Bored with the dull suitors and shallow admirers of London, Anne Weston sets out for New Orleans in search of a new kind of man. She finds what she’s looking for in the form of a brave stranger who helps a family of slaves escape—before pulling Anne into the shadows to steal a kiss.
Lucien Delocroix, the careless, lazy son of a wealthy plantation owner, is more concerned with the cut of his coats than the running of his estate. And yet, Anne knows there is more to the charming dilettante than meets the eye, and that he’s willing to risk everything for what he knows to be right.
Swept into the secret life of a daring rogue, Anne finds herself drawn to the excitement of danger—and the fervor of passion.
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About the Author
Allen enjoys researching her novels almost as much as writing them, especially when the research includes travel. She has traveled extensively in the United States and spent some memorable times in Great Britain and Europe exploring castles and countryside.
Allen lives in Utah, but is an avid Anglophile and lover of British history and literature. At the same time, she immensely enjoys stories based in small-town Americana, both to read and write. This shared love for the “old” country and the “new” country made sense to her when her ancestry DNA test revealed that her origins were very, very British, and that her ancestors came to America with the earliest settlers.
Allen is married and has two sons, one of whom lives in Los Angeles and writes for television. Her other son lives close by with his wife and two children, which makes for many fun family gatherings.
Read an Excerpt
"Isn't this heaven, Uncle Reggie?"
Anne crossed her arms and leaned on the brass rail of the steamboat, gazing at the passing scenery of the Mississippi state coast as they glided through the calm waters of Mobile Bay. Just around the bend was Biloxi, and by tomorrow morning they'd land at New Orleans. Dusk was tracing the distant island forests in vivid pink, the reflection in the water cooled to a softer golden-mauve. The steamboat's giant paddlewheel churned a soothing rhythm, filling the air with a fine mist. A cool breeze ruffled through the blond curls that escaped Anne's bonnet.
It had been several weeks since she, Uncle Reggie, Aunt Katherine, and a handful of servants had set sail from Dover, England. After leaving the harbor at New York, they'd changed vessels three times. At Charleston, they'd boarded the Belvedere, an ornate three-deck riverboat with huge golden-crowned smokestacks. It was like a luxury hotel on water, with ever-changing scenery to take your breath away.
"I admit, Anne, 'tis pleasant to look upon from a distance," Reggie conceded reluctantly. "However, I shudder to think what wild beasts and reptiles may make their nests in that lush greenery."
"Don't be a milquetoast, Reggie," chided Katherine in her deep, no-nonsense voice. "Every Eden must have its serpent."
Anne's two chaperones stood, like formidable bookends, on either side of her. Though of slightly more than medium height herself, she had to look up to observe their faces. At sixty-two, Reggie was lean, dapper, and dignified. He had iron-gray hair, a large nose, and a drooping walrus-like mustache, and he wore small, round-rimmed spectacles. He was her father's bachelor brother, and he had lived at Weston Hall in Surrey with her family for as long as Anne could remember. She and her four older sisters loved the old fusspot dearly, as he took a lively interest in all their concerns.
With her plain bonnet on, Katherine was nearly as tall as Reggie. Of an angular build, except for her imposing bosom, she could best be described as handsome. She had a broad forehead, piercing gray eyes, and straight, resolute features. She stood rigidly linear at all times, usually gripping in her left hand a cherrywood cane that she didn't need in the least, except for the purpose of none-too-subtle intimidation.
Katherine was Anne's mother's sister, and the family considered her to be quite eccentric. She'd outlived three husbands already — all of them American — the last one the New Orleans banker Samuel Grimms, whom she had met while they were both on safari in Africa. She dressed with elegant, severe simplicity, disdaining feathers and ribbons as unseemly decoration for a woman on the shady side of fifty.
Katherine was well-educated, innately intelligent, and extremely opinionated. She and Reggie had been at daggers-drawn since the moment the steamer had set sail from England, and, in truth, since the moment they'd first met. Every few years or so, Katherine traveled from America to visit her relatives in England, and each time she and Reggie were compelled to spend time together, their mutual animosity blossomed.
"And every Eden must have its tart-tongued Eve, I suppose," Reggie retorted, "forever tempting one to eat the forbidden fruit." Reggie gave his mustache an agitated tug.
Katherine rapped her cane against the polished wood floor of the deck. "Simpleton! Eve was only doing what was necessary! She couldn't live forever in a state of ignorance with that sniveling, unquestioning Adam! They'd never have populated the earth if they hadn't finally observed that they were naked as jaybirds and got on with the ... the ..." She waved her cane in the air. " ... conception thing! She was opening Adam's eyes to the real world, Reginald, much as I'm doing for Anne."
"I was raised to believe that women should be protected from the 'real world'!" Reggie declared with another tug.
"I know you consider me the Eve of this particular Eden," Katherine continued, as if Reggie hadn't said a word, "and that I'm taking Anne — as you so like to say —'out of the garden and into Babylon.' But, ye Gods, Reginald, she's twenty-three years old! Hardly a babe!"
"Thank you, Aunt," Anne murmured dryly.
"'Twas time Anne saw something beyond the gates of Weston Hall and London during the Season, where she was surrounded by fops who called themselves men, but who did nothing more manly than preen and pose in front of a looking glass. I dareswear I don't know how she stood it for five years."
Anne saw Reggie stiffen. He considered Katherine's frequent swipes at British manhood downright unpatriotic.
"Please, Aunt Katherine," Anne implored, "you know Reggie doesn't like it when you malign our fellow countrymen."
"Damned good men, too," muttered Reggie. "Pluck to the backbone. Fops don't beat monsters like Napoleon, y'know."
"Anne said it herself — and don't contradict me, niece! She said she wanted to go to a country where men were men, not sycophants living off their fathers' money or their wives' dowry. Men who have a purpose in life, with something more important to do than wager, womanize, gossip, and dance."
When Reggie gave his niece a hurt look from beneath his bushy, protruding eyebrows, Anne hastily explained, "I did not mean to imply that all English men were made of such frippery stuff, Uncle, but most of the men I met during the London Season were a trifle shallow. They seemed much more concerned with the cut of their coat than the cast of their character."
"You can't fault a man for endeavoring to look his best, niece. I daresay you'd shun a man who didn't take pains with his appearance. You wouldn't want to be seen with the fellow!"
"I'm not talking about neatness and good grooming," Anne said seriously. "I'd expect that of anyone, male or female. But it seems to me that there's a direct correlation between how many frills, fobs, and furbelows a man wears on his person and how many serious, original thoughts pass through his brain. The more fuss there is to a man's dress, the less real substance there is to the man himself. In my experience, it is a theory which has proven true time and again."
"Then I wonder that you choose New Orleans to find a husband," Reggie persisted. "'Tis my understanding that most Creole men fairly dote on the pastimes of wagering, womanizing, gossiping, and dancing."
"She chose New Orleans because I live there, and I'm her only relative in America," said Katherine, looking at Reggie as if he were a nitwit. "Her reasoning is self-evident. And what better place is there to find a husband than New Orleans? I will admit that the Creole society does have its share of frippery fellows, and Anne will be obliged to meet and converse with several, but the city is brimming with real men, as well. I should know ... having had three m'self. The best thing I ever did was leave England."
If Reggie was of a mind to made a sarcastic retort to Katherine's last statement, he stifled it. He stared straight ahead, his lips clamped tightly together. Anne was grateful for his restraint. She knew from past experience that an argument between her two guardians could last for hours.
Anne wrapped her hands around Reggie's arm and leaned close to him. "Uncle, here's a diverting thought for you. To continue the biblical analogies, let's just say you're my guardian angel, sent to keep me safe from the sins and snakes of Louisiana!"
"There's truth to that," Reggie informed her in a softened tone. "Your parents would never have allowed you to come if I hadn't agreed to accompany you."
Sharp-eared and always listening, Katherine said, "Anne didn't need her parents' permission. She's a grown woman. She controls her own money — a fortune, I might add. She doesn't need a guardian, either. She has me."
Reggie sighed heavily, trying manfully to disregard yet another of Katherine's interruptions. "I'm happy to be of service to you, Anne, as you know. And always glad to show my affection and respect for your parents by helping out where I can. But, I daresay, this shall be the longest year of my life. Heaven, you say? Hell, rather."
Anne squeezed his arm and clicked her tongue consolingly. "No, don't say that. It's truly beautiful here, and everything is so exciting and new. It's nothing like we're used to."
"Precisely," sulked Reggie.
"Things will improve. We've been too much together on this long trip. You and Aunt Katherine needn't spend so much time together once we've arrived." Anne felt the strained muscles in his arm loosen a little. "And remember, while 'tis true that I didn't need my parents' permission to come to America, and I could have refused your chaperonage, your coming along has made them much easier about me. For that I'm very grateful."
Reggie's furrowed brow relaxed. She had managed to soothe his nettled nerves for perhaps the hundredth time that week alone. Silently she added, Yes, your presence has made my parents easier, Uncle, but I still intend to do exactly as I please.
Hoping the respite from arguing would last, Anne turned her attention back to the landscape. "Look at those beautiful trees, Uncle Reggie. The captain identified some of them for me. That's a sycamore, there's a pecan, and those flowered ones —"
"Magnolias," Katherine instructed.
"And the Spanish moss looks like the long, soft beards of old men, doesn't it? Those vines climbing up the trees, are they —?"
Reggie said, "Yes, it's wild honeysuckle, which accounts, in part, for the incredible sweetness of the air, I suppose."
"I love honeysuckle!" Anne said with enthusiasm, winning a genuine smile from Reggie. Relieved to see Reggie's equanimity restored, Anne turned to her aunt and gave her a remonstrative look, as if to say, Why do you make me work so hard to keep the peace? Katherine merely shrugged and laid her hands, one on top of the other, over the large golden globe at the top of her cane.
The waters were becoming more congested now as they approached the landing at Biloxi, Mississippi. There the Belvedere would restock firewood to fuel the engines, enough to get them to New Orleans by morning.
Anne would be glad to finally reach their destination. Though she'd taken to life on the ship and the ungainly steamboat like a born sailor, she'd had enough water travel to last her for a while. The landing was in view now, and the boat gave three mighty blasts from its smokestacks. Anne felt a thrill go through her. Every landing was exciting. She smiled to herself, for no other reason than the pure joy of living. She'd never been happier.
Lucien Delacroix watched the Belvedere pull alongside the dock, his eyelids drooping in apparent boredom. In reality he was anything but bored. He'd been visiting a horse farm in Biloxi, shopping for a new team of high-steppers for his town carriage, when, by mere chance, he'd overheard that Charles Bodine was transporting by steamboat a family of slaves he'd bought at auction that day.
Lucien quickly rearranged his plans for returning to New Orleans, sending his carriage back by land and purchasing himself a ticket on the Belvedere. If asked, he'd explain his change of plans by confessing a hankering for the steamboat chef's specialty of pompano en creme. No one would doubt that the pleasure-loving, impetuous Lucien Delacroix allowed his tastebuds to dictate his travel plans.
Yes, there they were. In his peripheral vision, Lucien saw Bodine and two of his most trusted slaves herding a group of Negroes toward the dock. He would not look directly at them; after all, he shouldn't be expecting to see them, nor should he exhibit any interest in something so commonplace as another plantation owner and his latest purchases. But Lucien was determined that this particular plantation owner would not get home with his new slaves. That is, Renard, the Fox, would see to it that he did not.
He concentrated on the steamboat, keeping his posture as loose and casual as possible under the circumstances, since every time he got near Bodine his whole body tensed. Charles Bodine was a close friend of his father's, but Lucien loathed the man. As a boy, Lucien had learned through a deeply painful personal experience just how cruel and licentious Bodine could be.
Most people were generally ignorant of the extent of Bodine's mistreatment of his slaves, but, because of his underground connections, Lucien had heard every sordid story of murder and rape. These stories only added fuel to the consuming hatred that Lucien had felt ever since that devastating boyhood experience. He would do anything to keep another family of slaves from falling into Bodine's hands. This family had nothing to lose, everything to gain. The risks of escape were minuscule compared to the risk of permanent incarceration at Belle Fleur.
His gaze drifted lazily over the smattering of passengers lining the steamboat railing. Suddenly his eyes widened, his interest piqued. Virtually penned in by two tall elders — one a man he didn't know, and the other Katherine Grimms, returning from a visit to her sister's in England — stood a very fetching female.
Used to the waxen "magnolia" paleness of Creole women and the varying shades of brown in the Negro population, Lucien was attracted to the honey-gold complexion of this slim young woman in a scoop-shaped straw bonnet with yellow ribbons. He could tell she'd not minded her elders' admonitions to stay out of the sun, for though she wasn't unattractively sunburned, she had the delicate blush of a sun-kissed peach. Her hair, as pale and shiny as an English sovereign, was arranged in short ringlets at the sides and presumably bundled in a knot at the back.
She was wearing a straw-colored silk traveling gown with a long, pointed waist, dome skirt, high neckline with a lace collar, and long, tight sleeves. Her waist was tiny, making Lucien extremely curious about how much she depended on a corset to achieve such a result.
Fashion-wise, she was up-to-date but conservative. Thank God she did not appear to embrace the present popular philosophy of English femininity, the idea that quiet, anemic helplessness was appealing to the male sex. She fairly glowed with awareness of her surroundings, her very posture suggesting barely contained energy and passion. Just looking at her stirred Lucien. She was a firecracker waiting for a spark. Lucky would be the man to ignite that little explosive.
Unfortunately, since she was apparently a guest of Katherine's, and he did not dare to advertise his very real friendship with such a reformist type of female as Katherine Grimms, there would be no social interaction beyond brief public encounters. He would much rather get to know the new arrival in front of a cozy fire in Katherine's drawing room. Such an intimate setting might put him in the way of a flirtation or a friendship. But friendship required a sharing of ideas and confidences. For Lucien that was impossible. He had too much to hide. If he expressed his true thoughts and feelings, revealed his true self, he'd jeopardize the cause, as well as his own life.
For the first time in a long while, Lucien felt strong regret that he could not at least explore the possibility of a relationship with a lovely woman. However, for all he knew, this woman — this stranger who was engendering regrets without even speaking a word to him — could be as spiritually pallid and intellectually insipid as most of the unmarried women of his acquaintance.
On the boat, he would secure an introduction through Katherine and discover for himself if the girl was worth regretting. Getting to know her would, as always, be a bit encumbered by the fact that he must not abandon his public persona of the decadent, devil-may-care aristocrat nicknamed Dandy Delacroix. After all, what girl worth her salt would encourage a scoundrel like him?
Anne always managed to be on deck when the steamboat pulled along shore. She loved to watch the teeming activity at the docks: boxes and crates being hefted from carriage to ground, then loaded on various types of boats to be floated to market somewhere; pushcarts filled with luggage; families bidding farewell to one another; musicians playing for free, hoping for benevolent music lovers to toss them a coin.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Arms of a Stranger"
Copyright © 1995 Danice Allen.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Loved the period and location details in this book! And the characters were so sympathetic and interesting. Plus, the author really writes a nice epilogue. Left me feeling very satisfied.