Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Spotlight: Phantom Pleasure by Patricia Bates

Today's guest is Patricia Bates, author of eight different books, which I list here. Here is an excerpt of one of her books, Phantom Pleasure.

          For the first time in years, Logan Harris has a shot at living his dream by owning the best horse ranch in Virginia. At first, everything appears to be lining up perfectly. But then strange things begin to occur. And when he finds himself longing for beautiful ghost, he fears he's losing his mind. Can true love transcend death?

1859, Bellantaine Plantation, Virginia
From the edge of her four-poster bed, Frances stared out the window at the smattering of sunlight on the manicured grounds. From a distance, the echoes of raised voices, the crack of a whip, and the faint throb of singing from the slaves working the cotton field met her ears.
With each passing moment, her attention flittered from one raised voice to the other like a bee in her mother's rose gardens. Which of those working had told her secret? Who would betray her so?
Her father's incensed roar drifted up the stairs to her chamber-the tone enough to send a shudder of fear through her.
"Why?" she whispered and plucked at the lacy thread of her nightshift.
In the distance, the local church bell rang, drawing guests for the wedding from every plantation that fell within range of the brass-toned clangs. She shivered, her heart pulsing, roaring like thunder in her ears as each toll struck like the lash of a whip against her soul. Ding-dong. The musical knoll heralded not a wedding...but her very demise.
A soft creak of the hinges drew her attention. For the first time since she'd gotten out of bed that morning, the door swung inward to reveal her personal slave.
"Good morning, Mammy." She turned from the window, a slight but warm smile lifting her lips. As welcome as the autumn rains after a drought, Mammy had, simply by coming to her, settled her to some extent.
"Mornin', Miss Frances." Mammy offered a sympathetic smile, the gap between her front teeth showing. She nudged the door closed with her well-rounded hip, her worn black dress hugging her ample bosom. Waddling over to Frances' chest, she opened drawers. "Why, the ballroom be all filled up! Got more guests than I ever seen in the house. Miss Frannie, you's got a pretty kettle of fish, if'n I do say so."
"Oh, come now, Mammy, surely you're jesting. Father couldn't have invited that many people, could he?" Frances swallowed against the rising tide of fear. It was hardly a bit of truth, he wouldn't...no, it wasn't possible for him to humiliate her in such a manner. Not when he wanted to keep the reasoning behind the marriage so quiet. "Why, that would mean he invited nearly the entire county."
"Now, Miss Frannie, you done know your daddy will do as he sees fit. Ain't no sense to worrying yourself grey." Mammy pulled out the pale satin gown Frances would wear and hung it on the hook on the wall. With practiced speed she set Frances' stay, petticoats, pantaloons, and stockings on the bed. Her petticoats rustling, she laid out the grooming tools she would use to prepare Frances' hair. She gestured to the cushioned bench with an ornate silver hairbrush. "Come sit down, child."
Her stomach twisting with dismay, Frances shuffled from the bed to her dressing table. "I simply don't see-"
"You'd best recall the mas'ers words." Mammy rapped her on the head lightly with the brush. In the mirror her dark eyes held sympathy and understanding. "He could have done worse..."
"I've no desire to wed Robert," Frances whispered tightly. "Does that not matter? I love Nathaniel. Why can't I marry whom I wish?"
Mammy sighed, and Frances hunched her shoulders against the old woman's opinion. She stared at her hands in her lap. Young, handsome, Nathaniel didn't care about money or wealth. His simple concerns freed her. Was there enough wood to warm the house, to cook the dinners? Was she happy? Oh, yes, Nathaniel always wanted her to be happy. They'd had so many plans, so many dreams of their own.
She loved that Nathaniel wanted her-Frances Elizabeth. Not her dowry. Not her father's business alliances, or land, or any of the numerous reasons Robert had agreed to marry her. No, Nathaniel had simply loved her. It would have been better to run away together than to have to endure this.
"Yer daddy don't want no tainted blood in the family." Mammy tugged the brush through Frances' long hair. A short nod of satisfaction preceded her setting the brush down. "You be knowing that, and that boy ain't nowheres as well off as Mas'er MacKenny." Her fingers worked feverishly to untie all the laces of Frances' pale nightdress and slide a satin chemise over her head. With the short stay in place, Mammy smoothed it over Frances' breasts before tugging on the lacing along the back.
"Hmph. What is money? Ain't worth a damn to me." Frances tightened her fingers around the bedpost before her. She glanced over her shoulder, her eyes locking onto Mammy's. "I loved Nathaniel, and I am not ashamed of it. Why, if he'd wanted to run off and get married, I'd have gone-"
"Quick!" Mammy tensed, her head swiveling toward the door. "Sounds like herself's coming. Best put aside those words and get into this here delicates."
Frances glanced from her servant to the door. Following Mammy's urging, she lifted her arms and allowed the older woman to wrap a corset around her slim figure. Impatience tightened her nerves while Mammy set to work on the tedious chore of tightening the lashings. She adjusted the whalebone beneath her breasts, pushing them up so they spilled beyond the lace of her camisole.
Frances and Mammy both turned to the door as it swung inward with a gust of perfumed air. Compared to the simple gown Frances would wear, her mother had dressed lavishly. Grey and blue bows were sprinkled about the bodice of her gown, flowing into the wide, layered skirts that fell over her hoops. A delicately stitched snood held her mane of chestnut hair above her shoulders, and a slim, elegant choker adorned her throat.
"My daughter, you're going to make the most beautiful bride."
Frances couldn't help the bitter thought that darted across her mind. Trying to outshine the bride. Frances rolled her eyes at her mother's delighted tone. She shuddered at the ice in Josephina Willinton's dark eyes as they swept over Frances with eagle sharpness. Frances lifted her chin at the flare of disgust in her mother's gaze, unwilling to allow the older woman to intimidate or shame her.
"See that she wears the blue ribbons," Josephina ordered, her attention drifting to the collection of stockings and pantaloons on the bed. Dropping the folded stockings on the bed next to the others, she turned and smiled-a cold, belittling movement of muscle.
A chill raced through Frances and she shivered.
"All but a few fashionably late guests have arrived." Josephine clasped her hands before her. She raised a delicately shaped brow and smirked at Frances. No matter how hard Frances tried, she couldn't avoid shifting beneath the weight of her mother's disdain.
"The ceremony will begin shortly."
"Yes, ma'am." Mammy nodded, her fingers already tucking the loose laces of the corset out of sight. "I'll see to it for you."
"And prepare her for this evening." Her mother reached for the doorknob. "Although considering why this wedding is being rushed upon everyone, you probably only need to mention that her duty is to provide heirs...the รข€˜how' is, of course, something the little harlot is familiar with."
Frances narrowed her eyes at her mother's cutting accusations but held her retort. It would do no good to argue. Her mother's sharp tongue hadn't dulled one whit in the weeks since her involvement with Nathaniel had been discovered-and when Frances found out which of the slaves told on her, she'd tan their hide or cut out their loose tongue. "She'll be down within twenty minutes," Mammy promised. She slipped the heavy wedding gown over Frances' shoulders. "See that she is." The door slammed shut on the command.
"I can't do this, Mammy," Frances choked out. "I can't stand before God and lie in such a manner. I don't want to marry him, and to lie would be-"
"Hush, child. You knows as well as me that your daddy'll have your hide a'fore he allows word to get out of your indiscretion."
"Surely you could help me? There must be something that would be of aid. Dear God above, Mammy, I've done nothing to..." Frances grasped Mammy's sleeve. Her heart raced, and she ran a finger beneath the lace at her throat, certain it had tightened around her neck. Frances gasped for air, each inhalation tripping over itself. Her head spinning, she stumbled to a nearby chair and sank down onto the padded cushion.
Mammy twisted the fold of her apron, the weathered skin of her brow puckering while she stared at Frances. "There be one thing." Her voice low, the old Negro woman glanced around as though expecting someone to jump out and cut her into bits. "You can't be a getting out of the wedding, but I's something that will help you with your nerves. Something that'll settle 'em down right proper to make what's a-coming a mite easier to deal with."
"Anything," Frances pleaded, desperation clawing at her like a beast.
Mammy hustled Frances to her bed and sat her down. "You wait here. I'll go get you a glass of water. If'n anyone asks, I've gone to get you a drink. I'll be but a minute, my child."
"Thank you." Frances pulled her servant close, hugging her tightly, and then released the old woman to her task. The strains of the waltz filled her bedroom when the door opened and closed. A light breeze blew the smell of roses through the open bedroom window, filling the room with its sweet, intoxicating aroma.
With a growl of anger, Frances slammed the window shut and sank back onto bed. "Oh, drat," she huffed.
Frances whipped around with the creak of the door opening, relief flooding her. Mammy slipped into the room, carrying a silver tray with a tall glass of water. A small pouch hung from her apron pocket.
"You'd best drink this. It'll help you relax." Mammy poured the white powder into the glass and handed it to Frances. "Drink it all down."
Frances grimaced at the bitter taste but drank it all down. She handed the glass back and swallowed against the faint aftertaste. "Is that it?" She coughed into a delicate lace handkerchief.
"By the time the vows be exchanged, you'll be relaxed, maybe even a bit sleepy. I be thinking that is what you're a needing. Not like you want to remember this night anyway." A sly smile curved her lips, and her dark eyes sparkled with mirth.
"No, I don't." Frances stood and leaned on Mammy while the older woman slipped her shoes on and hooked the buttons into place.
Mammy smoothed Frances' gown, stepped back, and smiled. "Come. I'd best be changing into my fancy dress and such. I'll be at the party, don't you worry none."
"Thank you." Frances choked back tears of gratitude and love for her friend and leaned forward to press a kiss to her cheek. "What would I do without you?"
Mammy cackled gleefully. "Suffer the coming hours awares."
"Go, change." Frances pushed her out the door and closed it.
Her back pressed against the wood, she surveyed the room with a critical eye. Feminine and pretty, most of the lace would vanish when her husband moved in. Her childhood gone, brushed aside by her father in his bid to secure her a husband and all the while avoid revealing she had disgraced him...and yet only she knew the truth.
She pressed her hand to her heart, pain slicing through her at the knowledge of what she'd lost. With Nathaniel gone, there could be no going back. Her heart ached for the loss even though her mind rebelled. The future uncertain, she clung to the faint hope that maybe someday he'd return for her.


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