Shannon here: Candace West shares a romantic excerpt from her latest Historical Romance, Through the Lettered Veil. Comment or answer the question in any post dated June 21st – 24th to enter the drawing for a copy. Deadline: July 2nd, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Candace:
Excerpt from Through the Lettered Veil:
Beads of sweat prickled between Aynsley’s shoulder blades as she climbed the back steps of the house. The walk to the spring had failed to clear her mind of its worries.
As Aynsley hung her bonnet on a peg, Becca’s soft footfalls approached from the kitchen. An outspoken abolitionist, Uncle Stewart had hired Eleazar and Becca, both free, to protect them from capture and enslavement. Freedom papers meant nothing to dishonest men.
Aynsley remembered peeking from behind Aunt Eva’s skirt at the dark man and woman when they first entered the house. Since that time, the man and his wife had won their trust as fellow laborers and friends.
“Ma’am,” Becca whispered, her hushed voice barely reaching Aynsley’s ears.
Aynsley frowned. “What’s wrong, Becca?”
“You have a caller. He’s been waitin’ almost half an hour.”
Without bothering to clamp down on a sigh, Aynsley put her hands on her hips. “Who is it?”
Shock slammed into her ribs. “Nolan?” She cut a glance toward the closed parlor door. “Did he say what he wanted?”
“No, ma’am. Just that he wanted to see you.”
Aynsley bit her lip. Nolan Scottsdale hadn’t wanted to see her in four years. “I suppose there’s nothing to do but to see him. Thank you, Becca.” Squaring her shoulders, Aynsley composed her face and stepped toward the door. With every step, her heart thudded harder.
She took a breath and twisted the doorknob. Taking her time, she stepped over the threshold and shut the door before glancing his way.
Nolan stood at the fireplace, his hands clasped behind him. As he pivoted toward her, she lifted her chin.
Same wavy golden hair, same nose with a slight, imperceptible crook—the result of a fall from an apple tree when he was ten. Same piercing blue eyes making her feel as though she could never hide anything from him. To her misfortune, she had.
Road dust clung to every inch of his blue uniform, a bit worse for wear.
“Mr. Scottsdale, it’s nice to see you again.” The lie tasted thick and bitter on her tongue.
Nolan’s keen glance flicked over her, no hint of a smile on his lips. “Miss O’Brien,” he drawled blandly, as though they’d hadn’t shared most of their lives. He tipped his head, nodding slightly. “I asked to see Mr. O’Brien, but Becca told me of his recent passing as well as your aunt’s last year.” His cool blue eyes warmed a touch. “They were good people, good friends. I’m sorry for your loss.”
Oh, not that. Not kind words, not his sympathy. Rebuffing his aloof attitude with anger was easy, but his kindness would split her aching heart. Better to hide in resentment.
“Thank you,” her stiff lips managed.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“No.” Aynsley resisted the urge to whisk a wayward lock of hair from her forehead. “I’m sorry I kept you waiting. Aren’t you with the cavalry?”
Only then did Nolan break his rigid posture. “I was discharged two weeks ago.”
Raising her eyebrows, Aynsley waited.
Nolan cleared his throat and ran a hand through his roguish waves. An unconscious habit betraying his nervousness. How she remembered.
He worked his jaw as though the next words irked him. “I came to talk business with your uncle, but I suppose you’ll do.”
She’d do? Aynsley narrowed her eyes. “Business? Can’t it wait?”
Nolan shook his head. “I’m afraid not. Believe me, I don’t like this any more than you, but I might as well be honest. I’m unwelcome at home. I wanted to help work the farm, but I’m not needed.”
The air thickened around her head. A dizzying, sickening feeling knotted in the pit of her stomach. Aynsley was well acquainted with Mrs. Borden’s sharp tongue and hardened demeanor.
Nolan glanced at the window. “I noticed the barren fields as I entered the valley.”
“Times are lean, Mr. Scottsdale. Because of the raids on our harvests, we did well to maintain large vegetable gardens. We guarded them ’round the clock and hid our stores, keeping enough in sight to satisfy the thieves. Our barn was recently burned down.”
For a long, silent moment, they contemplated each other. Was he remembering their good times? She cleared her throat. “You mentioned business. What could I possibly do?”
“I need a job.”
Aynsley crossed her arms. “What kind?”
“Let me farm the land. I raise the crops, and we share the profits. With Eleazar’s help, we can do it.”
Could this day go any more wrong? A demand to marry followed by a business proposal from an old friend turned into a hostile stranger. Aynsley’s head ached.
“Your offer comes at the worst possible time.”
“How so? Your land is in desperate need of farming, and you’ll need provisions as well as the income.”
“You’re telling me?” Aynsley crossed to the sofa and dropped onto the cushion. With her fingertips, she kneaded her forehead. “Excuse me. I’ve had a difficult day.”
“The loss of your uncle is no doubt a heavy weight.”
“It’s more than that. Uncle Stewart has cornered me.” She gestured toward a chair. “Please sit. I must be honest with you.”
Though a flicker of suspicion narrowed Nolan’s eyes, he sat on the armchair, his posture rigid.
Since she couldn’t bear to meet his eyes, Aynsley focused on the oak leaf hooked rug in the center of the floor. The intricate colors and beauty demonstrated the long hours Aunt Eva had labored over it. The lingering beauty of her home. Uncle Stewart had said t’was a shame for feet to trod it.
Inwardly, she bristled over his formal use of her name. Twisting her fingers in her lap, she kept her head down. “Uncle Stewart left the property, everything, to me. Elnora lives in Vicksburg. She has no need of it, though her husband recently died. However, my uncle left one stipulation in the will. I must comply, or I will forfeit all of the property except my grandfather’s original ten acres and his cabin.”
Nolan shifted on the seat. “What does he require?”
“I’m loathe to say. It’s humiliating, really, but you need to know why I can’t accept your business proposition. I have thirty days to comply. It’s pointless for you to break ground and start a crop when I’ll lose it all.”
“You sound like you’ve made up your mind not to comply.”
“I don’t see how I can.”
“It can’t be as bad as all that. Your uncle doted on you.”
“I assure you, it is very bad.”
“What is it?”
Gripping her fingers tighter, Aynsley counted the rose petals in the center of the rug. “I must marry within thirty days or lose it all.”
Nolan sprang from the chair, his tall frame casting a long shadow across the rug. “Marry? Are you engaged?”
As she ventured a glance, Aynsley’s cheeks burned. “No.”
Nolan swallowed. “The idea is foolish at best and unkind at worst.”
“At least we agree on that.”
“Why would he do it?”
“An unprotected, unmarried woman owning property will lure every no-good straggler looking for a place to roost. And some closer than you think.” Aynsley’s throat cramped with the thought of one such person.
Nolan’s chest expanded and fell. “The war has made savages out of a lot of men. I’m sorry to have troubled you. I’ll see myself out.”
“Wait.” Aynsley rose. “I’m assuming you have no place to stay.”
A slow, wry smile curved Nolan’s mouth. “None. I never should’ve left Virginia.”
“My grandfather’s cabin is empty except for a few furnishings. There is a bed. We always keep it clean, though it does need repairs. You’re welcome to remain there until you find a place.”
The smile gentling his features vanished like a snuffed-out candle. “I don’t wish to impose or be beholden to anyone.”
“You mean me.” Aynsley cringed. “You’re a soldier, and you’ve done a hard, costly duty to our country. I can’t imagine the hardships you’ve suffered, but I’m grateful. If anyone is beholden, it’s me. The cabin is yours to use, if you wish.”
Blinking, Nolan rubbed his chin, his jangled thoughts almost audible to Aynsley. “Sunset isn’t far off. I suppose I can stay one night. Thank you.”
“It’s nothing, really. I’ll speak with Becca. We’ll fix food for you. Eleazar will take you there and help ready things. Stay as long as you need, Mr. Scottsdale.”
A glimmer of irritation ticked Nolan’s jaw. Perhaps he didn’t like her formal use of his name. Gathering her skirts, Aynsley brushed past him and called Becca.
About Candace: Candace West was born in the Mississippi delta to a young minister and his wife. She grew up in small-town Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. At twelve years old, she wrote her first story, “Following Prairie River.” In 2018, she published her debut novel Lane Steen. By weaving entertaining, hope-filled stories, Candace shares the Gospel and encourages her readers. She currently lives in Arkansas with her husband and their son along with two dogs and three bossy cats. Learn more & connect:
About the book – Through the Lettered Veil:
Not all wars are fought on a battlefield. Some are fought in the heart.
Aynsley O’Brien faces a choice—follow her deceased uncle’s demands or fall prey to a ruthless band of brothers whose sights are set on Windy Hollow Farm. Without protection, she will lose it all.
Union Cavalry officer, Nolan Scottsdale arrives in the Ozarks to find his family ravaged by the war. Unwelcome at home, he turns to Windy Hollow needing work but finds Aynsley cornered. If he offers his hand in marriage, she may break his heart again.
The entire valley will be embroiled in yet another conflict if Nolan and Aynsley lose the farm. And it won’t be the North and the South – it will be neighbor against neighbor.
While dangers erupt on every front, another war rages in their hearts. If they win the peace, how will they mend the breach between their families? Between themselves?
The truth lies in three letters. If only Aynsley could read them.
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Question for Readers: If you could travel to any time period for one day, which era would you choose and why?
Come back June 24th for part 2 with Candace!