Shannon here: Candace West shares a romantic excerpt from her Historical Romance, Dogwood Winter. Comment or answer the question in any post dated June 21st – 24th to enter the drawing for a copy of Through the Lettered Veil. Deadline: July 2nd, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Candace:
Excerpt from Dogwood Winter:
Wagons, buggies, and a few automobiles lined the circle drive of the yard. George paused mid-step and inhaled the thick, hot Georgia air, feeling the sunshine rake over his shoulders. For the last half mile, he had walked up the shaded driveway, the tree branches an intertwining archway. He wished to retreat into its cool relief.
Flanked on each side by an oak, A large, two-story, pale yellow house with a steep roof commanded his attention. A long porch yawned across the entire front. Somewhere from under it, a dog barked, unwilling to leave the solace of the shade.
Other than the occasional stamping of a horse or the swishing of a tail, the yard was eerily still. Silent. Like the aftermath of a funeral.
The icy thought squeezed George’s heart. Suppose something had happened? Was Ella—
The briefcase clutched in his clammy palm dropped to the ground. Without further thought, he sprinted across yard, the brick walkway, and bounded up the steps. Yanking open the screen door, he stepped unannounced into the entryway, all manners forgotten.
The hallway was vacant. A muffled sound drifted toward him, perhaps from the parlor. Was he too late?
He dashed toward the sound and burst into the . . .
A collective gasp thickened the humid air. Ten pairs of eyes widened and fastened upon him. In the center of the room, ladies sat around a quilt fastened to a wooden frame. They held their needles suspended in mid-stroke, their jaws slightly ajar.
“As I live and breathe.”
Following the voice, George’s eyes bolted then upon Ella sitting on the other side of the frame. Indeed, she lived and breathed, if not a little angrily. Her violet eyes glittered with, could it be, panic?
Unexplainable relief surged through him, sweeping into focus all the manners he had dropped outside the front door.
“Miss Steen, please excuse me. You see, I was passing through and thought to pay you a call.”
One by one, bemusement twitched the ladies’ mouths as they relaxed their needles. One of them pushed back her chair a little and stood. Sunlight through the window gleamed through her golden tresses.
“It’s wonderful to see you again, Dr. Curtis.” She turned slightly to Ella who was still sitting, her mouth slack. “Sister Ella, since I’m already acquainted with our friend, might I offer him refreshment while you continue entertaining your guests?”
As he lived and breathed. What in blazes was Tabitha doing there?
Ella blinked as though stumbling out of a fog. “Yes, of course, Sister Calloway. I thank you.”
Beaming him a grin, Tabitha stepped across the rug and brushed past him. “This way, Dr. Curtis. I’ll show you to the dining room.”
Struck dumb, he swiveled on his heel and followed her across the wide hallway. On the wide floor planks, his shoes snapped louder in the silence, the sound undoubtedly sopped up by the ten pairs of ears in the parlor.
Once the dining room door clicked shut, Tabitha’s hands flew to her cheeks. “Dr. Curtis!” she laughed. “You’ve no idea what you’ve just did. I mean, done.”
Ah, so the girl still had lapses in grammar. He resisted a smile. “What are you doing here?” He reached out, took her small hand in his, and gave it a slight squeeze.
She flushed to the roots of her golden crown. “You’re asking me?”
George released her hand, the heat roaring from his neck into his face. “You have me there. How’s Frank faring?”
At the mention of her husband, her blue eyes twinkled. “He’s doing very well. He’ll be so glad to know you’re here, which by the way, you still haven’t explained.”
“It’s a long story. I’m sorry I bumbled in like this. When I saw all the buggies and automobiles, I thought something might have happened to Ella.”
“You thought it was a funeral?” Her sandy eyebrows raised.
Grimacing, George shrugged and turned his palms upward. “I haven’t heard from her in a while. I thought I’d look in on her while I was traveling through.”
Tabitha moved to the oak sideboard and drew out a plate and napkin. As she filled his plate with goodies, she gestured for him to sit at the large table. “We’re having finger foods today, but I daresay it’ll fill you up. Ella doesn’t do anything halfway.”
“Like dropping from the face of the earth,” George muttered.
Tabitha paused, half of a chicken salad sandwich poised in her hand. “Pardon?”
George cleared his throat and straightened himself in the chair. “I said, she’s a lady of unparalleled worth.”
Pressing her lips together, she added another half to the plate along with several ginger snaps and a rose petal drop scone. “Hmmm.” She laid the blue china on the lace placemat in front of him. “Would you prefer tea or coffee?”
“Coffee, please.” Glad to have an excuse to avoid her eyes, he admired the mouthwatering fare. Hours had passed since his last meal, and he’d had a long walk from town. His stomach rumbled low while he spread the napkin on his lap. “What did I just interrupt, by the way?”
The sound of coffee pouring into a cup reached him before the aroma. Amusement tinged Tabitha’s answer. “You’ve never seen a quilting bee, Dr. Curtis?”
“Not this city boy.”
She neared and set the cup beside his plate. Steam curled upward. “A quilting bee is when ladies of a community get together to make a quilt while visiting.”
“And eat delicious treats like this?” He took a generous bite of the sandwich.
“If they’re lucky, yes.” With a pat on his shoulder, Tabitha moved toward the door. “I’ll be back in a bit and show you to the front porch. This time of day, the rooms are getting stuffy. There’s a nice breeze there while you wait. You can sit in the swing or pick a chair. The ladies won’t be much longer.”
“Thanks, but I think I can find my way out.” He shot her a sheepish grimace.
When she reached the door, she turned. “All right. And by the way, Dr. Curtis?”
“It truly is good to see you again.”
“And you as well.” Returning her smile, George took a bite of the rose scone.
He hoped Ella felt the same way.
One by one, the ladies filed past George, greeting him with polite nods and not a few curious, half-hidden smirks behind a handkerchief. The oldest, a lady in faded brown gingham who appeared to be well into her eighties, slid him a furtive wink. George ran a finger along his collar.
Without hurrying, they climbed into the buggies, wagons, and autos. As the last one sputtered down the lane, Tabitha stepped onto the porch and slipped a pair of gloves onto her hands.
“I’ll take my leave now, Dr. Curtis.” She held out her hand. “You’ll find Ella waiting in the parlor.”
A sudden nervous jolt sped his heart up a notch, but he kept his voice steady. “Give Frank my regards.”
“I’ll do that.”
Jamming his hands into his pockets, he watched Tabitha descend the steps and climb into her buggy. After a parting wave, she urged the mare forward and entered the shaded archway. No sound but the pounding of his heart remained.
This time, he gingerly opened the screen door and stepped into the hallway. Strange that the distance seemed longer now. The floorboards whispered the sound of his approach.
He paused before appearing in the open doorway and listened. Silence. Pulling in a breath, he held it then let it drag out over his lips. He wiped his slick palms against his slacks.
Get it together, man.
George stepped into the room.
Near the window Ella sat on a chair, clasping her hands on a quilted spread draped across her lap. Her cinnamon head dipped, eyelids lowered as she stared at her fingers. Her shoulders lifted as her chest expanded, then drooped when it shrank.
Then she raised those violet eyes and met his.
George’s breath evaporated, and he gulped like a schoolboy caught for being naughty. My, but he’d forgotten how lovely she was. And yet, something didn’t seem quite the same.
Her rosy cheeks were chalky and a bit thinner. The fading bridge of freckles across her nose stood out more than usual. Her shoulders and arms appeared to be thinner as well.
Ella lifted her chin. “Well, Dr. Curtis, are you quite done staring?”
George put a hand to his mouth and coughed. “Excuse me.” He stepped closer, then stopped. “I know this is a little sudden—”
“Sudden?” Ella straightened her shoulders.
“Unexpected?” Her russet eyebrows shot up.
George thrust his hands behind his back and clasped them together. “I apologize for showing up unannounced, Ella. It’s rude, I know.”
“What are you doing here?” Her agitated tone quavered slightly.
In two more strides, George stood directly in front of her. “Is this the Southern hospitality I’ve heard so much about?”
“We’ve haven’t been talking two minutes, and you’re already picking a fuss.”
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 – Dogwood Winter:
A Lukewarm Correspondence. A Tattered Reputation. Two Hearts at Odds.
He is walking away while she is fighting to walk.
After a springtime swim, Ella Steen is stricken with a dire illness, leaving her without the use of her legs. Meanwhile, Dr. George Curtis, the man she secretly loves, faces ruin. For over a year, the crusty New York City bachelor and vivacious spinster have exchanged dozens of letters and formed a wary friendship.
Neither are willing to open their hearts completely. Until they face each other. The past looms between them, however. Does George still love another or is his heart completely free?
A trip to Valley Creek holds the answers. Instead, when George and Ella arrive, they encounter obstacles that force other truths to the surface. Is George brave enough to confront what he fled in New York? Can Ella confess why she hates dogwood winters? Will their hearts survive?
If only their pasts would keep out of the present.
Can’t wait for the drawing? Worried you won’t win? Interested in Candace’s other titles?
The Valley Creek Redemption series:
Valley of Shadows
Windy Hollow series:
Through the Lettered Veil
Question for Readers: My Granny loved dogwood blossoms. What is your favorite flower?
Come back June 28th for Liana George!