The Civil War has ended, leaving the country with a gaping wound. Lorie Blake, a southern orphan sold into prostitution at fifteen, has carefully guarded her aching soul from the disgrace forced upon her every evening. Two years have passed, leaving her with little hope of anything more. Meanwhile, three men – longtime friends – and a young boy with a heart of gold are traveling northward, planning to rebuild their lives in the north and leave behind the horrors of their time as soldiers in the Confederate Army.
Fate, however, has plans of its own, causing their lives to collide in a river town whorehouse. Forced to flee, Lorie escapes and joins them on the journey north. But danger stalks them all in the form of a vindictive whorehouse madam and an ex-Union soldier, insane and bent on exacting revenge. At last, Lorie must come to terms with her past and devastating secrets that she cannot yet bear to reveal.
Heart of a Dove is the first book in a gripping, sweeping romantic saga of pain, unbearable choices, loss and true love set against the backdrop of a scarred, post-Civil War America.
About the authors
Excerpt: Heart of a Dove (by (author) Abbie Williams; cover design or artwork by Michelle Halket)
“What will you name her?” I asked him, watching as our father halted the mare with a controlled tug. With practiced motions, he shifted his hips and knees, using both hands on the reins, and she lifted her hooves with grace, quick-stepping in a tight circle before resuming her brisk walk in the opposite direction. Our father knew more about horses than anyone in Cumberland County. Likely the entire state of Tennessee.
“I want to ride her before I decide,” Jesse said, not removing his reverent eyes from the mare. Her mane and long, proud tail were ebony, as were the bottom joints of her high-stepping legs. The rest of her hide gleamed rust-red in the dying day’s sunlight. She tossed her head with a snort as our father came near, halting again just before the three of us on the fence.
“What’s your opinion, darlin’?” my father asked, peering at me from beneath his gray hat, low-crowned and wide-brimmed, as he favored. Daddy wore a full mustache; I had never seen him otherwise, though Mama claimed when they were courting, he was clean-shaven.
“She’s lovely, Daddy,” I said. “I wish she was to be mine.”
My father laughed, releasing the leather straps in his gloved hands to lift his hat and run the back of one wrist over his forehead.
“When you’re fourteen, Lorie,” he promised again. “Just like your brothers.”
“I know, Daddy,” I responded at once.
How could he have known that by my fourteenth birthday he would be dead, killed in far-off Virginia during the battle of Cold Harbor? My brothers, my handsome and carefree boy-brothers, would be dead by then too, slain at Sharpsburg, like so many of our fellow Tennesseans.
What would my mother have to say if I could hear her voice today? If from some heavenly plane she had the ability to peer downward upon the earth she’d left behind, into the little room that was mine in my seventeenth year? She had wanted so much for me to be a lady. It pained me almost more to imagine my father possessing the same power, able to see what his daughter, his Lorie, had become. Some nights over a dozen men jerked their hips over mine and spilled their seed within my body. Men from all walks of life, but men just the same, with one desire in mind.
I imagined the thesaurus open over my mother’s lap, her extended index finger skimming over the page until she found a suitable word.
“Survival, Lorissa,” she’d direct.
And dutifully I’d respond, “Survival. Synonyms include: endurance, continued existence, outlasting, subsisting.”
“Carrying on,” she would say to conclude, her clear green eyes with the expression of tenderness that becomes almost tangible in my memory. As though tenderness is an entity around which I can curl my fingers and cling, never to let go, rather than a heart-wrenching abstraction that tortures me if I’m not on guard.
Occasionally a man caresses my cheek, kisses me as though I mean something more than an average of seven minutes’ worth of gold dust from the pouch anchored to his belt. I am often told I am beautiful; I hear the words ‘I love you’ more than once a night, to be truthful. I long ago learned that it is common for men to utter this phrase during the act, eyes tightly closed, though it’s anyone’s guess to whom they are actually referring. Certainly not a prostitute who calls herself Lila.
Ginny made me change my name upon entering into her employ. I had been three months into my fifteenth year, no longer cloaked in the numbness of disbelief, though still entrenched in horror and stupefied shock at the death of my mother and subsequently the last living member of my family. Mama had succumbed to fever and chills two days past my birthday, in July of 1865, leaving me utterly alone. Our ranch hands had long since vanished, most to make a stand for the Confederacy, our proud corrals and stables empty but for an aging mare that drew our buggy into town. There was, quite literally, no one left.
Was that an excuse? God knew I often tortured myself in the early morning hours with that very question, after my final customer of the night had donned his clothes and exited my room. Just one day after Mama’s death, a neighboring family, the Judsons, had assisted me with her burial. And so began the time during which I was cast about like a bad penny. Mrs. Judson, a sharp-eyed woman with seven of her own children, assured me that I was welcome in their home until arrangements could be made; I had no idea to what arrangements she was referring, near ill with loss and terror and the depths of my aloneness. I remained in their home for a fortnight. Near to August, Mrs. Judson informed me that I would be joining her brother and his wife, along with their three children, as they ventured northwest on a journey to join his wife’s family in St. Louis, Missouri. Her brother’s wife was sickly, she said, and needed the help.
For weeks, I accompanied Mrs. Judson’s brother and his family, the Fosters, in their canvas-topped wagon as it rolled northwest. Mrs. Foster, Annelle had been her name, was kind to me, and I assisted her daily and nightly caring for the children, who ranged in age from five years to four months. Mr. Foster preferred to disregard my presence when his wife was near, though I felt a twisting in my gut at the way his eyes followed me intently when she was not. Mrs. Foster, who spit blood into her countless linen handkerchiefs, died before we’d reached our destination, only miles from St. Louis. Mr. Foster managed to bury her and subsequently get us into town before determining my fate. I’d been sick with unease at what Mr. Foster would choose to do with me; it turned out he struck a deal without my knowledge, after a night of drinking and gambling while I waited in the wagon with his children.
And that was how, as of that evening, at age fifteen, I became an employee at Ginny Hossiter’s whore house.
"With a sweet romance, good natured camaraderie, and a very real element of danger, this book is hard to put down." —San Francisco Book Review
"There is a lot I liked about this book. It didn’t pull punches, it feels period, it was filled with memorable characters and at times lovely descriptions and language. Even though there is a sequel coming, this book feels complete." —Dear Author
"Set just after the U.S. Civil War, this passionate opening volume of a projected series successfully melds historical narrative, women’s issues, and breathless romance with horsewomanship, trailside deer-gutting, and alluring smidgeons of Celtic ESP." ~ Publishers Weekly