In less than a week, a long-awaited project will finally hit e-readers everywhere. I'm talking, of course, about THE BRIGHTEST DAY: A JUNETEENTH HISTORICAL ROMANCE ANTHOLOGY. There are four wonderful stories in this collection, all set during different periods in American history, to give readers a picture of what African American life might have looked like during that long period between emancipation and the Civil Rights movement.
My co-authors on the project are Alyssa Cole, Lena Hart, and Piper Huguley, and I've had a fantastic time working with them. There's an amazing amount of talent in this group. We've been hard at work on this book for months, and we truly hope you'll enjoy the finished product. We are so honored that Beverly Jenkins, the queen of African American historical romance, took the time from her busy schedule to research and write a wonderful foreword for the anthology. And in classic Beverly style, her foreword includes a bibliography :)
My contribution to the anthology is Drifting to You, which takes place in 1875- ten years after Emancipation. That sets my story squarely in an era referred to as the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was characterized by an industrial boom, exponential growth in the immigrant population, and the emergence of business tycoons like Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan. For African Americans, many accomplishments were made, several HBCUs were founded, and the tide of changing laws and Constitutional amendments that would guarantee us our rights as Americans was beginning to rise.
I chose to set my story in the past, but in the area I presently call home. I've discovered many interesting things about the county I live in while doing research for this project. Here's the premise of Drifting to You:
During the sultry Carolina summer of 1875, baker Rosaline Rhodes boards a Juneteenth cruise down the Cape Fear River. She's there to serve her famous cinnamon spice cake; shipbuilder Will Pruett is there for pleasure. They've denied their mutual attraction for months, but now the river won't be the only thing ebbing and flowing.
Now, I'm going to share with you a short excerpt of the story, to give you a peek at what it's all about as release day approaches.
Fair warning, you might want to grab a cool drink before you start reading ;)
Evening shadows shrouded the interior of Rosaline's cabin, so she went round the one room structure, turning up all the lamps she had scattered about. She covered a yawn with her hand, then used her handkerchief to blot her damp brow. Having both her ovens lit all day to get the cakes baked had left the interior of the cabin extremely hot. While she was up, she used two heavy stones to prop open the front and rear doors, in hope of letting some of the stifling heat escape.
She looked at the small crates sitting on her kitchen table, with the cooled, paper wrapped layers of spice cake resting in side. It had taken her all day, but she'd finally finished the mammoth confection. Now all that remained was assembling it. She and her assistant Sarah would put it together once it was safely on board the ship.
She took a quick trip to the pump to wash the flour dust from her hands and body, then returned inside to find the temperature in the cabin had cooled a bit. The rising heat of June gave way to cooler temperatures at night, and the breeze blowing through the cabin was a welcome respite from the heat generated by her ovens.
Once she'd changed into her nightgown, she fixed herself a sandwich with a few leftover slices of roast turkey from the icebox, and a cup of lemonade. Sitting down to her supper, she savored the food, as well as the joy of having finally completed her largest bakery order to date.
She'd taken her time to craft what she thought was an exquisite cake. Now she only hoped the Goodmans and their well-heeled guests would agree. As things now stood, she baked her cupcakes, cookies, and her signature sweet potato turnovers in large batches, then sold them in town. Since she'd not yet saved enough funds to purchase a storefront, she did all her baking at home and made her sales out of the back of her wagon. Marian Goodman's order of the elaborate spice cake had earned her a nice profit, and she did as she always did with the money. She'd pocketed only what she needed for supplies and basic living expenses, and deposited the rest in her account at Fayetteville Colored Bank and Trust. With few hundred more dollars, she would finally be able to afford the storefront she so desperately wanted, and take her bakery business to the next level.
She thought back on her days as a youth, when she'd spent her every waking moment catering to the needs of her mistress. Her days had been an exhausting blur of cooking, washing dishes, and serving Mrs. Rhodes and her salty old acquaintances. Late night demands for cookies and tea had roused her from sleep many a night.
The last decade of freedom had been the best time of her life. Yes, she'd worked hard, some days almost as hard as she had for the Widow Rhodes. But at least now, she benefited from her labor. No matter how tired she was at the end of the day, knowing that her life was her own made all her toil worth the effort. To her mind, Juneteenth was the most important holiday of the year, and one to be celebrated in grand fashion. After all, without one's freedom, the other holidays seemed rather silly and pointless.
Draining the last sip of lemonade, she stood and stretched, going to seek her bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day, and she needed the rest so she could have her wits about her. Securing her doors with the bolt, but leaving the windows open to allow the breeze in, she crawled in the one luxury she owned- her feather mattress topped bed.
She settled beneath the covers, her heavy eyelids dipping closed.
She pried them open to the surrounding darkness for a moment before they fell closed again.
When she opened her eyes the second time, she gasped.
The lamp on her dressing table was lit, casting a glow on the space near the foot of her bed. She felt a bit strange; out of sorts. I doused all the lamps...didn't I?
Another sight grabbed her attention, one much more attractive than the soft glow of the lamp.
There, in the flickering light, stood Will.
He was shirtless, revealing the muscled expanse of his chest and powerful arms. His dark locks hung loose, framing the handsome, angular face. His eyes were on her, and the heat in his gaze was so potent, it threatened to singe her nightgown.
Her mouth hung aloft, her throat parched and dry. She wanted to speak, wanted to ask him why he was in her private space.
But before she could speak, his large hands went to the leather belt circling the waist of his denims.
Her words were swallowed as she gulped.
He said nothing. A sensual smile lifted the corners of his mustached mouth.
She could not look away from him, not if her very life depended on it. Her full and undivided attention belonged to him.
His eyes never left hers as he loosened the belt, removed and discarded it.
Her mouth was no longer dry; now, it watered.
Glory. If ever the good Lord made a man finer than this one, she didn't want to meet him; she didn't think she could bear to look at him.
His fingers worked open the placard of his pants, then slowly began to slip the pants down over the hard lines of his hips.
Inch by inch, he revealed his bronzed skin to her.
Her eyes landed squarely at the center of him, to the place where his hard thighs met his rippled torso. She could see the bulge there, it was impossible to miss. Warmth pooled in her core, her desire for him smoldering and burning like a fire in her belly.
He worked the pants lower on his hips, then slid his hand around to his front.
His deep voice filled the room. “Is this what you want to see, Rosie?”
Entranced, she managed a single affirmative bob of her head.
He reached inside, as if to free himself from the confining fabric.
Her heart pounded in her ears, hot blood racing through her veins.
Her vision swam, and she shut her eyes against the blurry images.
Her eyes popped open again, and this time, she was met with only the darkness shrouding her cabin and the sounds of her own heavy, panting breaths.
How was that? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments. Also, I'll let you know now, while our stories are full of sexual tension like what you've just read, there are no explicit scenes in my story. I wanted the focus to be more on the time period and the history, (and I knew I would totally go over the word count if I put in the hanky-panky).
Also, you'll be happy to know that Drifting to You is the start of a new historical series for me. Cape Fear Shipworks will be the first historical series I've written that will be set in my home state of North Carolina, and I'm super excited about it. Due to the other commitments on my schedule, I expect the first full book in the series to release in late summer 2016. Don't worry, I'll keep you posted.
The best way to stay in the know is to join my mailing list. You can do that on my website homepage; just fill out the form there to get on board.
Comment below and let me know what you think of the excerpt. One lucky commenter will win a copy of THE BRIGHTEST DAY in PRINT (releasing in August/September) so don't be shy, say what's on your mind!
Until Next Time,