Click on image to enlarge.
by Diana Bold
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Orphaned by his Cherokee father, Justin Savage has spent years constructing a carefully laid plan of revenge against the white mother who abandoned him. He intends to insinuate himself into wealthy New Orleans society and expose her for the fraud he knows her to be. Laurel Copeland has loved Justin all her life, and when she finds out what he means to do, she sets in motion a plan of her own--one that will save him from himself and prove that love is stronger than hate.
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [132 KB]
Reading time: 77-108 min.
New Orleans--December, 1879
Hidden in the shadows of the upper balcony, Justin Savage watched the jewel-studded crowd in the ballroom below with cynical detachment. His gaze drifted intently over the fashionable men and women who made up New Orleans' elite, but he dismissed each one with little more than an annoyed glance. Though he'd never met the woman he was looking for, he had no doubt he'd recognize her when he saw her.
Where the hell was she?
Months of elaborate planning preceded this evening's entertainment. Revenge had been the driving force in his life for so long his very soul stood in jeopardy, but he didn't care. He refused to consider the possibility that the object of his obsessive pursuit had managed to elude his carefully laid trap.
The string quartet in the corner began to play, and the music provided a moment's distraction. Ah, Laurel, he thought with a reluctant smile. You haven't forgotten. Leave it to his hostess, the younger sister of his best and only friend, William Copeland, to remember how much he'd always loved Strauss.
Laurel always tried so damned hard to please him.
She'd outdone herself with tonight's party. The Copeland's lavish marble ballroom glittered with soft candlelight, and the crisp scent of fresh greenery filled the air. His searching gaze swept past the luxuriant Christmas tree that dominated the front of the room, then snapped back in stunned surprise.
He'd forgotten it was almost Christmas.
"Do you intend to come down, or are you going to skulk up here all night?" Will joined Justin on the balcony, leaning casually against the iron balustrade as he searched Justin's face. "It's not too late to call the whole thing off. You could simply introduce yourself to the woman, forget all the intrigue. Who knows? She might be pleased to see you."
Justin gave a dark laugh. "Just show me where she is, Will." He couldn't imagine backing down now. He intended to expose the woman, show her for the fraud he knew her to be. Otherwise, he'd never be able to put the past behind him.
Will sighed and nodded. Despite his obvious misgivings, he'd been steadfast in his support and done everything in his power to help Justin's plan succeed. He gestured toward the front of the grand ballroom that had been in his illustrious family for generations. "Mrs. Summerfield is over there. With Laurel."
Justin scanned the crowd again, looking for Will's younger sister. He quickly grew frustrated. "I still don't see them."
"You've been away too long," Will chided, the hint of a smile in his voice. "Look near the Christmas tree. The lovely brunette in the green gown."
Justin's eyes widened in appreciation. An entire year had passed since he'd last seen Will's little sister. During that time she'd somehow transformed from a gangly girl into an elegant, beautiful young woman. Riveted, he stared at her for an instant longer before common sense returned, and he tore his gaze away.
What the hell is wrong with me? He couldn't believe he'd let anything, especially the cleavage of a girl he'd long regarded as a sister, divert him from his purpose. Thoroughly annoyed with himself, he turned his attention to Laurel's companion.
Melissa Summerfield. At last.
She was everything he'd expected her to be--coldly beautiful, though she had to be close to fifty. Wealth and good breeding oozed from the tip of her coiffed blonde hair to the hem of her elegant silver gown. If possible, his hatred grew.
As he watched, she laughed at something Laurel said. A burst of genuine, throaty amusement carried over the noise of the crowd. Tension coiled through him and settled low in the pit of his stomach. He didn't know what to make of her laughter. He hadn't expected anything about her to be genuine.
"I introduced myself to her when she first arrived," Will said. "I was prepared to hate her, but I must admit I found her quite pleasant."
Justin gave his friend a quick, disbelieving glance.
Will frowned. "She's going to know who you are the moment she sees you. It's those eyes. Hers are the exact same shade."
He shrugged off his friend's concern. "I doubt she's given me a moment's thought in the past twenty-five years. Even if she has, this is the last place in the world she'd expect to find me. People see what they expect to see. Haven't you learned that by now?"
Will sighed. "Cynical to the last, though I fear you're probably right."
"Did you meet the rest of the family?" He kept his voice neutral, unwilling to let even Will, whom he trusted with his very life, know how hungry he was for information. The only bright spot in this whole scheme was the chance to meet his younger half-brother. All his life, he'd longed for a brother to stand beside him through the prejudice and hardships he'd faced as a half-breed child in the Colorado territory. Too late, now, of course. Still...
"Her husband is exactly what you'd expect from a retired military man. Stiff and proper, full of his own importance. The niece, Felicity, isn't bad to look at, but she's a silly little piece of fluff. Shouldn't take any effort at all on your behalf to woo her." Will paused and stared at Justin for a long moment. "Their son didn't accompany them."
Justin gave a humorless laugh. He should have known he had few secrets from Will, who had been his friend and the closest thing he'd ever had to a brother for more than a decade. "Let's get on with it, then."
They headed down the curving staircase that led to the ballroom, but his anticipation had nothing to do with Felicity, the stranger he intended to court. It was Melissa Summerfield he couldn't wait to meet.
She was, after all, his mother.
* * * *
Laurel Copeland forced a smile as she endured Felicity Summerfield's mindless chatter. She couldn't imagine why her brother had insisted she invite the silly twit to Justin's party. If Justin had decided to search for a bride, the last thing he needed was a girl like Felicity. She'd bore him to death in less than a week.
What he really needed was someone like ... well, someone like herself.
Unfortunately, when she'd broached the idea to Will, he'd merely laughed. And as for Justin himself ... she hadn't even seen him for nearly a year.
Eleven endless months.
She'd been in love with the infuriating man as long as she could remember, for all the good it did her. In his eyes she'd always be Will's little sister.
With a small sigh, she forced herself to return her attention to her guests. As Felicity prattled on about fashion, Laurel's optimism grew. Justin had never been a patient man. Perhaps, once he'd met Felicity, he'd see Laurel's charms in a completely new light.
As her attention wandered once again, her gaze met that of Felicity's aunt, Melissa Summerfield. Her embarrassment at having been caught woolgathering dissipated when the older woman rolled her eyes, obviously as bored by the conversation as Laurel herself.
She liked Mrs. Summerfield more by the moment. There was nothing stuffy or false about the woman. She was the only person Laurel had met in ages who seemed to say what she really thought.
Before Laurel had a chance to engage Melissa in the conversation, she caught a glimpse of Justin. She stared in rapt fascination as he strode through the crowd.
He's cut his hair. His beautiful, long hair...
He stood several inches above most of the other men, and his broad shoulders set him even further apart. His sky blue eyes gave him an exotic look, so at odds with his cropped black hair and coppery skin.
Will looked a bit worried as he trailed along in his friend's wake. The son of a fierce Cherokee warrior, Justin had always been a bit unpredictable. She had no idea how Will intended to pass him off as a gentleman.
"Why, look," Laurel murmured, cutting Felicity off in mid-sentence. "It's my dear brother, Will, and his charming friend, Mr. Savage."
Felicity glanced in the direction Laurel indicated, and her pale blue eyes widened as she caught sight of the approaching men. "My goodness. He's so handsome." Her voice dropped conspiratorially. "Is he really as wealthy as they say?"
"Felicity!" interjected Mrs. Summerfield. "What a very rude question."
Laurel merely smiled, but gave Felicity the slightest nod. Justin was very wealthy, and she needed to circulate the fact, since he had no pedigree.
The two gentlemen chose that moment to join the group, negating any further discussion of finances. They were a study in contrasts. Will was blond and debonair, and his green eyes sparkled with friendly welcome. Justin, with his fallen angel beauty, looked dark and austere in his perfectly tailored eveningwear.
"William," Laurel greeted her brother. "I thought you were never going to join us."
Will gave her a rueful smile. "Unfortunately, our guest of honor arrived rather late."
Laurel turned her gaze upon Justin. Up close he was even more captivating, so different from the staid, boring men who made up her world. "Better late than never. We've missed you, Mr. Savage."
Justin met her gaze, and the intensity of the emotion reflected in his brilliant blue eyes stunned her. "Thank you for the party." He took her hand and lifted her fingertips to his lips. "You're looking lovely, Miss Copeland."
Flustered by the fleeting warmth of his mouth against her skin, she reluctantly withdrew her hand. "You're very welcome." She gestured toward Felicity. "Let me introduce you to some of our guests. Mrs. Melissa Summerfield and her niece, Miss Felicity Summerfield. Ladies, this is our friend, Mr. Justin Savage."
"Mrs. Summerfield." Justin turned his attention toward the older woman, his tone cold and remote. He'd been just short of rude. She frowned, wondering at his behavior. No one could accuse him of being gregarious, but he usually managed to be civil, if somewhat reserved.
Confused, she glanced at Mrs. Summerfield. If Justin's reaction had been strange, Mrs. Summerfield's was even more so. She'd gone pale and stared at Justin as though she'd seen a ghost.
"A pleasure," Mrs. Summerfield said at last. "Mr.... Savage, was it?"
Justin nodded and turned his attention to Felicity. "Good evening, Miss Summerfield. Would you do me the honor of the next dance?"
Felicity looked as though she'd swoon at the invitation. "Certainly, Mr. Savage."
As if on cue, the band struck up a waltz. Offering his arm, Justin escorted Felicity toward the dance floor without a backward glance.
Laurel stared after them, feeling bereft. As hostess, she'd hoped to claim Justin's first dance for herself.
* * * *
Melissa Summerfield watched the tall, handsome stranger whirl Felicity across the dance floor.
This young man couldn't possibly be her son. Could he?
His name was Justin.
Memories of Red Feather overwhelmed her. The pride in his eyes. We'll name him Justin Whittaker, after your father.
And her own thoughtless reply--You can't name this savage child after a respected man like my father.
Justin Savage. Surely it was just a coincidence. His name. His resemblance to Red Feather. Those eyes that were a shade of blue she'd only seen when looking in a mirror.
It had to be a coincidence. Red Feather's son could never have befriended a man like William Copeland.
"Mrs. Summerfield, are you all right?" Laurel Copeland's voice was filled with concern, and Melissa realized she was still staring at the dancing couple.
"I'm fine." Melissa made a tremendous effort to bring her rioting emotions under control. "Perfectly fine."
William stepped forward, an odd expression on his handsome young face. "Are you acquainted with Mr. Savage, Mrs. Summerfield? For a moment you looked as if you knew him."
Melissa shook her head, stunned by his perception. "No, of course not. I'm just feeling a little flushed. Perhaps I need a breath of fresh air." With a weak smile, she turned away from her host and hostess and headed toward the veranda.
She paused at the edge of the dance floor and allowed herself one more glance in Justin Savage's direction. Once again he met her gaze, and the hatred in those blue eyes nearly brought her to her knees.
Stunned, she pushed her way through the crowd until she found herself outside. Her heart raced as she leaned against a secluded wall.
Her past had finally caught up to her. Dear God. What was she going to do?