By Guest Author Gretchen Craig
Hello, Smart Girls Read Romance readers. My son says he can’t
see why anyone would write a book without wizards in it – I wonder why anyone
would write a book without romance in
it. So my newest
book EVERMORE, certainly has a
romance, or two depending on how you define romance. One romance ends in
happily ever after, but another one doesn’t, and with no happy-ever-after, is
it a “romance”?
Rather than give you the polished blog for EVERMORE, let me give you a bigger slice
of what the story is about, and then I’ll share the first few pages of the
Nicolette Chamard is a free woman of mixed-blood living in
New Orleans when the conquering Yanks parade into town. The citizens are riled
and hostile, but Nicolette is thrilled – these soldiers will free every
enslaved soul in Louisiana. Her rich,
slave-owning, white half-brother surveys the same parade and sees the end of
all his privilege, ease, and wealth. And among the Yanks entering their beloved
city is Captain Finnian McKee, a book seller from Boston who finds himself
bewildered by the intricacies of race and color in New Orleans.
Nicolette (she looks just like Halley Berry) wants to help
the Union win the war even though collaboration with the enemy will be
dangerous. She becomes a telegrapher in Captain McKee’s signal office, and with
her light skin and fine manners, poor Finn McKee (who looks like the young Tom
Selleck) does not understand that underneath, according to the culture of
Louisiana, Nicolette is a Negress. They fall in love in spite of not
understanding one another fully, and … Won’t tell you the rest of that
Then there’s Alistair, another rich slave-owning planter,
who loves Nicolette dearly. But he will never marry her – it would mean ruin
for himself, his mother, and his little sister’s chance of marrying well. He
will make her his beloved mistress with a committed heart, but that is not
enough for Nicolette. I found myself a little in love with Alistair myself in
spite of his not being hero-worthy, and maybe you’ll wish him well, too.
Remember Scarlett O’Hara’s crush on Ashley Wilkes? I picture Ashley when I’m
writing about Alistair.
Marcel, Nicolette’s half-brother, has a much loved mistress
who is of mixed blood. (I think Marcel looks a lot like the young Sean Connery,
my all-time heart-throb.) They have two boys together, and Marcel is devoted to
his little family. Still he must marry a white woman and have a legitimate
family as well. Note the “must.” It seemed like a legitimate “must” to Marcel’s
class. So he marries a flaxen-haired belle who is madly in love with him. How
on earth can we resolve this? I love Marcel, for all his arrogance and conceit,
but really – how can he expect this to end well?
There’s more, of course. It’s a fairly big book, but here
you have all the elements for broken hearts, healed hearts, and
Here are the first pages of EVERMORE.
through the crowd to see the conquering Yanks march up Canal Street. The
citizens of New Orleans slung insults and worse at the soldiers, but Nicolette
was elated. These soldiers were going to free every enslaved soul in the South.
In an unguarded moment, she forgot herself. Her lips curved and she pressed her
hands to her heart.
warning, fingers gripped her shoulder, the thumb digging under her collar bone.
A filthy man with a red face and glaring eyes loomed over her, his mouth
twisted in fury.
wipe that smirk off your face, missy, you know what’s good for you.”
shot up her spine. If he denounced her as a Yankee sympathizer, the crowd would
stomp her into the ground. She wrenched free and plunged into the mob. At the
edge of the throng, she gripped a light post and told herself to breathe, just
been careless, letting her feelings show. She knew better. No matter that she
was free or that her skin was light, the requisite tignon she wore on her head
identified her as a woman of color. And a colored woman in New Orleans better
know her place.
pulse slowing, Nicolette threaded her way through the fringe of onlookers.
Here, where she didn’t have to steel herself against the dreaded touching and
bumping, she relaxed her hands and shoulders.
from Presswood Mercantile, she looked to see if Marcel had come to witness the
Yankees claim his city. He leaned against the balcony railing far above the
rabble, his steady gaze on the liberators. Invaders, her half-brother would
call them, overturning the life of ease and privilege he enjoyed as a rich
resisted raising her hand to him. He would not welcome the familiarity in front
of Miss Presswood, his flaxen-haired fiancé. No matter that they shared a deep
affection, and no matter that Nicolette’s gray eyes were lighter than his brown
ones, her brother lived his life on a different plane. Marcel’s mother had been
Bertrand Chamard’s wife. Nicolette’s mother had been a slave on the neighboring
balcony above the hubbub, Marcel gripped the iron railing with white knuckles.
His nose twitched at the smell of unwashed soldiers in damp, sweat-soaked wool
rising above the street. He had anticipated the day Union troops would enter
his beloved city, but the impact was no less painful for having foreseen it.
Confederate through and through, Marcel Chamard took a keen interest in the
Yankee formations. They were neat enough, though their uniforms were worn and
sometimes more gray than blue. He excused them their lack of polish. He even
excused them the side they’d chosen. At least these men had rallied to their
cause. Too many Southern gentlemen yet lingered in the comforts of home. Though
he did not yet wear the uniform himself, Marcel was no malingerer.
Ann took his arm and murmured, “Marcel.” He glanced at his fiancé and saw the warning on her face. They were
amid their enemies. He unfisted his hands and unclenched his jaw.
spied his little sister down below. Though Nicolette wore an ordinary blue day-dress
and a matching tignon, the required cloth folded and tied in intricate fashion
over her black hair, she was a bright blue bird among the crows and sparrows of
the crowd. Marcel had never wondered that his father fell in love with
Nicolette’s beautiful mother. His sister, too, was beautiful. But, as she had
been cossetted and adored all her life, she was naïve in her understanding of
slavery in the South. No doubt Nicolette believed the Yanks would free the
slaves before breakfast and turn the South into some sort of fairy-tale Eden by
he’d done his part in spoiling her, but no one could deny she was an
exceptional girl. Sang like an angel, with just enough of the devil in her to
seduce an entire audience. And with her coloring, he thought for the hundredth
time, Nicolette could pass for white, if she wanted to. But she chose not to.
No, Nicolette knew nothing of politics or the real issues of the war.
Deborah Ann stepped closer to him and wrapped her arm in his, he patted her
hand absently. His attention was still on Nicolette as she made her way through
the thinning crowd. So very careful she was not to brush up against anyone. She
thought no one knew how she shrank from being touched, but he had watched her
withdraw after the …incident. He hardly let himself think of it in more detail
than that. It roiled him and threw him into a rage if he dwelled on what Adam
Johnston had done to his baby sister, leaving her unconscious, bleeding and
Deborah Ann tugged
at his arm. Marcel blinked the image away. He took one more look over his
shoulder, annoyed with Nicolette for being out again with no protector. What
good was the slave he’d given her if she left him at home?
maître d’ led Finn and his friend Hursh into the gas-lit supper club where
silver gleamed and roses scented every table. A white-jacketed waiter offered
them menus. Finn waved him off. Dining here would cost them each a week’s
wages. Instead he held up two fingers. “Whiskey.”
looked around the room at the other patrons who’d come to take a night’s
pleasure in the midst of war. The gleam of brass buttons revealed that about
half the diners were men in the uniform of the U. S. Army, Federal officers
like himself. The other half were wealthy planters who had decided it was in
their best interest to co-exist with the occupying Yanks. Practical men, Finn
had to admit.
fanfare of a drum roll from the stage, the master of ceremonies strode on stage
and announced with great fervor, “Mademoiselle Nicolette Chamard!” The
white-tie elements of the audience burst into enthusiastic applause.
woman entered from stage right, slowly, demurely, with her eyes cast down. Her
gown was ice blue, and she wore the get-up on her head that so many women in
New Orleans favored, some sort of turban.
began singing a capello, her voice
sweet and pitch-perfect, but thin, as if she’d used all her breath just getting
on stage. Finn figured she’d been applauded for her looks, not her talent. And
looks she had, if you liked a perfect heart-shaped face. Her skin was creamy,
not that fish-belly white the young ladies of Boston bragged about. And that
lower lip! He leaned forward, his elbows on the table.
mademoiselle was the picture of innocence, her eyes on the far distance, her
hands holding a huge magnolia blossom. Winsomely sweet, she sang her story.
A pretty little maid so neat and gay
To the mill she went one day.
took advantage of sitting in the dark to stare at her bosom mounding nicely
above her neckline. He paid little attention to the lyrics, no doubt another
insipid ballad about love and loss.
Now I think I will make my best way home.
If my mother ask me why I’ve been so long,
vision in blue suddenly gave her audience a broad wink and a saucy smile. Her
voice took on power and depth and an insinuating tone as she finished with --
I’ll say I’ve been ground by a score or more
But I’ve never been ground so well before.
caught unawares, guffawed. Hursh slapped the table. The room erupted in
Then she assumed a
mask of hauteur as she seated herself at the piano. She played a tinkling trill
in the high register, and then she pounded out a few chords in the lower keys
with dramatic, body-swaying expression. Suddenly, as if she’d had a thought,
she paused with her chin high in the air, her hands poised over the keys.
“I play piano just
like Frederic Chopin, you know,” she said in a confiding tone.
The men in the
audience, and they were nearly all men, chuckled, waiting for it.
“With two hands.”
for the laughter to die down, Mademoiselle Nicolette launched into a Wagnerian
aria in a soaring soprano. When she came to the high note, she stood on tiptoe
to reach it, immediately returning to the keyboard and the breathtaking slide
down to the alto range, her audience calling out and clapping.
Finn’s eyes never
left her. He gazed, not at her bosom, at least not entirely, but at her face,
for she’d dropped the innocent-miss mask altogether now. Her eyes sparkled, her
face glowed. The regal elegance she projected, and then the humor ranging from
sly to clownish – she was a chimera, shifting easily from mock-serious to
mock-bawdy, from demure to knowing. Her voice flew like a hummingbird soaring and
He was smitten.
through the room as Mademoiselle Chamard took her bows.
personal experience, it had been true, what they said about show people: women
of the stage were likely to be generous with their favors. He fervently hoped
it were true in New Orleans, too.
“I’ll square with
you later,” he said, and bolted, leaving Hursh to pay for the drinks. He wanted
to get backstage before the other swains got there.
He found the side
door into the performers’ area and closed it firmly in the face of a young
gentleman following him. He grabbed a nearby chair and wedged it under the
knob. He didn’t need competition from some rich bloke in top hat and cane.
Here the banjo and
flute from the next act barely penetrated. A gas light overhead hissed and
dimly caught the gleam of blue silk as Mademoiselle Nicolette strode down the
hallway toward the brighter dressing area.
She turned. He
couldn’t see her face with the light behind her. He came closer and stood in
the doorway with her. He stood too close, he knew he did, but he wanted to
inhale her intoxicating perfume. He wanted to inhale her.
Up close, she was
even more beautiful. Her gray eyes seemed to see through to the back of his
head. The heavy scent of the magnolia blossom in her hand made him dizzy, and
he swallowed hard.
She backed away
from him, bumping into the doorjamb.
smile? Finn hesitated, puzzled. In Boston, he’d often gone backstage to
congratulate Coleen after a performance, and if he were the first admirer to
reach her dressing room, he left the theater a happy man.
Well, what had he
expected? That she would invite a stranger into her dressing room, let him tear
her clothes off and make passionate love to her all night? Well, yes. He’d been
carried away with the image of himself and this astonishing, spirited woman in
a sweaty tangle of sheets. Unfair, of course. She was not a fantasy. Still, was
there not even a hint of flirtation about her?
He leaned forward,
trying to read those astonishing gray eyes. Her pupils widened, and she raised
a hand as if to protect herself.
He’d blundered, obviously. Yet he was here now. He had to say something.
“I enjoyed your
The hand at her
bodice fisted on a flounce of lace. “Merci.”
She glanced toward the door where he’d wedged the chair.
Could this be the
same woman, fearless and bold on stage, shrinking from him here in the hallway?
Did he detect a faint trembling in her shoulders?
Good God, the
woman was afraid of him.
Finn stepped back.
“Pardon me, mademoiselle. I have alarmed you.”
She did not deny
it. She was alone, and he was too close. He’d made her feel trapped with the
chair under the door knob. He felt like a cad. Heat flushed from his throat to
“I do apologize.”
He bowed, his eyes on her hemline. “Good night to you, Miss Chamard.”
her hand over her heart, watching le
Américain retreat down the hallway, his boots loud on the naked boards. His accent was foreign to her, but his
voice had been smooth and soothing, like soft butter on a scorched finger. He’d
meant her no harm.
lingered, a heady, masculine scent. She breathed, drawing him into her lungs.
In spite of the touch of panic, she’d taken in the thick brows and curling dark
hair, the lustrous mustache framing a generous lower lip.
He’d been so tall,
looming over her. And he’d surprised her. That’s what had unsettled her. If
she’d been prepared, if Pierre had been with her, or Maman, she could have
smiled and played the coquette. That’s what he wanted, to see the coquette. Not
a spiritless gray shadow.
She sat at her
dressing table and leaned her forehead against her fist. How long was she going
to be like this? A cowardly, timid mouse!
herself, she twisted the lid off the cold cream jar and scoured the make-up off
her face. He must have thought she was a ninny. She’d managed, what, one word?
Surrounded by the
pale cream, her eyes glowed darkly. She dropped her hand, staring into the
mirror. She was not a shadow. She was not a mouse. She still had a spine, she
just had to stiffen it and get over that awful moment when Adam Johnston had
taken her confidence from her. And she would, she was sure she would.
She scraped her
chair back. To hell with back stage Lotharios.
her shoes and joined Cleo and Pierre in the other dressing room. They would go
home together and have a late supper in the kitchen. Then she would go to bed
and forget all about the officer with the dark brown eyes.
Kind eyes, she
remembered, when he saw she was afraid.
At the moment, EVERMORE
, the third book in The Plantation Series, Stories of Slavery and
is an e-book and available in paperback. Click here
to buy EVERMORE
|Gretchen Craig, Author|
Gretchen Craig's lush, sweeping tales deliver edgy, compelling characters who test the boundaries of integrity, strength, and love. Told with sensitivity, the novels realistically portray the raw suffering of people in times of great upheaval. Having lived in diverse climates and terrains, Gretchen infuses her novels with a strong sense of place. THE PLANTATION SERIES brings to the reader the smell of Louisiana's bayous and of New Orleans' gumbo. CRIMSON SKY evokes the lives of people living under a searing sun among the stark beauty of mesas and canyons. THEENA'S LANDING summons the sweltering humidity of the Florida Everglades, the flash of scarlet ibis, and the terror of being stranded in a hurricane. For lovers of the short story, COLOR OF THE ROSE is an award winning collection exploring the characters and issues that comprise ALWAYS AND FOREVER. BAYOU STORIES is a dark look at troubled slows looking for solace in the lonely bayous of Louisiana. The third collection, LOOKIN' FOR LUV, is written just to make you smile. To be published in the fall of 2014: Gretchen's first non-historical novel, THE BARGAIN is about two evil women who blight every life they touch until they finally turn on each other. In Gretchen's usual habit of thorough research, these two characters exemplify the psychopathic profile, creating mayhem and heartbreak without feeling a thing. To be published in 2015: TANSY, a novel of early Louisiana, tells the story of a free woman of color who is born into the system of plaçage in New Orleans. She is destined to become a rich white Creole planter's mistress, but she learns that she can shape her own destiny into something far richer and more fulfilling. DESTINY, a novel of the great slave rebellion of 1811. Based on factual accounts, the story begins and ends with Charles Deslondes who leads a double life as loyal slave and secret conspirator as he inspires the slaves to seize their own destiny. Visit her website at www.gretchencraig.com