January 26, 2016
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Rhine Fontaine is building the successful life he's always dreamed of—one that depends upon him passing for White. But for the first time in years, he wishes he could step out from behind the façade. The reason: Eddy Carmichael, the young woman he rescued in the desert. Outspoken, defiant, and beautiful, Eddy tempts Rhine in ways that could cost him everything . . . and the price seems worth paying.
Eddy owes her life to Rhine, but she won't risk her heart for him. As soon as she's saved enough money from her cooking, she'll leave this Nevada town and move to California. No matter how handsome he is, no matter how fiery the heat between them, Rhine will never be hers. Giving in for just one night might quench this longing. Or it might ignite an affair as reckless and irresistible as it is forbidden . . .
The following morning, Eddy gathered her things, took a bittersweet look back at the place she’d called home, and closed the door. After handing Mrs. Hampton the key and being told, “Godspeed,” she set off. Her clothing and the skillet were stuffed in an old carpetbag and the cookstove was balanced on her head. It was a chilly April morning and the city was just coming to life.
Most of the residents of the red- light district were sleeping off last night’s excesses, so the streets were quiet. The seedy area with its cribs, saloons, and bawdy houses looked tired and worn- out under the dawning light of day. Eddy guessed her sister would be asleep, too, and would probably not welcome the early morning visit, but it couldn’t be helped. Setting the cookstove on the ground by her feet, she knocked on the shack’s door.
\Her twelve- year- old niece Portia answered the knock and her dark eyes brightened. “Aunt Eddy!”
She threw herself into Eddy’s arms, and Eddy held her tight and kissed her brow. Eddy loved the girls and hated the circumstances they were being raised under. She dearly wanted to offer them a home with her, but going from a destitute mother to a destitute aunt served no one. Although Corinne swore she loved her daughters, Eddy worried about them constantly, especially now that they were growing into young ladies.
Portia’s baby sister, ten- year- old year Regan, appeared and also met Eddy’s appearance with joy. Both girls had inherited their mother’s great beauty. Eddy assumed Corinne knew who their fathers were but had never shared the identities with Eddy.
Regan asked, “Did you come to spend the day with us, Aunt Eddy?”
The hope in her eyes twisted Eddy’s heart. “No, sweetie. I came to talk to your mama. Is she sleeping?”
Regan nodded. “And if we wake her up she’ll whip us. Won’t she, Portia?” Portia didn’t respond verbally but the tense set of her chin affirmed it.
As if cued, the angry Corinne entered the room belt in hand and snapped, “How many times have I told you not to wake me up?” Seeing Eddy, she paused. “Oh, it’s you. What do you want?”
“My purse was stolen yesterday. My train ticket to California was inside.”
Eddy held onto her patience. “I came to see if I could borrow enough to buy another. I’ll pay you back once I’m settled.”
“Why are you going to California?”
“To look for a job. There’s nothing here for me.”
Portia looked mortified. “You’re leaving Denver, Aunt Eddy?”
Eddy knew she should have told them about California before now, but she and Corinne were like tinder and matches, so she kept putting the visit off. “I’m hoping to,” she said softly. “I’ll come back to see you and Regan as soon as I can. I promise.”
Portia, so stoic for someone her age, raised her chin stiffly. “Okay.”
Corinne said coolly, “Portia, since I’m up, go strip the sheets off my bed, and pump some water so we can start the wash.”
“Yes, Mama.” She hurried from the room and disappeared into the back.
Regan laced her thin arms around Eddy’s waist and pressed herself close. She whispered through her tears. “Please don’t leave Aunt Eddy. Please.” Eddy felt awful.
“Regan, stop that sniveling and go help your sister.”
Eddy caressed her cheek in good- bye and Regan left the room.
“You didn’t have to be so mean, Corinne.”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my children. When you get your own, you can treat them any way you like. And, I don’t have any money for you or your highfalutin dreams. I told you years ago, you’d make more money down here than you’d ever make uptown. You had the bosoms and the looks, but no, you thought you were too good.”
“No, I didn’t want to become a whore, Corinne.”
“Yet here you are begging help from a whore.”
“I’m here begging help from my sister.” Corinne’s legendary allure had faded; too many men, too much whiskey, too much hardship. Now, instead of features that could’ve launched ships like the fabled Helen of Troy, she looked as tired and worn- out as any other women of her profession. Eddy was saddened by that.
“I have nothing for you. Guess you and your dreams will have to walk there.”
“I guess so.” Eddy thought back on how much she once loved her sister, the giggles they’d shared in their bedroom at night, the way they’d played as girls, and the sense of family their parents always tried to instill. Standing before her now in a ratty, faded green wrapper was a woman she didn’t know and it broke Eddy’s heart. “Good- bye, sister. I’ll write when I get settled.”
Ms. Jenkins is the nation's premier writer of African American historical romance fiction and specializes in 19th century African American life. She has over thirty published novels to date.
She has received numerous awards, including: five Waldenbooks/Borders Group Best Sellers Awards; two Career Achievement Awards and a Pioneer Award from Romantic Times Magazine; a Golden Pen Award from the Black Writer's Guild, and in 1999 was named one of the Top Fifty Favorite African-American writers of the 20th Century by AABLC, the nation's largest on-line African-American book club.
She has also been featured in many national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, Dallas Morning News and Vibe Magazine. She has lectured and given talks at such prestigious universities as Oberlin University, the University of Illinois, and Princeton. She speaks widely on both romance and 19th century African-American history and was the 2014 featured speaker for the W.W. Law Lecture Series sponsored by the Savannah Black Heritage Festival.