Morgan Latimar knows what it is to be lonely. He’s reminded of his predicament every day when he reaches for the cane which he uses to walk. He watches over his shoulder constantly and examines what people don’t tell him more closely than the words they utter. He has many responsibilities of which he guards with his life. No one knows his secret, not the full extent of his misery. For if they did, he would have to eliminate their existence. So, this is Morgan’s world.
Soon, a young woman will come into his world and turn it upside down. Her mere presence will rip the cloak from his secret and leave him exposed to the dangerous knowledge he is not what he appears to be.
Laura Sinclair, a bright, exuberant, young woman who’s on her own for the first time in her life is anxious to meet the mysterious man from Louisiana. His letters painted a picture of beauty and home and she wants to see for herself the wonders that await. Her first job as a nanny and governess to two children will drop her amidst this storybook world. She’s on her way to becoming independant. A dream of hers for so many years. So, as she stands on tiptoes and crains her head to see the man waiting for the new nanny, she imagines all the splendor of a new adventure.
This is the backdrop for Desire’s Embrace. While writing this tale of deception and discovery, I strove to prove that though, things aren’t always as they seem, the heart is still a magical place where forgiveness and trust form a bond so strong, nothing can tear it apart. I invite you to discover the world of Morgan Latimar and Laura Sinclair in Desire’s Embrace. Enjoy the excerpt and happy reading.
Desire’s Embrace – Chapter 1
“Give it back!”
“No, get your own!”
“Children.” As Morgan Latimar entered the kitchen, he admonished his quarreling children for the noise. It did not matter that their escalating argument was over who got the last piece of bacon. The scene was the third such episode in a week. Tensions were running high in his household. The situation needed a resolution. This morning, Morgan was on a mission that would cure their unruliness. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he told Ruby, the housekeeper. Not breaking his stride as he scooped up the last piece of bacon, Morgan divided it into two portions and presented it to Sara and Jacob. Then he exited the kitchen door. Hearing their laughter, he hoped the peace would last, yet knew it would not.
As the screen door smacked shut a second time, Bertrand, his manservant spoke up. “That solution will last about five minutes.”
Morgan did not respond. Instead, he decided not to glance back at the small disturbance mounting as Ruby tried to establish order in the kitchen with her demand for quiet. His manservant was right. Lately nothing had calmed his children. They were out of control. It was past time he found a nanny for them, someone who could give them the loving, yet strong hand of a guiding force in their lives.
The temptation to shift into a wolf and bound off into the woods sounded better and better these days. Coming to a stop just shy of the barn doors as he waited for Bertrand, Morgan realized he desperately wanted to run. However, the reason was not the children. He loved his son of seven years and his daughter of five. Jacob and Sara meant more to him than life itself. His desire to run lay in the loss of their mother and his soul mate. Diana, the only woman in the world he had ever loved, was lost to him now. Sara’s birth had taken her five years ago despite everything they had tried to do for his beloved wife. And yet, it felt like it was only yesterday on a morning like this. Sometimes he could hear her calling to him from the fields, or he would see her standing on the ridge of the mountains beyond his family’s land. She waited for him in the cool of the evening breeze as the sun settled quietly over the horizon. He yearned to race with her once more over the fields and through the woods of Bay Ridge. His family’s sugar plantation held nothing except memories now. The discomfort in his leg spiked. Morgan sighed as he propped open the barn door and adjusted the mechanized brace holding his useless limb upright. The old war injury plagued him daily. Life had changed.
Diana had died early on a June morning as the world started to stir. Perfection – no one expected anything less of Sara’s birth. Diana’s pregnancy had been a normal occurrence. She was healthy throughout the months as they awaited the arrival of their second child. Something had gone dreadfully wrong, and Diana had slipped away from him as he held her in his arms. Time passed, as time always does, and Morgan forced the daily responsibilities to consume him. A way to survive he supposed. After all, there were the children to consider.
“Where are you going?” His brother, David’s voice held concern.
“This morning I’m going to meet The Creole Belle, a paddle-wheeler out of Memphis. The children need more than Ruby, the housekeeper or me or even your dear wife Jacquie can give them. They need supervision from a dedicated caregiver. Not to say Ruby and Jacquie haven’t done all they can to help with the children.” He slowed, shaking his head. “No, they’d been wonderful since Diana’s death.” Glancing out at the tree lined boundary, a pang of longing shot through him.
The overwhelming urge to race through the fields would simply have to wait. There was trouble brewing. Morgan did not fully understand how he knew this, yet things were not right.
“I understand the need. I just don’t understand how you’re going to accomplish this without jeopardizing your safety as well as the safety of the family.”
Turning, Morgan studied his brother. “Don’t worry. I’ll manage. The children need a nanny. She will arrive before I get to the dock if I don’t hurry. Give my best to Jacquie. I’ll be back as quick as I can.” Climbing into the steam buggy, Morgan gripped the wheel. Bertrand, his manservant, rode shotgun as they sped off.
Checking his hydraulic watch, Morgan parked the buggy as close as possible to the dock. Crowds always gathered when a paddle-wheeler dropped anchor, especially one as refined as the Creole Belle. Carnies and hobos scouted their next grift while ladies of refinement awaited the unloading of their luggage. Men of color labored in the already oppressive heat of a youthful spring day. Some, visiting the city for the first time, gawked at the chaos while frequent visitors to the Crescent City dove into the bedlam as a matter of routine. He scanned the dock for the woman he had asked to come to New Orleans. She was probably already lost in the congestion of the crowd. The city, still the commerce center of the south, was growing exponentially since the war of northern aggression. Thriving in a climate of renewed business, the unique pleasures the city always proved noisy and rude.
In Morgan’s opinion, the rude and noisy overrode the immense and busy when the topic arose about his beloved New Orleans. Then there was reality, which took a back seat to customs and superstitions. Voodoo, the dark religion, ran rampant throughout not only the alleys and byways of the city. The religion also consumed the parlors and drawing rooms of the enticingly mysterious region. The city’s underbelly thrived on superstition embedded in fear.
“Do you plan to divulge anything about your background, sir?”
Morgan cut a cool gaze at Bertrand.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” The hour was early for so many questions concerning his common sense. The irritation rolled restlessly in his gut. His French father would have said the timing was bad. His Indian mother would have soothed his concern with a prayer to the Great One. “Are you trying to get under my skin, Bertrand, or just bored?”
The manservant flicked a piece of lint off his cuff before cocking a brow. “Perhaps both.”
“I’m Creole, not stupid.” Morgan slapped the buggy door shut. Steadying his leg brace, Morgan glanced up. “You are a free man of color and as such, you may find employment where you wish. There’s nothing holding you.”
The comment did not sit well with Bertrand. Sniffing lightly, the manservant glanced outward, rather than dignify his employer’s comment with an answer. The routine was an old one the two friends rehearsed practically daily.
Caught off guard, the hairs along Morgan’s crisp, white collar stood at attention. An eerie, old witch with knarled fingers curled atop a crooked cypress cane poked him in the side.
“You got a coin for an old woman?”
“Be gone with you, hag. I don’t have time for your nonsense.”
The witch clucked her tongue. “You’ll be needing my kind of wisdom soon. The stirrings are multiplying. The child grows restless. Be warned. You’ll seek that which can save those you love.”
“I want nothing you have, woman. Be off with you.” Tossing a coin in the old hag’s basket, Morgan moved as quickly away as his leg would permit. The sheer shock of the witch’s words had him scurrying to safer ground. Shame in his fear had nothing to do with his wish to rid himself of the needling sensation the witch was right. How had she known a child of his grew restless? Unease clawed at his insides. He gripped his silver-headed cane until his knuckles grew white. No one outside of his immediate household had witnessed Sara’s spells. Sweat trickled slowly down his backbone one vertebra at a time.
Surely, there was a reasonable explanation for her dilemma. For three nights past, she had awakened screaming. Crying, she had begged Morgan not to go.
“Don’t go into the dark, daddy. Please don’t go!”
Stroking her silky blond hair, Morgan had prayed desperately for help with her nightmares. That is what they were after all. Nothing more and certainly nothing like he had experienced over the years. He would not believe she had succumbed to the same fate as he. The damned Voodoo Mambos with their potions had tried countless times to rid him of the misery of the shift. No one could break the curse. Marie Laveau had done this to him. In the darkness, Morgan prayed the plight he faced was not hers as well.
“You’re safe, my sweet. Don’t worry. I am here, and I will not leave you. Rest, Sara. Get some sleep. I’m right here.”
The child clutched the covers tight. Vigilant, Morgan sat as she fought the trouble brewing inside her small frame. Soothing her with soft assurances, he did his best to calm both their fears. Surely, the gods were not so cruel as to burden his only daughter with the curse.
The loud clap of board against board brought him back to the present. The Creole Belle had docked. Ropes flew through the air landing unceremoniously onto the planks as crew members worked to secure the vessel. The Belle crept closer to dry land. Shipment planks fell from deck to dock, and the unloading commenced. Laborers went about pulling heavy pallets of cotton, sugarcane as well as grain, all bound for market, with a swift indifference of pure purpose. The passengers, attempting to disembark early, found themselves caught in the chaos. Such noise as the laborers toiled at their task.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, Morgan straightened his frock coat as he glanced into the sky. The morning had broken clear and bright. Squinting, he gazed across the channel as the sun danced on the water. Spring was coming. With the shift in the season, a change was upon them.
Bertrand walked up beside him, breaking his concentration. “I never dreamt anyone would answer your ad. Who in their right mind would seek employment in this postwar confusion?”
The needle, thou well selected, did not set well. Touché old chap. Morgan glanced askance at the man who had been loyal to his family for two generations. Bertrand was overly opinionated. He always knew, exactly, how to play his pawn without regard of reprimand. After all, he was a free man, a Creole, who worked where he chose. Unwilling to let the jab get under his skin, Morgan faced the water once more. “You sound surprised.” Morgan did not wish to rehash the tired topic. Not since everyone in his household had a negative opinion of his plans. Taking a step toward the gangplank, he planted his feet firmly before continuing to stare out at the horizon rather than let Bertrand’s innuendos get the best of him.
The fact was he had placed several ads in the eastern papers. After numerous correspondences, Morgan had almost given up. One morning several weeks past, a peculiar missive had arrived from Georgia. A young woman had written to inquire about the position.
Out of the corner of his eye, Bertrand appeared at his side. Apparently misreading his employer’s silence as his opportunity to elaborate on his opinion, Bertrand expanded on his theory. “Undoubtedly, sir.” This woman has very little experience, despite the fact she comes with glowing references from her school instructors. There must be something about her that has bewitched you.” He cut his eyes at Morgan’s profile.
Morgan had to marvel at the precision of his man’s barb. Truth resided in Bertrand’s assumption. For despite the woman’s lack of hands-on practice with young children, Morgan was fascinated with her determination and persistence in securing the position. Not only had she written him three different times, she had telegraphed him as well. Besides, she was far more pleasant to look at than the prune-faced old maids he had interviewed thus far. Morgan answered her missive, inviting her to come out for a face-to-face interview. Wondering if the tintype in his vest pocket was recent, his mouth drew up in a quirk at the thought of the young woman’s dark hair and slim build. Irritated with his train of thought, Morgan limped closer to the Belle’s gangplank. The smells of leather and hay invaded his nose as he made his way to the edge of the dock. “Haven’t got anyone to best in poker this morning, Bertrand?” Morgan knew the man was only a step behind him. “I’m sure I can scrounge up a game for you with the local card sharks if you’re bored.” With a cutting gaze, he arched a brow. “Better enjoy your entertainment while you can, old man. I am looking forward to a little boredom. With this woman in charge of the children, maybe our lives will return to some level of normalcy.” Eying his man, Morgan smiled as the barb hit home.
Still, a twinge of guilt mingled with longing washed over him as he realized he was about to place his children in the care of a stranger. Would Diana have approved? His heart began to ache with the things he knew were true. She had wanted a large family, something they had dreamt of such on those nights as they lay awake planning their future together. The painful truth he understood too well. Diana was not coming back. Their lives changed forever.
The coal-fired engines of the paddle-wheeler spewed smoke into the sky in perfect unison with the churning of the pistons. The Creole’s massive boilers belched out identical, dark plumes of smoke from matching stacks into the morning sky. The commotion sent a signal to the rest of the passengers on board to disembark. Morgan watched as men in finely tailored suits and ladies in proper bonnets with matching gloves scurried to leave. Soon the dock overflowed with all manner of people.
He stretched to his full six-foot-four-inch frame. His superior height allowed him to scan the milling crowd. The woman in the tintype, a dark-haired, doe-eyed creature, resembling a life-sized doll in her starched pinafore was not there. Glancing down at the picture once more, he realized Miss Sinclair would not be wearing a school uniform. Morgan closed his eyes briefly, trying to envision her in a traveling suit – probably a dowdy gray, ill-fitting spinster suit with an ugly hat, which did nothing to accentuate her features. Chiding his inner demons once more, Morgan reminded his wayward mind, how she appeared did not matter – only that she perform her duties responsibly. Tapping his index finger against the cane he leaned on, he scowled at the vessel, wondering if, after all their correspondence, Miss Sinclair had changed her mind. Perhaps she had gotten a last minute marriage proposal and sailed off to Atlanta to keep house for a young, well-to-do banker whose pockets bulged with ill-gotten gains since the war’s end. Only prune-faced old maids came looking for employment while the youthful grasped their future in their fists, taking what they wanted despite anyone else’s problems. “You fool.” He growled under his breath. “What made you think a lovely young woman like Miss Sinclair would accept a nanny position for a middle-aged, crippled, old war veteran. Stupid.” Morgan was well aware his man heard the comment, yet to Bertrand’s credit, he did not jump to answer.
As they both stood carefully watching each passenger disembark, Morgan never saw the young woman until she tapped him purposely on the shoulder. Slowly turning, he came face to face with a tall, regal vision. The woman stood with her back to the paddle-wheeler.
The Creole Belle picked that particular moment to release the remaining steam from its great boilers. As the vessel did, the sudden blast of evaporating moisture created a perfect backdrop for her lovely form. Certainly a vision, yet with purpose, to be sure, he mused. What a look of irritated inquiry on her angular face. Her doe’s eyes narrowed as she sized him up.
Presenting a hand, she proceeded to introduce herself. “My name is Laura Sinclair.”
The vision stood only inches shorter than he did. Her shoulders squared as she extended her gloved hand in a gesture normally reserved for dealings between businessmen. Her set jaw and thin-lipped smile gave her the appearance of a woman with unwavering determination. He could not find his tongue. Her eyes, the color of rich, blue pools of azure, bore into him. His inner wolf stirred despite Morgan’s attempt to quell the urge. The suit she had chosen for the trip was a smart blue and gray tweed, which accented those amazing eyes. She had cinched her waist with a leather corset, which accentuated her firm, round breasts. Secretly he congratulated her on the choice of a smart, veiled hat of the same blue hue as the suit. . She was a breath of fresh air in their dull environment. Proper, yet with a sparkle of courage, Miss Sinclair stood out in their postwar city. Seconds passed in silence as he decided she would have looked marvelous in anything she wore. Her skin reminded him of Georgia peaches. Glancing down, he noted she carried a derringer in her skirt hooked to the leather corset about her waist. Despite her beauty or perhaps because of it, the young woman was serious. Her demeanor spoke of confidence.
The boat’s whistle took that moment to blast a loud arrival signal. The distraction proved effective. Now vexed at the trail of his musings, Morgan shoved the image of her wearing nothing at all away, before growling under his breath. “What a stupid man you are.”
“I beg your pardon?” Confused curiosity bloomed in her eyes. “Are you not Mr. Latimar? Mr. Morgan Latimar?”
“I am.” His mouth felt like he had swallowed a handful of sawdust.
Her hand remained out in anticipated acceptance. “I’m Laura Virginia Sinclair. I’ve come to apply for the position of nanny you posted.”
His brain drug its feet. Staring at her extended hand, Morgan moved in slow motion. Observing her slim fingers, covered in lace, he noted she wore intricately carved leather bracelets encircling her slender wrists. The bracelets connected to metal rings circling both her pinkies. Fascinated with the daring fashion accessory, he faltered in his response. He would have taken her slender hand, bowing low before dropping an air kiss above her knuckles, as was the polite custom in his world. However, her bold stance and the blood rushing to his loins gave him pause as he realized he was still staring. Since she did not budge and squared her shoulders once more before giving him another narrow-eyed perusal, Morgan hesitated a moment before taking her hand in his. When he did, he discovered strength in her grip. Her flesh lay coolly in his palm. He detected a minor tremor. Morgan warmed to the way her hand fit neatly in his. The thought stole the remainder of the composure, which had not already drained to his crotch. She was no average woman. She was young, which meant she was of the new notion the world splayed, fresh in anticipation of her.
Snapping back, Morgan nodded as irritation rippled up his spine. “This is my man, Bertrand. He’ll get your luggage.” Despite the awkward step back on his bum leg, he made a sweeping gesture indicating the steam buggy he had driven into town that morning. “My carriage awaits,” he quipped as he moved aside for her.
Laura eyed him without words. He indicated she move ahead of him. She continued the rigid, no-nonsense posture, without asking for his assistance into the carriage. The young woman struck him as serious for her young age. Having been an orphan, she had probably grown up fast. Truth – she appeared to be ready to handle what came her way. He, on the other hand, had a needling urge to protect her.
Lifting her booted foot to the landing, Miss Sinclair alighted in the shotgun seat. In his younger days, Morgan would have enjoyed the view of trim ankles and a well-defined waist accentuated by the lady’s darkly tooled corset. That man had flourished in a world untouched by the war and its life-changing aftermath. The present day Morgan Latimar remembered little of the flirtatious ways of a gentleman groomed as a wealthy, affluent plantation owner. So, with Miss Sinclair seated and Bertrand securing the bags in the boot of the steam buggy, he concentrated instead on leaving the congestion of the dock.
The reins lay loosely in his hands as Morgan let the horses have their heads. Responsibilities – he had them in spades. The time to think of seducing a woman, even one as lovely as Miss Sinclair was long past. He sat straighter in the seat. Now he was a single parent, a rebel against a regime gone mad, not to mention a shifter with much to lose. Clearing his throat, he tugged at the reigns, snapping the horses to attention.
She cut him a contemplative eye. “This is a lovely buggy.” Her dark head had bowed briefly, before she asked pointedly, “Why did you go to such trouble? You could have sent your man, Bertrand to fetch me back.”
Clearly spoken with a lovely twang. Morgan smiled to himself. If he wasn’t mistaken, he heard Tennessee in her voice. It reminded him of his days in the Confederate Army and a march through Tennessee. First impressions were important, even if she had no training for the position. “I wanted to make sure you were safe and-” A prickle of idiocy nagged at his tongue. The words were there, right there, yet he would rather die than admit his real reason for coming after her himself. Did the idea of seeing if she resembled the breath-taking beauty in the tin type mean he was behaving irrationally? Probably. “The steam buggy is a much more comfortable ride. I am the only one who would recognize you,” he lied. After a pause he added, “Besides, I’m the only one who can drive the fool contraption.”
“I see.” With her eyes focused straight ahead, Miss Sinclair folded those long, slim fingers in her lap.
If he was not mistaken, she did not believe him. Well, the devil take her. Why should he care? He was her employer. Why should he care what she thought of him? Still, Morgan wondered what they would talk about on the long trip home. He was so out of practice with people he barely knew where to begin. “How was your trip from Savannah?”
“Fine. The train kept a perfect schedule. When we boarded the paddle-wheeler, we didn’t suffer any delays either.”
Precise and to the point, she did not elaborate or attempt to flirt like many of the others he had encountered since becoming a widower. The slight turn of her head in his direction was the only indication she had finished what she had to say. The first stirrings of panic swam in his gut. What was he doing? She was a perfect stranger. Morgan Latimar had so much to hide. Bertrand was right – she was not qualified. The menacing urge to yank the buggy around, taking her back to town rode heavy in his thoughts as they traveled in silence. His mind would not fix on one problem at a time. To hell with it! Mention the points of interest if you must, you imbecilic oaf, but get her to talk. “Have you ever been to Louisiana before, Miss Sinclair?”
Her smooth yet short replies gave the panic in his stomach a reason to churn. Well, bloody hell! He closed his eyes and prayed for inspiration.
After all, he did not want the woman who had traveled all the way from Georgia to change her mind simply because he could not manage a polite conversation. What must she think of him? The fact he wore a mechanical brace around an injured leg bode ill for most people, he mused. To have lost the ability to converse was mortifying. Morgan inhaled slowly and tried again. “The children are looking forward to meeting you. I have shared your correspondence with them. They are happy you agreed to make the trip.” Flicking a glance in Miss Sinclair’s direction, he hoped she would take the bait. He thought his heart stopped when she smiled. The transformation was illuminating.
“I must confess I can’t wait to meet them as well. However, there is some anxiety I had not expected to face. Please forgive me for speaking so frankly…”
Her pause set small warning bells off in his head. Did she suddenly reconsider after all? “There’s no reason to feel anxious about the position. The children will love you. You’ll fit right in at Bay Ridge.”
The smile was warm as her mouth turned up at the corners in a smooth, fluid expression of pleasure. The response was like a sucker punch to the chest. Sucking in air, Morgan willed away the darkening of his peripheral vision as his heart beat quickened. He had to maintain he reminded his befuddled brain. The damn young bucks at the plantation were going to trip over their tongues when Miss Sinclair flashed her smile their way.
“Mr. Latimar, I need to be frank with you.” She glanced down at her hands knotted in her lap before meeting his gaze. Turning, she faced him more completely. “I lack in experience as a nanny. However, I love children very much. I am looking forward to meeting Jacob and Sara. In addition, I am educated and capable of teaching them all I know. Furthermore, being young and strong are qualities I consider necessary if an individual is to care for others.” Her spine straightened as she locked eyes with his. “I resolve to do everything in my power to be the best nanny. I’ll take care of your children as if they were my own.”
Morgan blinked. She had stopped talking. Relaxing a fraction, he attempted to appear composed. “To be sure, Miss Sinclair.” He watched as her chin lifted right above level. The line of her elegant neck stirred something in his gut. “I consider your frank honesty refreshing, Miss Sinclair. What do you say we give the arrangement a trial run…to see if the children take to you?”
Again, there was that smile. The stars in the sky could not shine any brighter, Morgan thought, as when Lara Sinclair smiled.
Thanks for dropping by,
I came upon this delightful review today. Thank you so much for your kind words.
By Marilyn on April 27, 2016