Like Poisonous Vines on a Louisiana Plantation
Brutally torn between duty and his heart, Henri Du Cormier never expected to be completely enraptured with Adrienne Beaumont, the sister of his betrothed. As the new owner of St. Esprit, Henri knows he must work his way into a tight-knit society, and spurning his fiancée will do the complete opposite. However, there are hidden secrets, black magic, and voodoo entwined like poisonous vines into the Louisiana plantation. Will Henri end up cursing himself in life and love?
Adrienne Beaumont is anything but ordinary in a world of demure, Southern belles. Desiring little more than to be rid of a vengeful older sister, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the mysterious Henri Du Cormier. As their lives grow increasingly entangled, will Adrienne give in to the burgeoning attraction, or will fate play another card?
“The crop will do well this year, sir. We should be able to harvest soon enough,” Isaac Fleming, the overseer of St. Esprit addressed Henri, wiping the sweat from his brow, and replacing his hat. He shifted in the saddle of his chestnut mare.
Henri nodded, looking out across the fields at the slaves working under the hot sun. “Make sure we have extra water. Overheated slaves are no good to me, Fleming.”
Fleming was a relic from the old plantation master. He did his job well, using minimal force. All in all, St. Esprit was a good place to live and work. He respected Du Cormier, as the man did not come off as high and mighty, like the last owner. “I hear congratulations are in order, sir.”
Adjusting his own hat, Henri peered over at the man. “Yes, I suppose they are. I haven’t made any official announcement.”
Fleming gestured out to the workers. “They talk, ya see, sir. ‘specially since Miss Clotilde is their…well, you know, sir.”
“Hmm. Thank you, Fleming. I hope the match will prove worthwhile.” Henri squinted, not believing his own words.
“What about Beaumont? I hear things, sir.” Fleming hazarded to bring up the topic.
“Too many late nights in the tavern,” Henri muttered, soothing his restless horse.
Fleming leaned forward in the saddle. “Ya know, he’ll probably marry off the younger one now. She is pretty, sir, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Henri cleared his throat. “I think we shouldn’t be talking about my fiancée’s sister in such a frank way, Fleming.” His grip tightened on the reins, causing his horse to skitter slightly to the left.
“I’m going to have a ride around the grounds. I leave things in your capable hands.” Henri took off at a trot, trying to work off his restless energy. The thought of Adrienne in the embrace of another man had jealousy rising in his blood. Without thought, he rode towards the tree where he had seen Adrienne before.
Henri smiled as his luck continued. There she sat, beneath the waving branches, head buried in a book. Her golden curls caressed her rosy cheeks, and he felt a tug of longing in his chest. Not wanting to cause her to evade him, as she had done the previous two times they found themselves alone together, he cleared his throat.
Adrienne glanced up, eyes widening at the sight of him. “Oh, Monsieur Du…”
Dismounting, he walked over to her. “Please, do not run away. I can only bear the sight of your fleeing skirts so many times, mademoiselle.”
Closing the book over the scrap of fabric she used to mark her place, Adrienne rose to her feet. “Very well. I remain, at both our perils.” Her pink lips quirked into a half-smile. “What brings you to Beaumont, sir?”
“I was out for a ride, and wondered if you were enjoying the fresh air as well.”
Adrienne threw her head back, tinkling laughter escaping her lips. “You are a terrible liar.”
Henri’s heart leapt with hope. “It seems your feelings have softened for me, Adrienne.”
Jolting out of her merriment, Adrienne took a step back, clutching the book to her chest. “I…please do not mistake me, sir. I am still resolved in my belief it would be impossible. I have no desire to chase after impossibilities.”
“Many say it was impossible for me to own a plantation. I grew up quite poor, Adrienne. I made my way in this world.” Henri fingered one of the leaves on the drooping branches. “Never you mind, though. I shall not press the matter. At this moment, I only desire your company. Is that so distasteful?”
“I suppose not.” Adrienne lowered herself back to the ground, and Henri did likewise, sitting a few feet away. “Are you prepared for the wedding?” She was determined to keep the conversation polite and disarming.
Henri leaned back, staring out across the small brook nearby. “Is any man prepared to be tied down for the rest of his life? I highly doubt it.”
Cursing himself, Henri turned his head. “I did not mean…I mean, I am certain there are some men who would be content to have a wife there waiting for them, but I want more in life. I think you feel the same.”
Tapping her fingers against the cover of the book, Adrienne frowned. “I do not feel the same. I would like to be the wife to a man who wants me for me, not someone who dreams of other fanciful pursuits.”
“Am I making a mistake, Adrienne? You never responded that day.”
Shivering despite the warm weather, Adrienne desperately wished for a shawl to hide herself from his scrutiny. “I am not to say. It is an arrangement you made with my father for Francine’s hand. An impulsive one, at that.” She covered her mouth, having spoken much too frankly.
Chuckling, he sat up, facing her. “Impulsive? Explain.”
Sucking in a breath, Adrienne forced herself to meet his twinkling eyes. “You chose someone who would make sure your place in our world was secure, without a thought for your own happiness. Francine has the breeding you require, but she will make your life hellish, sir. Of that you can be sure.”
Henri sobered, scrutinizing Adrienne carefully. “How is your arm?”
Adrienne clutched the offending limb to her chest, tugging her sleeve. “It will mend, like all things.”
Holding out his hand, Henri waited, fixing his eyes on hers. “Let me see.”
Glancing around nervously, Adrienne extended her arm, and Henri gently rolled back the loose sleeve. He ran his thumb over the blueish bruises, a frown marring his features.
“I told you it wasn’t that bad. I’ve had worse at her hand.” She tugged her arm away, unable to stand the feel of his roving digits.
Henri backed off slightly, dropping his hands into his lap. “I am not a violent man, Adrienne, but your sister will regret it, should she strike me.”
Righting her sleeve, Adrienne focused on his impassive face. “I have little doubt she would raise a hand to you, sir. She picks smaller prey…like Sabine…” The name fell from her lips, before she could stop herself.
“Clotilde’s daughter?” Henri perked up, immediately concerned. “Would Francine target her anger on a defenseless child?”
“My maids have fallen victim to her wrath many times. My best advice is to tread carefully around her when she’s in one of her moods.” Adrienne smoothed her skirts.
“I believe I have the answer to my earlier question, Adrienne. If only you were the one I was to marry…” His forthright admission had Adrienne backing away.
Her full lips tremored. “Please…do not…do not say such things.” Adrienne’s strength was crumbling away. In other circumstances, he might have been close to her side, sharing the murmurs of lovers. She shook her head violently. “No…”
“Adrienne, please forgive me. I have never been a secretive man, a failing on my part, I suppose. I cannot lie, though. At your word, I will break my agreement with Francine, and marry you.” He inched up next to her, taking her reluctant hands in his. “You make me happy, Adrienne.”
Adrienne felt his calloused hands encompass hers, relishing in their warmth and strength. “Henri…what you suggest would make us outcasts in society…”
“Then I will sell the plantation, and take you elsewhere. We will leave this place.”
Adrienne thought of her father, knowing how his condition would worsen under Francine’s less than tender care. She would be intolerable, and her father would suffer greatly. Henri’s hand rose to her cheek, tracing the smooth skin there. She allowed herself to feel, for a brief moment, leaning her face into his palm, but the reality of circumstances soon had her pulling away.
“No, monsieur. We are not at liberty to cause such distress, especially to my father. You will marry Francine, and I will find a suitable husband. We will be nothing more than friends, from this day forth.” Adrienne moved shakily to her feet, unable to control her trembling.
Henri jumped up. “You are cruel, mademoiselle, to bring up such a thought. You in the arms of another man is unthinkable!”
“Well, it is a concept both of us will have to get used to!” Adrienne gasped, as a sob slipped from her lips.
Henri moved forward, taking her shoulders gently. “My sweet girl, are we to live in such misery?”
She extended her hand, and cupped his stubble-roughened cheek. “Yes, Henri, we are, for the sake of our very lives.” Rising on tiptoe, she placed a soft kiss on his lips, and withdrew, running across the grass back to the house.
Henri touched his lips, the tingling of her gentle embrace still lingering. One day, he silently vowed, he would have Adrienne as his wife, in this life, or the next.
Heather Osborne, an author of crime and historical novels, was born and raised in California. She has a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Victimology. In 2009, she moved to Scotland. Along with her novels and short stories, Heather also has written and directed several plays. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing (of course!), and theatre, as well as caring for her young son. Among her published titles are: The Soldier’s Secret, a historical romance set during the American Civil War; Bitter Bonds, a tale of black magic in the deep South in the 1840s, and the Rae Hatting Mysteries series.