One stolen kiss.
Two hearts from different worlds.
When war and time threaten to keep them apart, will love be enough?
Virginia, 1860. For Leigh Alexandra Travers, life at her family's Virginia plantation is a paradise of summer picnics and sweet tea. The daughter of a wealthy Southern horse breeder, Leigh has no interest in the outside world. Until she meets Neil Braedon...
Young and beautiful, Leigh catches the sharp eye of Neil Braedon, raised to manhood by Comanches, not by the Braedons of Royal Bay Manor. Their stolen kiss inflames a life-altering passion.
As war storms across the divided land, Leigh's family fights to preserve their fading Southern heritage, even as Neil joins the Union army. Against all odds, in tumultuous times, can Leigh and Neil forge a new future in the untamed West?
Praise for Laurie McBain:
"Wonderfully romantic."—Romantic Times
"Lush and evocative."—Publishers Weekly
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When the Splendor Falls
By Laurie McBain
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 1985 Laurie McBain
All rights reserved.
Olympus, where they say there is an abode of the gods, ever unchanging: it is neither shaken by winds nor ever wet with rain, nor does snow come near it, but clear weather spreads cloudless about it, and a white radiance stretches above it.
Carolina yellow jessamine trailed over the white, split-railed fence bordering the green pastures of Travers Hill. The sweet-scented jessamine was a favorite of Beatrice Amelia Travers, mistress of Travers Hill. Beatrice Amelia was one of the Leighs of South Carolina, and jessamine and azaleas, benne wafers, and the daily ritual of sipping her syllabub were comforting reminders to Beatrice Amelia of her girlhood days in Charleston.
Fortunately her family enjoyed chicken curry with rice, another of Beatrice Amelia's favorites, because they had the dish every Sunday, along with crab soup, honey and cinnamon-candied yams, corn fritters, baked ham, garden stuffs, and brandied peaches. Except for Mr. Travers's bourbon pecan cake, which was always prepared with ceremonial care the afternoon before, Sunday dessert was subject to the seasons. The Travers children, however, had always been very fond of Jolie's caramel custard, which was a treat for year-round enjoyment. But on this particular Sunday late in July, blackberry cobbler had been planned for the family's delectation.
Beatrice Amelia Travers was also very fond of roses. That was why the garden before the entrance to the house had been planted entirely with roses. Beatrice Amelia was especially fond of her Rosa gallica aurelianensis, one of her prized French roses. But it was an old damask rose, lost amongst the China, sweetbriar, and cabbage roses, with its heady scent of cloves that lent such a spicy sweetness to the air when one entered Travers Hill.
Travers Hill sat upon a wooded knoll overlooking the river and was a pleasant day's carriage ride from Charlottesville. The curving lane swept up a gentle slope from the river where sweet bay and loblolly grew wild with the willows along the banks. Scattered through the landscaped grounds, the sourwood was heavy with white blossoms, and the camellias and gardenias were in full bloom. A field of sun-bronzed daylilies stretched toward the blue-green pastureland where blooded mares and their foals grazed peacefully in the shade of a gnarled oak. Even the long row of stables, the heart of Travers Hill, showed little sign of activity this sleepy afternoon. A solitary, stately chestnut with a canopy of leafy green branches divided the narrow road halfway up the knoll. One of the lanes led to the sawmill and lumberyard just upriver, and the other curved up to the house and around to the big barns, servants' quarters, and coach house behind.
The lower slopes to the east were planted with orchards, the fruit turning amber, scarlet, and purple as peaches, pears, apples, and plums ripened under the summer sun. The valley floor that surrounded Travers Hill like a sea of green was lush with cultivated fields of crops. The master of Travers Hill had proudly predicted a bountiful harvest this year.
Westward, toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, wooded slopes and tiny hamlets dotted the rolling hill country. The Travers family's nearest neighbors were downriver at Royal Bay Manor, home of the Braedons, and the finest example of Georgian architecture outside of Richmond. The ties between the two families had become even closer since the eldest Travers daughter, Althea Louise, had wed Nathan Douglas, the firstborn son of the Braedons and the first in line to inherit Royal Bay.
The Travers family lived in an unpretentious style; the manor house being of modest proportions, the brick facade mellowed with time. The house was tastefully decorated in a comfortable manner that seemed to welcome visitors. Which was perhaps why Travers Hill was always filled with family and friends, and no stranger had ever been turned away from the emerald green door with its pineapple-shaped brass knocker. A row of green-shuttered windows flanked the entrance and overlooked the covered veranda, the slender posts marching along the front thickly entwined with rambler roses much to Beatrice Amelia's satisfaction.
It was in the shade of the veranda that part of the Travers family now sat in companionable relaxation and casual conversation, the gentlemen enjoying their cooling mint juleps, while the ladies indulged in a pitcher of sweet lemonade and lace cookies. It was a moment of peace before the week's busy preparations for the celebrations that were to begin on Friday with the sixteenth birthday party for Blythe Lucinda, youngest of the Travers. Althea Louise and her husband, Nathan, and their only daughter, six-year-old Noelle, had driven over from Royal Bay that morning in order to spend Sunday with her family. They had arrived two days earlier from Richmond, where Nathan had a law practice and just this past year had been elected to represent his home district in the state legislature. They planned to spend the week visiting between Travers Hill and Royal Bay, dividing their time equally between the two families — the Braedons especially anxious to spend time with their only granddaughter.
On the morrow, Stuart James, the eldest Travers son, and his wife, Thisbe, and their two children, Leslie and Cynthia, were due from Willow Creek Landing, the family's plantation south of Richmond, and fronting the James River. Unless, of course, they stayed over in Richmond and accompanied Maribel Samuelson and her party on Tuesday. That was when Maribel, Stuart Travers's sister, and her husband, J. Kirkfield, were supposed to leave Richmond for Travers Hill. Family and friends were expected any day from Charleston and Savannah, and the friends and neighbors from Charlottesville and the surrounding county would start arriving during the latter part of the week; and half of those coming on Saturday just for the horse auction, followed by the race on Sunday.
And sometime midweek, Palmer William, the youngest Travers son, was due home, and he might have half his class from school accompanying him as he had at Christmastime, much to his speechless mother's dismay. And the Traverses' in-laws from Royal Bay, especially Euphemia, Nathan's mother, who was also Maribel's best friend from childhood, were likely to be dropping in and out all week. Euphemia always had a special recipe she wanted to share. All of these thoughts and far more disturbing ones — concerning the menus for each meal, the dresses and gowns that should have been laundered by now and hadn't, where everyone would be put up for the week, and who was talking to whom and should or shouldn't be seated next to each other in the seating arrangements, and had Stephen polished all the silver — were racing through the mistress of Travers Hill's mind and belying the outwardly serene expression on her face as she tended to her sewing.
Beatrice Amelia was very carefully stitching a delicate pink rose on one of her fine lawn handkerchiefs, which she intended to tuck inside the lace-edged sleeve of her favorite rose pink foulard gown on Wednesday. Her pale blond head with its heavy, netted chignon was bent low over her embroidery as she examined her workmanship with a critical eye.
Mother of eight children, the eldest twenty-six, the youngest fifteen, with only two not having survived infancy, Beatrice Amelia still retained much of the beauty that had made her a famous belle of Charleston in the thirties. Her flawless profile had been the inspiration for many an artist when creating a likeness to grace a cameo, and many of her dearest friends claimed Beatrice Amelia could still wear her first ball gown if she so chose; although, privately, each thought she must have let out the waist at least an inch or two, surely?
"When is your cousin supposed to arrive, Nathan?" Stuart Travers, master of Travers Hill, asked, accepting another mint julep from the tray being proffered by the majordomo. "Ah, that's nice, Stephen," he told the ebony-skinned man, who'd been standing quietly beside him. "Nobody, and that means nobody on this good earth, and certainly not in the Old Dominion, makes a julep better than Stephen. Takes a fine, steady hand and a sharp mind to mix it this tasty."
"Not too sweet then, sir?" Stephen asked, his words coming as slow and rich as blackstrap molasses. There was just a hint of a French accent, which startled those who didn't know that he'd come to Travers Hill from Charleston when Beatrice Amelia had come as a young bride. He and his wife, Jolie, had been given to the young mistress by her father as part of her dowry. Stephen was the son of Jean Jacques, the most highly prized majordomo in all of Charleston, and to part with Stephen, who'd been trained by Jean Jacques, had cost Beatrice Amelia's father dearly.
Colonel Leigh hadn't really minded parting with Jolie, a mulattress. The colonel had never been easy around her. Bad blood. That's what came of an African mother and a Cherokee father, the colonel had predicted, for Jolie, tall and long-necked, carried herself with a queenly dignity that at times bordered on insolence — as if she knew something he didn't. And more than once he'd sworn that Jolie had been at the root of the disquiet in his home. He'd never had any trouble until she'd come under his roof with her voodoo charms and chanting to strange spirits, and when she'd been baptized a Christian she'd become even more eccentric in her beliefs. But Stephen hadn't minded his wife's oddities, claiming he'd never shake the fever from a love potion she'd given him. But Colonel Leigh knew Jolie would die before she'd allow any harm to befall her young mistress, having cared for his daughter since Beatrice Amelia had been in the cradle. And so with mixed emotions the colonel had bid farewell to his only daughter and one of his most prized slaves, sending them into the wilds of Virginia with Jolie.
"Neil said sometime this week," Nathan replied, declining another julep. "He wrote in his letter he hoped to leave Santa Fe by the end of June. It's a long way, and even Neil might meet up with the unexpected."
"The crossing from England is safer, I'd wager. I hope he makes it in time for our celebrations. Palmer William is due to arrive on Wednesday or Thursday, and I would imagine he'll be riding down with young Justin Braedon; they've become good friends at school. He'll probably be over here at Travers Hill as much as with his cousins at Royal Bay. I'd bet we've seen as much of young Julia as your folks have since she and Leigh returned from school. Never heard the house so full of silly giggling or seen it so crowded with beaus," Mr. Travers said with a sigh of exasperation. "Never thought I'd have to introduce myself to strangers in my own home. Of course, I'm not the one those young bucks are interested in since Leigh came sashaying home from Charleston, and a saucier and sassier young minx I've yet to meet. Should never have let her leave Travers Hill," he grumbled beneath his breath, wondering what had happened to the sweet little girl who'd been fond of climbing trees, riding bareback, and going fishing with her father on a hot summer's afternoon.
"Now, now, dear," Beatrice Amelia interrupted, quite pleased with the results of the Charleston finishing school. "Leigh Alexandra was quite incorrigible before we sent her away to school. She is exactly what a proper young lady should be now that she has been trained in the proper pursuits for young ladies. I am truly beginning to have the highest hopes for her."
Mr. Travers took a long swallow of his mint julep, emptying the tall glass, his ruddy-complexioned face becoming ruddier. Damn, he'd hardly recognized the furbelowed female who'd greeted him at the door of Travers Hill when she and her mother had returned from Charleston. Surely Beatrice Amelia had brought home the wrong girl. "I suppose this Neil Braedon has planned his trip to Virginia in order to see his brother and bring any news from home?" he commented politely, thinking it would be good to see his youngest son again. At least he could take some pleasure in the change in that member of the Travers family. Since they'd sent the boy away to the Virginia Military Institute at Lexington, he'd seemed to grow into a man overnight, not that he had much beard to show for it yet. It had caused much consternation for his mother, since Palmer William, with his fair hair, soft blue eyes, and gentle ways, had always been his mother's favorite.
"Justin won't need to hear news from home. Aunt Camilla, his mother, is one of my mother's dear friends and an untiring correspondent. Neil and Justin would have nothing to discuss other than family, and Neil has never considered himself part of my uncle's second family. I feel sorry for Neil sometimes," Nathan said, frowning slightly. "He seems so alone, although he makes it damned hard — forgive me, ladies — to get close to him. Of course, from what I've heard from my father, Neil always has been a loner. Except for his sister, Shannon, who was always there for him, he has never had anyone who cared about him. She almost raised Neil by herself, especially when Uncle Nathaniel would have nothing to do with him. Their mother died giving birth to Neil. It's a pity, seeing how Uncle Nathaniel and Neil are so much alike. If only Shannon had lived. I think that was the final blow that caused the rift to widen between them. And then when Uncle Nathaniel remarried and had another family it left Neil outside again. Now I think about it, I believe it was my own dear mother and Maribel Samuelson who introduced Uncle Nathaniel to his second wife. The poor man didn't stand a chance, being a wealthy widower and having all of the eligible young females thrust in front of him as if at auction."
"Sounds like my busybody sister, always sticking her nose where it shouldn't be. Think Neil would be interested in our little auction? Might do them prairie ponies good to have some pure blood running in their veins."
"He might be interested. Neil has a good eye for horseflesh and he's interested in improving the breed," Nathan allowed. "Of course, he might claim that some of our Thoroughbreds at Royal Bay actually came from good Spanish stock, and that is why our Virginia bloods are so famous today."
"Nonsense," Mr. Travers said, eyeing Nathan over the rim of his glass.
"Indeed, sir. I believe your own grandfather bought Andalusians, bloods from fine Arabian and Barb stock, from the same French trader and Pawnees in the Santa Fe trade that my great-grandfather did. Patrick Henry was governor and even back then he knew to look to the West. Yes, sir, mighty fine horse trader too. My cousin will, of course, want to see what Royal Bay has to offer first. Neil still rides one of Royal Bay's best."
"Naturally," Mr. Travers agreed, with a wide understanding grin that didn't fool anyone. "Patrick Henry was also a lawyer," he added softly.
Squinting, for she would only deign to wear her spectacles in private, Beatrice Amelia looked up from her embroidery, her mind still on the first part of their conversation. "Justin Braedon and Palmer William? Well, I just hope he's more civilized than that brother of his or I don't want him having anything to do with my son," she declared, remembering the other Braedon who had visited his relatives at Royal Bay years ago. "Surprised any of us still have our hair," she said, frowning at one of her stitches as she held the cloth up to the light. "I declare, I nearly miscarried because of the trouble you, Nathan Douglas, who should have known better; that brother of yours, Adam Merton, who will never know any better; and, most especially, that uncivilized cousin of yours got involved in that summer. Still have nightmares, I do indeed, remembering that bloodcurdling howling you Braedon boys all used to scream at the top of your lungs."
"Ah, the war cry," Nathan murmured with remembered pleasure.
"A war cry? What is that, Papa?" Noelle Braedon demanded, her brown eyes wide with interest. "What does it sound like? Like a baby? Like Leslie when he doesn't get what he wants?" she asked, remembering her young cousin's constant bawling at Eastertime.
Althea Louise, who'd been reading to her young daughter from an illustrated book of fairy tales, looked imploringly at her husband, silently urging him to hold his tongue. Except for her brown eyes, inherited from her father, she bore a strong resemblance to her mother, possessing the same fair hair and delicate features. She need not have worried, though, for Nathan would do nothing to upset his lovely wife, or his mother-in-law — and certainly not by demonstrating what a war cry was to his imitative daughter.
Excerpted from When the Splendor Falls by Laurie McBain. Copyright © 1985 Laurie McBain. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
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