Among the Fair Magnolias

Tamera Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser
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The Fair Magnolias Treasury is now unlocked.  Enjoy!


Bonus Content from Tamera Alexander

Note to the reader: This scene takes place after the end of my most recent Belle Meade novel, To Win Her Favor and before the beginning of my novella, To Mend a Dream

 

May 14, 1870

 

"I’ve thought many times about what you said, Savannah. When we were together that day. At Darby farm."

Not following Maggie’s meaning, Savannah stared at the tiny bundle asleep in her friend’s arms and did her best to mask the longing—and jealousy—vying for position in her heart. She blinked. "What I said?"

"About the men who took this country to war years ago. And if they’d known the cost from the very start, would they still have made the same decision? Or perhaps…" Maggie pressed a kiss to the crown of her son’s head. "—might they have worked harder to find another way to resolve the conflict."

Willing the longing within her to conquer the jealousy—and wishing she could banish both—Savannah reached over and squeezed Maggie’s hand, hearing what her friend was really saying. "Your beautiful son will never have to go through that, Maggie. Surely our nation has learned that lesson."

The earnestness in Maggie’s gaze said she wanted to believe it, too. "I pray you’re right." A moment passed and gradually a more customary brightness crept into her expression. "Would you like to hold him?"

The simple question sent the stab of longing plunging deeper, but Savannah forced a smile. "Of course, I would." The words sounded surprisingly convincing to her own ears, especially in light of the fact she hadn’t even asked to hold him the first and only other time she’d visited.

She accepted the baby, taking care to support little Gilbert’s head until he was cradled safely in the crook of her arm. His dark hair and flawless skin was the perfect combination of his mother and father, and Savannah couldn't help but admire him.

His eyes fluttered open—once, twice—before his minuscule mouth opened in a yawn. And, without warning, Savannah felt something shift inside her. There was no other word for it. And to her amazement, the final remnant of a wall she’d tried to remove between her and Maggie began to crumble, brick by stubborn brick.

A tiny fist unfurled to reveal five perfect little fingers, fully splayed as though desperately trying to grab hold of something secure.

Savannah knew the feeling.

She thought again of the argument between her younger brother and sister that morning. One of many in recent weeks. If only she could manage to get out of the boarding house they were in now and into something more suitable. She knew that would help the situation between all three of them, as well as her thinning patience.

She pressed the tip of her forefinger into the baby’s palm and watched with wrapt attention as five perfect little fingers grabbed hold for all they were worth. Soon he began to squirm, his expression less than tranquil, and Savannah gently transferred him back to his mother’s arms.

Maggie was every bit the wonderful mother Savannah had always known she would be, and Savannah found herself truly happy for her friend, despite her own lingering sense of incompleteness.

"He’s so precious, Maggie."

"Thank you," Maggie whispered, leaning forward in her chair. "Your time is coming, Savannah. I just know it."

Savannah smiled, but only because she didn’t want to hurt Maggie’s feelings. What man in his right mind would take even a cursory glance at a woman in her position? A woman with a younger brother and sister to care for and mounting debts to proprietors. Oh, she was a prize all right.

And yet…

There were moments when she still allowed herself to dream, however frayed and threadbare those dreams might have become in recent years.


Bonus Content from Shelley Gray

Note to the reader: This is an exclusive bonus scene from my novella, An Outlaw's Heart

 

Iron Rail Ranch

Texas, 1879

 

            She’d burned supper again.

            Russell Champion reminded himself not to grin as he approached the house that he grew up in. It was his and Nora’s home now, and each day brought him a whole new sense of accomplishment and wonder.

            For most of his life this worn out ranch had claimed a painful place in his heart. Now things were different.

            He’d returned six months ago, intending to only say good bye to his mother and reassure himself that Nora was doing just fine without him. Practically next thing he knew, he was proposing to her, then sitting by his mother’s side as she took her last dying breath.

            Now he was married to the most beautiful, sweetest girl in the state of Texas, and she was all his. He loved her. Adored her.

            But for some reason, Nora Champion couldn’t seem to cook a thing without burning it.

            Taking care to keep his voice even and light, he opened the door to their kitchen and called out her name. “Nora? Nora, darlin’, come kiss your husband hello!”

            When she didn’t come running, he took a better look at the kitchen. Like always, it was as neat as a pin. However, an acrid scent permeated the air. Sitting neatly on a plate were three blackened pieces of chicken fried steak. Goopy looking mashed potatoes sat in a bowl by their side. Near the stove was something that looked like it should have been gravy. In another pot was a mixture of brown vegetables. Their small kitchen table was neatly set for two.

            But nowhere in the vicinity was his bride.

            A small thread of worry settled in and gripped him hard. Had she hurt herself? Had she left?

            “Nora?” he called out as he strode toward their bedroom.

            The shades were up, bathing the room in late day light. Nora had worked hard on this room. New pale pink curtains and pillow cases and sheets and quilts in shades of pink and white and ivory graced it, all made with loving care by his wife. Some men might have balked at sleeping in such a feminine shrine.

            Not him, though. He’d slept in enough bunk houses and ratty cabins for a lifetime. There was something about being surrounded by such soft, girliness that made him feel comforted. Blessed.

            But not a bit of it meant one thing to him without Nora.

            “Nora?” he called again. When he still heard no answer, true panic settled in.

            The house wasn’t big, it never had been. There was only a kitchen, sitting area, bathing room, and two bedrooms. Wherever she was, she would have heard him the first time he called her name.

            But still, he peeked into the spare bedroom, which served as Nora’s sewing room.

            And there she was. Asleep on the floor, wrapped up a half-sewn crazy quilt made up of old calico dresses.

            Immediately, he knelt beside her. Experience had him placing his fingers on her neck, frantically looking for a pulse. Just like he used to do after a gunfight when he’d been in the Walton Gang.

            He blinked the memories away and concentrated on her. Instead of feeling a scratchy jaw, only smooth, cool skin met his fingers. And a slow and steady pulse.

            She was sound asleep.

            He was so relieved, he could practically feel tears form in his eyes. But instead of giving into weakness, he simply brushed her cheek with his thumb.

            After three scant strokes, she blinked. Then turned the prettiest set of brown eyes he’d ever seen on him. “You’re home.”

            He leaned down and pressed his lips to her brow. “I am. How come you’re sleeping on the floor, sweetheart?”

            She blinked again, then sat up in a start. Pressed her palms to her face. “I can’t believe I fell asleep. I’m sorry.”

            “You can sleep all day for all I care, Nora,” he said with a smile. “But this ain’t like you. Are you sick?”

            She bit her bottom lip. “No. But…but Russell, I ruined supper again.”

            He shifted so his elbows were resting on his knees. “It didn’t look too bad,” he lied.

            “It is. I was so mad at myself for losing track of time and letting everything cook too long, I came in here to sew.” She shrugged. “And then I fell asleep.”

            Russell saw then that tear tracks were on her cheeks. “Were you crying?”

            “Maybe.” Looking pained, she continued. “Oh, Russell. I wanted to make you a special supper. But no matter how hard I try, it never comes out the way I plan for it to.”

            “I’ll help you fix it up.”

            “You always have to do that,” she pouted.

            “It ain’t my fault that I’m a better cook than you, Mrs. Champion,” he teased as he helped her to her feet. “You need to come to terms with that.”

            She smiled tentatively at first. Then, after another second it transformed into something beautiful. “I guess I’ll have to.”

            “Good girl.” As they headed toward the kitchen, something occurred to him. “Hey, why were you making me a special supper, anyhow?”

            She shrugged. “Oh, no reason,” she said in an airily way. “I was only going to tell you that I visited with the doctor today.”

            He stopped. Grabbed her hand and pulled her to him. “Because?”

            “Because we’re gonna have a baby.” And then she smiled. Her expression, her beauty, her news, was so lovely, so perfect all thoughts of food vanished into thin air.

            So he did the only thing a man in his position should do. He bent down, lifted her into his arms, and carried her back to that pink bedroom he loved so much.

            She laughed at she clasped her hands around his neck. “Russell Champion, what are you doing?”

            “I’ve decided I’ve got something special in mind too, Nora Champion. And I promise it’s better than burnt chicken fried steak.”

            Her laughter echoed through the halls.

            Warming his heart.

            Eight months later he held another bundle in his arms. This one wrapped in a pink blanket, and living in a pink room, too.

Russell couldn’t have been prouder about that.  


         

               

               

                

Bonus Content from Dorothy Love

Note to the reader: This scene takes place six years before the beginning of my novella, A Heart So True...

 

Charleston

March, 1854

 

                Gas lights burned in the black wrought iron lanterns lining Meeting Street, sending yellow shafts of flickering light across the cobblestones. Inside the Clayton’s elaborate carriage, Abigail sat opposite her mother as Hector, their driver, eased the carriage to the back of a long line of conveyances waiting to discharge their occupants.

                Abby laced her gloved fingers together and took a shuddering breath. Why on earth had she ever agreed to attend tonight’s St. Cecilia Ball? She had taken dancing lessons for years, but she was no good at small talk, especially with boys. She was much more at home at Osprey Cottage, her family’s place on Pawleys Island. Much happier spending her days in her rowboat, plying  the placid  blue and gold tidal marshes teeming  with birds and fish.

                Mama leaned forward to pat Abby’s hand. “Don’t be nervous. You are going to have a wonderful time. Do you have your dance card?”

                “Yes.” Abby indicated the small bejeweled reticule resting on her lap, a gift from Papa especially for this occasion.  “But what if no one wants to claim me? I’m flat as a joggling board and my hair is--”

                “Enough of this talk. Plenty of young men will be clamoring for your attention. You’ll see.” Mama smiled. “It’s time you were properly introduced into society.”

                “Because otherwise people might forget who I am?”

                The carriage rocked as Hector got down from the driver’s seat. The door opened. “Here we are Mrs. Clayton. Miss Abby.”

                Abby remained seated while Hector helped her mother from the carriage and handed Mama her ebony cane. Then she placed her hand in his and stepped onto the street.

                “Abby!”

                She turned at the sound of her closest friends’ voices. Theodosia Avery and Penny Ravensdale crossed the street to greet her.

                “Oh my goodness what a dress,” Penny said, eying Abby’s dark blue silk gown. “I’ve never seen anything so pretty.”

                Theo, who was wearing a confection of celadon satin trimmed with dark green lace, leaned in to place a quick kiss on Abby’s cheek. “See? Didn’t I tell you that you’d be the belle of the ball?”

                Mama caught Abby’s eye. “Come along young ladies. We ought to go in.”

                Abby followed her mother through the gate and up the stairs into the cavernous hall where one room had been cleared for dancing. Another held long tables filled with platters of food for two hundred guests. Abby counted four turkeys, four ducks, fifty partridges, and three large tubs of oysters. On a dessert table sat silver bowls of candies and creams. Four pyramids of crystallized fruits shimmered beneath the chandelier lights like colored jewels.

                “Ohhh, bonbons,” Penny whispered. “I’m starving. Do you think they’d miss just one?”

                Theo laughed. “Later. We should circulate and get our dance cards filled up. “

                Mama crossed the room to greet the other chaperones.  Abby trailed behind Theo and Penny, trying to keep up small talk with the scions of Charleston’s oldest and most elite families. Abby smiled and chatted with the seemingly endless line of Heywards and Manigualts, Pringles and Rutledges, Hugers and Vanderhorsts, boys she had known all her life. To her immense relief, by the time the orchestra began tuning up, her dance card was almost filled.

                Theo curtsied to the Manigault boys as they turned away, then  grabbed Abby’s arm. “Saints in a sock! Who is that man over there?”

                Abby followed Theo’s gaze to the dark-haired man standing near the door to the piazza and felt her heart stutter in her chest. Tall and broad-shouldered, he was impeccably dressed in grey evening attire, a deep blue cravat at his throat. His hair was the color of polished mahogany. His skin was deeply tanned as if he spent a great deal of time outside. He was engrossed in conversation with a shorter, older man, who said something that made him laugh.

                “I don’t know who he is,” Abby said. “I’m certain we’ve never met.  I wouldn’t forget someone like him.”
                Penny frowned. “He seems older.  Maybe he’s already married.”

                “Oh I hope not!” Theo laughed. “And here I am with a full dance card.”

                “How tragic,” Penny said. “But there’s still an opening on your card, Abby. Go ask your mother who he is, and see if she will introduce you.”

                “I wouldn’t know what to say to a complete stranger.”

                “Uh oh,” Theo said.  “I just saw your cousin come through the door.”

                “Charles? “ Abby’s stomach tightened. “Hide me, quick!”

                “Too late,” Penny said. “He’s seen us and he’s headed this way.”

                “Oh, if I have to dance with that smug, boring cretin it will spoil my entire evening. Besides I don’t want to do anything to encourage him.”

                “Is your father still expecting you to marry him?”

                “Yes, and I’d sooner join a convent.”

                “Head for the piazza,” Theo said. “We’ll distract him. We’ll beg him to dance with us and with any luck he won’t have any openings for you.”
                “Speak for yourself,” Penny said. “’I’m not dancing with him.”

                “Consider it an act of mercy for Abby,” Theo said. “One dance won’t kill you.” She gave Abby a little push. “Go on!”

                Abby wove her way through the growing crush of guests. She could feel Charles’ cold blue eyes following her every move. She reached the door at the same moment the stranger did. He smiled down at her and motioned with his hand.  “After you, Miss..?”

                “Clayton. Abby.” Her mouth went dry. “Abigail.” She looked up into his calm, gray eyes and felt her heart turn over.

                “I’m Wade Bennett.” The stranger inclined his head and she was struck anew at his good looks and quiet confidence.

                The music swelled and the dancers paired off.  Abby had promised the first dance to Arthur Pringle. She looked around the crowded room for the tall red-haired boy with the teasing eyes, but he was nowhere to be found. Charles was now just steps away.

                It really wasn’t done, dancing with a man to whom she had not been properly presented. Mama would have a flat-out fit if she found out. But desperate times called for desperate measures.   Turning her back on Charles, Abby placed her hand on Wade Bennet’s arm. “Dance with me.”

          


Bonus Content from Elizabeth Musser

Note to the reader: This scene takes place four and a half years before the beginning of my novella, Love Beyond Limits, and introduces the three main characters…

 

Wilkes County, Georgia

October, 1863

 

“Why Emily Derracott!  Look at you—picking cotton with the slaves!  Your father will be furious that his beautiful black-haired daughter is reduced to a field hand!”

            Emily looked up from her stooped position and swiped her hand across her forehead which was dripping with perspiration.  Then she stood and scowled at her friend, Thomas McGinnis, who sat proudly on his steel gray gelding, Trooper, with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

            “Possessed me, Thomas?  War has possessed me!  Many of our slaves have left for the war, been forced to dig ditches in Atlanta, and who is going to pick the cotton?”

            “Oh, come now, my dear little Emily,” Thomas said, winking down at her from his horse.  “There are enough slaves still here to do the work.  I can’t believe your father would allow it.”

            “Father doesn’t know.  But I don’t care if he finds out!”  She came beside Trooper, patting the gelding’s sweaty neck.  Before her, the fields were white with King Cotton and the harvest had to be gotten quickly, before rain or insects did the job.  And anyway, Emily had never been able to reconcile two things in her mind—the absolute joy of life on her father’s plantation, the most beautiful and productive in all of north Georgia, and slavery!  Slavery was wrong.  She felt it in the bottom of her soul.  Father thought her naïve and way too young to understand.  She might be fifteen, but she understood all too well.  Slavery was wrong!

            “I wouldn’t be goading your father these days, not with both of your brothers off at war.”

            She looked up at her friend, his blond hair combed back from his face, his blue eyes soft yet confident.  At seventeen, Thomas looked a young man, and, she admitted, that made her heart do a queer little flutter.  How silly of her!  She closed her eyes, remembering how only last week she was galloping at full speed on her bay mare, Brandy, while Thomas pulled ahead, laughing, on Trooper.

She shielded her eyes from the relentless sun, turned her eyes up to Thomas’ and said, “And what brings you here in the middle of a hot fall day?”

Thomas’s eyes which had moments ago held amusement, darkened.  “I came to tell you good-bye, Ems.  I’m heading off to war in just a few days.”

“Oh!” she moaned.  She reached up for his hand.  “Don’t!  Don’t go.  You’re too young.  Please, Thomas.  What will I do if you leave for the war, too?”

“I suppose you’ll keep picking cotton,” he teased, the lightness once again in his voice.

 

            Emily watched Thomas ride down the dusty road that led to the entrance of her father’s plantation.  She wanted to cry.  The war!  Yes, she believed the slaves should be free.  And yet.  And yet, what would that do to all of her father’s hard-earned fortune?  She could not imagine it.  She walked slowly back to the fields, seeing in her mind’s eye the haunted look on her dear mother’s face as she awaited news of Emily’s brothers, Luke and Teddy.

Holding her dark blue day dress up, she trudged back to the cotton fields and came beside Leroy, the teenaged son of Sam and Tammy, her father’s oldest slaves.  Emily had been raised beside Leroy and his brother Washington and many other of the slave children.  Now, as they picked cotton, side by side, her heart that had fluttered at the sight of Thomas only moments ago began a low, persistent beating as she watched her thin white hands next to Leroy’s strong, black ones.

He was tall and broad-shouldered, with a fine chiseled ebony face and deep brown eyes, intense and beautiful. He had loose, soft black curls that fell past his ears.

“You be the toughest white woman I ever did know,” Leroy said, and gave her a smile.

When Emily frowned, he put back his head and laughed. “Ain’t nothin’ but a compliment, Miss Emily. You knowed that. You out here workin’ in the hot sun like us slaves. Ain’t right.”

“We’re the same, Leroy. Before God we’re just the same. And when this war is done, you’ll see. You’ll be free, and you’ll be able to choose whatever work you want. You’ll be as free as I am!”

Leroy laughed at her, shook his head and simply said, “My, my, Miss Emily, you shore does have a big imagination.”

            Later, as Emily stood outside on the wraparound porch of the plantation house, leaning against one of the six fluted white columns and staring out at the magnolia trees that lined the drive, she thought to herself, “Oh, Thomas, why do you have to go to war?”  Then, “But thank heaven, Leroy is still here.  Thank heaven for my friend, Leroy…”