoped for children someday, if she was able, what she wished for now—what she'd wished for growing up—was a chance to nurture in another way.
But even that, Charles had taken from her. Along with everything else. She watched the school disappear from view.
Street traffic was light, so stops and starts were few. But recent summer downpours followed by days of oven-like heat had left the roads deeply scarred and ill-fit for travel. The carriage lurched to one side as a rear wheel slipped into a rut, and Olivia grabbed hold of the door, her stomach knotting. The walls of the carriage seemed to close in, and the horses' struggle to gain footing didn't help her already taut nerves.
If it wasn't so far a distance, she'd get out and walk. As it was, she tried to focus on something else, turning her gaze outward.
The war-torn city was gradually coming back to life again, though the number of boarded-up buildings stood as testament to how far a stretch remained on that journey.
A line of pedestrians trailed out the door of a bakery and that of a telegraph office, while a woman draped in black, like so many others, cradled a squalling infant in one arm and pulled two more children along behind. Men clad in tattered clothes—some still wearing their Confederate coats, now turned a dingy, defeated gray—stood clustered together on street corners, their shoulders thin and stooped beneath invisible burdens.
Olivia swallowed, tasting a bitterness, hating what the war had done. And to think her husband—and her, by association—had profited from the less fortunate, by helping others to "invest" what little money they had left. No surprise people looked at her with such disdain.
The last image she had of Charles rose in her mind, and she squeezed her eyes tight, wishing she could erase it from memory. The way they'd killed him ... His body so brutalized and—
Swallowing hard, she pressed back against the cushioned seat and focused on the buildings passing in a foggy blur. She steered her thoughts toward her destination, all while fingering the letter in her lap.
Her mother could not have had a finer friend in this life, nor could her mother have chosen a finer woman to help fill the gaping hole her own passing left. Elizabeth Harding, "aunt" by friendship, was the closest thing to family Olivia had left. She clutched the envelope as if it were her ticket to a new life. Thank God for you, Elizabeth.
Where would she be right now if not for this kind and generous invitation?
One might think that going from the wife of Charles Winthrop Aberdeen to being the Harding family's head housekeeper was a far fall. But managing the day-to-day household activities sounded like a haven to her. She would cook and clean too, if it came to that, and do whatever else was required to repay the Hardings for their kindness in taking her in.
Well, almost anything else ... The only part of the arrangement that didn't sit well was having to live in close proximity to General Harding's spirited thoroughbreds.
She ran a hand over the sleeve of her left arm, still able to feel a slight bump, even through her suit jacket, where the bone had mended thirteen years earlier. She'd been only ten at the time, but the events from that afternoon remained vivid. The pain of the break was memorable enough, as was the unsightly scar. But the excruciating snap when the doctor reset the bone had haunted her for years. She hadn't ridden a horse since. Not until Charles had insisted a year ago.
"Get on the horse, Olivia!" Teeth clenched, he'd gripped her arm tightly.
"Charles, please ... I don't want to do this. You don't understand what—"
"You're embarrassing me. And yourself! Now get on the—"
Her cheeks burned as she recalled his harsh words. A queasiness clenched her mid-section. She'd told him the stallion was too much horse for her. He hadn't listened. Or cared. The horse had thrown her for no apparent reason, then turned and almost trampled her in the process. It had taken weeks for the bruises on her hip and thigh to heal.
She hadn't been on a horse since.
She managed riding in a carriage well enough but didn't like it. And a wagon too, though the nearness the open conveyance afforded to the four-legged beasts was much less preferred. She wished no ill will on the breed as a whole, she simply wished them to be kept far away from her. Which shouldn't be an issue, even at a stud farm like Belle Meade. Not with her serving as head housekeeper to the Hardings.
The terrain outside the carriage window gradually included fewer and fewer buildings until only rolling countryside filled the frame. The air inside the carriage grew overly warm, and Olivia leaned closer to the door, letting the breeze blow across her face. She longed for fall and cooler temperatures, the crisp air and crunch of leaves underfoot. Something about summer giving way to autumn always made her think of new beginnings. Odd really, when nature was going dormant for a season. But she loved the fall and desperately needed a new beginning in her life.
Despite everything that had transpired with Charles and his death, Nashville was the only home she'd ever known. And as certain as fall passed into winter and spring gave way to summer, she knew she would live and die here.
The South was a part of her, and—for better or worse—she would always be a part of it.
The carriage slowed, and Jedediah negotiated a path onto a washboard road leading to the Harding plantation. Within seconds, Olivia was certain her teeth would be jarred completely out of her head. Wealthy as General Harding was, he couldn't dictate the weather or control its aftereffects. Aunt Elizabeth had written to her more than once about the general's determination to pave this road with macadam, and right now Olivia would've wholeheartedly seconded the plan.
After a mile, then another, the ruts seemed to lessen.
She'd been out here only once in the past five years since she and Charles had married, and once with Charles and General Harding in the same room had been more than enough. She remembered General Harding's exact words: "A man so keenly tied to the Union's interests in both action and opinion smacks of betrayal to the Confederacy and to his fellow countrymen. I'll extend no welcome to him in my home, nor will I claim association with him in any public forum."
Aunt Elizabeth—though she too disdained Unionists—had been more understanding and had written faithfully, even suggesting they meet in town. But Charles had swiftly squelched that idea. Olivia touched the side of her temple, remembering their ... "discussion."
The letters between her and Elizabeth had been a lifeline, and she cherished them. But she'd been less than honest with her about the intimate details of her marriage. After all, it wasn't proper for a woman to speak of such things. Once, in a letter to Elizabeth, she'd penned the truth of her relationship with Charles. But the very thought of him laying claim to that letter had sent her to the hearth posthaste, and she'd watched the fire devour the engraved stationery, the flames licking up the truth still locked tightly inside her.
She leaned forward on the seat, her anticipation growing at the thought of seeing Elizabeth again. "We'll be waiting for you with open arms, Livvy," Elizabeth had written. "You are like a daughter to me. As much as my own Selene or Mary is." Olivia took a deep breath and held it, smiling on the inside for the first time in she didn't know how long and awaiting that first glimpse of the Belle Meade mansion and its beautiful—
Something caught her eye. Someone. A man. Walking up the road a ways. And something about him drew her in.
He carried a ragged-looking pack, like that of a soldier, slung across his back. His gait was measured and unhurried, a fluid confidence accentuating each step. And he was tall, at least as tall as Charles had been.
His hair, dark, with a touch of unruly curl, reached past his collar in a manner more suited to that of a vagrant than a gentleman. Yet his clothes didn't look threadbare like those of the other men she'd seen in town. Still, his trousers were caked in dried mud six inches deep, like he'd been walking for weeks—if not months—on end.
She wondered if he knew where he was going and that this road led to the Hardings' plantation, then on down south through much of nothing, all the way to Natchez, Mississippi. And that, only after traversing the fifty-three hundred acres of wooded meadows and hills that comprised the Belle Meade Plantation.
As the carriage drew closer, Olivia leaned back into the shadows of her protective confines, not wanting the man to see her watching as they passed. But at that very moment he turned and looked back, and their eyes locked.
The distinguishing features of his face were hidden behind a thick beard, one that hadn't seen a trim in weeks, if ever. And although she couldn't pinpoint exactly why, she sensed a determination in him, in the resilient set of his shoulders perhaps or the steady gait of his stride—maybe in the way he carried himself. But he had a wildness about him too, like something caged, recently set free. And that untamed quality made her glad she was in the carriage and he was not.
As the carriage drew closer, she told herself to look away. Too late.
A flash of acknowledgement registered in his eyes. He waved to Jedediah—a short, succinct gesture—then looked back at her. One side of his bearded cheek edged up as though he found her attention amusing, and his teeth showed white in a slow-coming smile. He brought his hand to his forehead—just as the carriage passed him—and snapped a smart salute, then he—
Excerpted from To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander Copyright © 2012 by Tamera Alexander. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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