The Langeford Legacy #1
by Doris Lemcke
Jeffers Georgia, 1866
She’d never give in
Camilla Langesford has no intention of letting her ailing father’s new Yankee partner steal their plantation. But Patrick O’Grady isn’t like other carpetbaggers. His powerful body, brooding Irish Temper, and pewter-gray eyes speak of a shadowed past. And his soul-searing kiss melts her frozen heart—until a deadly secret shatters it.
He’d never give up
Langesford Plantation is the former Pinkerton agent’s last chance to solve a mystery that’s haunted him for four years. But Patrick O’Grady didn’t plan on a chestnut-haired virgin with smoldering green eyes and a fiery temper, dogging his every step. Or that just one kiss would show him a treasure worth more than a cache of gold bars—until one night changes everything.
Release Date: August 15, 2017
Genre: Historical Romance
Jeffers, GA, 1866
Patrick O’Grady halted his stallion on a hill overlooking his destination. He leaned forward, listening. Nearly a year after Lee’s surrender, caution was still second nature to him. Between renegade Confederates and Yankee deserters, it would be a long time before the South was truly safe—especially for a Northerner.
He leaned forward to pat the sleek, black neck of his impatient Morgan blowing gray clouds into the crisp March air. “Take it easy, Jupiter,” he calmed the stallion. “Just let me enjoy this view while it lasts.”
Under the vibrant, early evening sky, Langesford plantation house looked serene, untouched by the war. Early-budding magnolia trees formed a leafy arch toward a wide veranda with six massive white columns. Small glass panes on the front windows sparkled like so many twinkling stars in the last golden rays of the sunset.
“Perfect,” he mused. Like a painted backdrop on a stage. Too perfect, instinct told him.
Still, unwilling to disturb the illusion of America’s Camelot, he waited until the curtain of darkness descended before letting Jupiter go forward slowly. As usual, his instincts were right. The fairytale image faded with every approaching step, revealing the toll four years of war and one of “Reconstruction” had taken on the once brilliant symbol of Southern life. Now, wood slats covered windows broken by General Kilpatrick’s rampaging troops and scars of abuse and neglect disfigured the once elegant façade.
He stopped short of the crumbling veranda to survey the property by the light of the newly risen half-moon. You’re a fool, Patrick Sean O’Grady, he thought. You could still be in Chicago, in front of a cheerful fire with a warm brandy in your hand, and a soft woman by your side. But some challenges were hard to resist.
If Anthony Langesford and his plantation were the biggest gamble of his life, they could also yield the biggest reward. And in spite of his Irish mother’s advice to never put all his “eggs” in one basket, he’d sunk all his meager savings and a large amount of his partner’s, into this venture.
He shrugged against the evening’s growing dampness to approach a light glowing from a corner room in the front of the house. Looking forward to the warmth of a fire, he also hoped Colonel Langesford had squirreled away some of the imported brandy so plentiful in Georgia before the war.
* * *
“No!” Camilla Langesford’s voice bounced off the battered plastered walls with a hollow ring.
Her father rubbed his temples in response to both her defiance and the constant clacking of her boots on the denuded floor of his study. He rose slowly from the lone, straight-backed chair in the nearly empty room and held his hands out to the heat roaring up the home’s century-old fireplace, its hand-carved oak scrollwork now scarred by Yankee sabers.
“Tell me it isn’t so,” she implored, softer this time.
Instead of answering, he raised his eyes to the four-year-old painting of Camilla above the fireplace. She knew what he was thinking. At sixteen, she’d been painted as a model of Southern girlhood, wearing a white party gown with a wide hoop and a pink sash at her tiny waistline. Emerald green eyes sparked mischief from a heart-shaped face wreathed by auburn curls escaping her Madonna chignon.
She followed his gaze, knowing only too well how war and its aftermath had changed her. Too many years of a near-starvation diet had made her thin as a waif, and she stood before him dressed in a patched and faded dress made from clothes she’d once discarded to her slaves. But the most humiliating thing for her father, who prized beauty above all, were the freckles from the hot Georgia sun now marring her once-creamy complexion.
No matter, she thought. She’d done what she had to do for them to survive. He’d spent two years reliving past battles and reviewing impossible plans for the future of the plantation. It was time for him to live in the present.
Hands on her hips, she spoke in a voice totally unbecoming of the genteel, Southern lady she was bred to be. “How can you become partners with a carpetbagger. After what they’ve done to us?” she accused more than asked.
Anthony left the fire to lean against the carpenter’s table serving as his desk, arms crossed over his chest, his faded blue eyes narrowed. She took a deep breath. “Do you honestly think this can be good for us, Papa? He’s a Yankee! Have you forgotten Sherman’s barbaric march to the sea? Their war on innocent women and children, both white and colored? In the year since Lee’s surrender, they’ve made and broken promises right and left, while we’re drowning in debt, taxes, carpetbaggers, and scalawags. And now you would lease your precious, ancestral lands to one of them, just to live in what’s left of this house?”
The breath used up, she took another. “The South and the conditions allowing Langesford to exist died in the war, Papa, along with Maman and Brent. Maybe it’s time to let it go completely. She reached out to him, beseeching, “Please, instead of a partnership, sell the plantation to the Yankee. We can go somewhere else…”
“That is impossible!” Anthony growled in response, his eyes darkened in the growing gloom.
Her hands now clenched at her sides, she ignored the warning in his voice. “I’ve heard Brazil has a climate suitable for cotton, as well as low-priced labor. The Bartletts are planning to go there now that the tax collector has Havenwood. If we must continue being planters, let’s sell out and put aside the ghosts of the past to begin anew.”
Caught up in her dream of a life without war and slavery, she paced, punctuating her words with her hands. “Better yet, we can go west. Homesteads in the territories are free to anyone who will work the land. And Texas is not so far. We could be ranchers, planters, or go into the lumber trade. Or even New Orleans. Maman may still have family there and since Flora is amazing with a needle and thread, and I’m a competent seamstress, we could open a business. You could retire to write our family history.”
She reached out to him again, tears blurring her vision. “Don’t you see? We’re tied to a dead horse here, and no rich Yankee can bring it back to life. With the money from a sale, we could go anywhere and start over.”
Her fingers never reached the thin arm inside the worn, tweed coat. Anthony stepped around her to approach the window. “A dead horse,” he repeated, as if the words were dirty. “One does not pay fifteen thousand Yankee greenbacks to rent a dead horse, daughter.”
Camilla gasped. “Fifteen thousand dollars? That is impossible. No plantation in the county has leased at such a price. Or sold for that matter.” Frowning now, she asked, “Why did he pick ours to lease when he could have purchased—or leased—another at less cost?”
Anthony spoke to her reflection in the now-darkened window, explaining as if to a petulant child, “Selling is not an option for us. This land has been our home since your great-great grandfather and James Oglethorpe sailed to America and founded the colony. A Langesford served in the first Provincial Congress. We’ve fought the British, the French, the Indians, and now our fellow Americans, to keep our land.”
He turned to her then, pointing a finger at her nose. “The blood of those brave and adventurous people is as much a part of this plantation as it is a part of me. Of you! As long as this land exists, a Langesford will live on it, or die trying.”
Out of habit, he reached into his pocket for a watch he’d sold long ago. No matter, the sky had turned to sooty black. With the authority of a Colonel in the Confederate Army, he added, “This lease is a temporary agreement. Its terms will ensure the survival of our legacy. My new partner will arrive soon. Regional differences aside, you will meet him and be gracious to him. He has the manners of a gentleman—see that you behave like the lady you were raised to be.”
His raised hand stopped her retort. “But take heart. Mr. O’Grady seems the city-type to me. I doubt he will spend much time here. And, since this is a large place, you should be able to avoid him easily.”
He returned to the fireplace, rubbing his hands together above the grate. “And at current cotton prices, even splitting the profits, one or two good crops should allow him a good return on his investment—and pay our taxes with some left over. In time, our life should return to normal.”
A knock at the study door cut off Camilla’s angry retort that nothing would ever be normal again. It opened a moment later to reveal a dusky-skinned woman standing at the threshold. Her bare, work-worn hands were folded in front of a starched white apron over a somber gray gown. Her eyes downcast in the way of all good servants, she announced, “There is a Mr. Patrick O’Grady here, Colonel. He sounds like a Yankee. What do you want me to do with him?”
“I won’t—” Camilla began.
“No, you won’t have to see him tonight,” Anthony snapped. “He came to see me, not a wild-eyed hoyden just in from the field.” He dismissed her with a wave of his arm. “I mustn’t keep my guest waiting. You may go to your room. Time enough to see him in the morning, when you’re presentable.”
Camilla flushed with anger and tears threatened to spill from her eyes, as she looked from her father to Flora waiting at the door, the Yankee behind her. She had no choice but to obey. But rather than leave beaten, in a gesture she’d seen her mother do a thousand times, she pushed back curls that had escaped their net hours before, straightened to her full, five-feet, three inches, gathered up what she could of her narrow skirt, and swept out of the room into the wide, marble foyer.
If not for her old bloodhound, Scar, lying just outside the threshold, it would have been a magnificent exit. Instead, her haughty gesture ended in a humiliating stumble directly into a solid wall of a man in a white suit. Without his strong hands on her shoulders, she’d have fallen on her face.
Then those hands dropped to her waist and he lifted her over the barely startled hound. When she stood firm again, and Scar had relocated to a safer spot near the stairs, he said, “Pardon me,” in a deep voice.
His big hands still circling her waist, Camilla stared at the top button of his vest. Gold. And his shirt was Chinese silk, with real pearl buttons. She hadn’t seen clothing of such quality in years. When he released her, she stepped back, cheeks hot, the tears from her confrontation with her father still in her eyes. And when she finally dared to look at his face, steel-gray eyes wrinkled at the edges, glittering in amusement.
“You shouldn’t be running inside the house, child,” he scolded with a smile that took her breath away. “You could have been hurt. What would Master Langesford say?”
Child! Master Langesford! This...Yankee...took her for a servant! Rage choked her as she shrank from his pat on her head.
“Now, don’t be afraid.” He winked. “I won’t say anything.”
“Master,” she choked. “He’s not my master, he’s…”
“Cammy!” Flora cut her off. Her mouth was set in a stern line, but her hazel eyes, more green than brown, in a café-au-lait complexion, were laughing. “Jes’ look at you. Don’ waste no more o’ the fine gentleman’s time. Go. Do like Master Langesford tol’ you.”
Camilla nearly giggled at the affectation in Flora’s normally flawless English and continued the charade. She twirled her skirt, answering in a high, little-girl voice, “Yes, Miz Flora. Anything you sez, Miz Flora.” She stooped to hide her laughter by patting Scar’s head. The dog rose with a loud yawn, looked at the stranger, and followed her up the stairs.
The humor from the joke on the Yankee faded once inside her room. “Oh, Florie,” she sighed, knowing the woman followed her with silent footsteps on the stairs. At the soft closing of the door, Camilla turned to her former nursemaid. “What are we going to do about the Yankee? He’s not what I expected. He’s not like the other carpetbaggers. He looks....”
“Competent,” Flora answered for her. “And cultured and intelligent.”
Camilla stared. Could Flora be going the way of her father? Had they all forgotten the last five years? She hissed, “There are no cultured and intelligent Yankees! They are all liars and thieves. This one is just better at hiding it than the others. I have to make Papa understand.”
She unhooked the waist of her dress to hang it on a hook and stepped out of her skirt and petticoat to face Flora in the chemise that doubled as a nightgown. “It’s his money,” she announced. “Money clouds men’s eyes. That’s what tricked Papa.”
And his deep voice and pretended manners. She could still feel the warmth of his big, gentle hands at her waist and blinked to erase the memory of a muscular chest straining against expensive pearl buttons.
Feeling suddenly warm in the small room where Flora’s husband Otis, had started a fire, she paced, removing the useless pins from her thick hair “And what happened to Scar? He’s always been our protector. I didn’t hear so much as a growl from him.”
“With all the commotion going on in the study, I’m not surprised,” Flora answered dryly. “He must be getting old, your Scar.” She busied herself with the familiar tasks of folding down the ragged, bear’s paw quilt and smoothing Camilla’s dress over her arm to freshen it for the next day.
“Well, perhaps,” Camilla conceded before climbing into the narrow, rope and straw bed Otis had made for her. “Thank you for saving me from embarrassing myself in front of the Yankee. I’m so tired I can’t seem to think straight.”
She lay back onto a bleached pillow made from a feed sack and goose feathers, staring at the cracked and peeling ceiling. Her sigh heavy with worry, she waited for Flora to sit beside her as she had done every night since she could remember.
As always, Flora sat in silence, her long, elegant fingers folded on top of her starched apron, waiting to hear the events of the day that Anthony didn’t care to know.
“I spent all day with Leon and Cato today,” Camilla began. “I returned late and didn’t have time to freshen up when Papa called me to his study.”
Flora brushed curls from Camilla’s forehead, whispering, “Clothes do not make your worth, Cheri. You are beautiful—inside and out.”
Camilla’s answering chuckle showed her doubt. “Well, they convinced the others to refuse to honor our contract. We’ll have to see that disgusting Federal Agent in Jeffers again, and another day’s work will be lost.”
She burrowed deeper under the faded quilt and touched an arm only a few shades darker than her own. “We will think of a way out of this, won’t we, Florie? Talk to Otis. See what he thinks.”
“Oui ma Cher,” Flora whispered in a blend of St. Domingue and Creole French from her home in New Orleans. As she had since Camilla’s birth, her work-worn fingers gently caressed the girl’s forehead as she sang softly, Au clair de la lune, mon ami pierot.
When Camilla slipped into an exhausted slumber, Flora rose and whispered, “I will speak to my husband, Cheri, but I do not know what we will do with this man. I fear he is here to stay.” Her steps slow and her back bowed, she snuffed the candle by the bed with her fingertips and left the room.