Preview: A Time for Everything
A full-length, Civil War era historical romance
Excerpt from Ch. 23
Outside, Portia stepped onto the wide flagstones and took a deep breath of the crisp, magnolia-sweetened air. Torches were lit along a winding maze of a path through the biggest flower garden she had ever seen. She wished she could see it in the daylight when the muted colors would come to life in vivid splendor. Wrought iron and painted wood furniture occupied the left side. Light from the door and windows spilled along the stone floor, making rectangles in patterns of light and dark. No lamps or torches were lit on the veranda itself. Besides a strolling couple in the garden, the place was unoccupied, giving her the opportunity to sink into the shadows against the wall.
But instead of the house, she backed into something less solid… and warmer.
“It looks good on you.”
She pivoted on her heels, crossing from the safety of shadow into the window’s light. “Beau! You scared the life out of me.”
His eyes twinkled along with his smile. “You look plenty alive to me.”
Dressed in a dark suit and bowtie, he looked more gentleman than farmer. Hands in his pockets, he rested his back against the house, the sole of one booted foot casually planted on the white stone wall.
“Where’s Lydia?” Her voice sounded as taut as her nerves.
He shrugged. “Upstairs somewhere. Probably changing again. I think she has a new get-up for every round of dancing.”
Before she lost the little bit of nerve she had left, she asked, “You know Jonny is innocent, don’t you?”
“I don’t know, but I’m grateful that you don’t harbor anger toward him.” Fatigue burdened his words as he stared at the ground.
Though it wasn’t quite the answer she had hoped for, she wasn’t sure what else to say. With so many people in attendance, any slight against Lydia could be easily overheard should someone else happen to step outside.
Rubbing her bare forearms nervously, she broke the awkward silence. “Thank you for the dress. It was quite unexpected.”
“I felt the need to replace what you lost.” Dropping his foot back to the ground, he pushed off the wall and stepped closer. “I didn’t think you’d come tonight.”
“I didn’t know if I should… or if you… wanted me to.”
The musicians must have come back from their intermission, because the flowing, rhythmic sounds of a waltz floated across the veranda.
Beau held out his hand, breaking the border of shadow and light that separated them and revealing the calluses of a hard-working man. “May I have this dance?”
Her heart thumped a warning inside her chest. You’re stepping over a line you shouldn’t cross. But the warm beacon of his eyes caught her in his spell, and she lost all notion of refusing him. Slowly, carefully, as though she were about to touch Briar Rose’s spindle, she accepted his hand. His other hand settled on her waist, and he drew her to him, away from the window and prying eyes. They stood like that for one eternal moment, secure in their shadowy refuge. Portia could have soared into the cosmos, had Beau not kept her secure in his arms.
“I don’t dance very well,” she admitted quietly as she rested her palm on his chest. She could feel his strong muscles and the steady rhythm of his heart.
“It’s just a waltz. Simplest dance there is. It’s the only one I ever learned, though Claire tried her best to teach me. Her toes paid the price.”
“My toes are just as penniless as I am, so let’s not spend beyond their means.”
Portia smiled, relaxing with their easy banter. Beau led, keeping her hand in his firm but gentle grip. She followed, and they soon fell into the rhythm of sultry strings and piano chords. Glancing down at her feet, she missed her step and landed on Beau’s toe.
“Up here.” His soothing, deep voice eased her fears as expertly as he calmed his horses. “Don’t look at your feet. Always look ahead or into your partner’s eyes.”
It is easier this way, looking into your partner’s eyes. And there was no place she’d have rather looked. His deep-set eyes were gray in this light and softened by his serene smile. She could have stared into them until her feet grew numb if time allowed.
As the last notes of the waltz glided out onto the veranda, she burned into her memory the strength in his hand on her waist, the way he smiled and gently guided her back into the step when she lost focus. No matter what happened from this night on, she never wanted to forget the way it felt right then, dancing in Beau Stanford’s arms.
The final chords faded into silence. Beau went still, but he held her there against him. She longed to remain in the sanctuary of him, man and woman, united body and soul. He let go of her hand and touched her face, trailing his fingers lightly along her jaw. Portia lifted her chin to accept his kiss, but her spirit fell back to earth when his jaw tightened.
He spoke in a ragged whisper. “There’s something I need to tell you…”