Trevor “North” Kent, the
Duke of Northingshire, breathed in the fresh sea air as he
relaxed against the smooth railing of the ship that was
carrying him to America. His blond, wavy hair, which he’d
allowed to grow longer during the voyage, was blowing about
his face, tickling his nose as he focused on enjoying his
last day aboard ship. They would be pulling into port in the
morning; and although the voyage had been a long one, it had
been one of much-needed peace and relaxation, something
North hadn’t even realized
he required until he was away from England.
For four years, he’d been planning to make the
trip, where he was to join his cousins on the sugar
plantation that he’d invested in with them. But because of
the war with England, travel had been made impossible. Then
there had been a personal matter that had caused him to want
to reschedule his trip, also, but it had since been settled
to his satisfaction.
The delay had also let him
go to the aid of his two best friends: Nicholas, the Earl of
Kenswick, and his brother, Lord Thomas Thornton.
The two brothers had been through war, the death
of their father, a shipwreck, and, through all that, raising
Thomas’s motherless son. North had been there for both of
them, giving them advice or just being a friend when they
needed it. But now both of them were happily married to two
wonderful women, and North was glad to leave the men in
their capable hands.
All North wanted was to spend time on the
plantation and be free from anyone’s problems, except maybe
his own. His two cousins were married and hopefully didn’t
need his advice or support with anything dealing with the
state of one’s mind or happiness.
Now his own happiness was another kettle of fish
altogether, and North had high hopes that he, too, would be
able to find love and happiness in his future.
But at the moment, his only concern was how he
was to travel and find the plantation, which was located
some forty-five miles southwest of New Orleans. He’d sent a
message to his cousins telling them of his impending
arrival, but the captain had told him that because of the
war, mail was slow. It had to be routed through ships going
to other countries since there was no travel directly from
England. His own journey had been made longer when he’d had
to travel to France to board one of their ships.
“The captain has just
informed me a storm is headed our way.” A Scottish-accented
voice spoke beside him, stirring North from his thoughts.
North turned to Hamish Campbell, the minister
who was traveling to Louisiana to be the new pastor of a
church there. They’d become friends during the long voyage,
and North wondered at the troubled look in the older man’s
eyes. “Well, it is too early in the season to be a
hurricane, so I would imagine that it’ll pass over us
quickly. We are very close to the port, so I don’t think
there is cause for too much worry,” North tried to assure
Hamish gripped the railing in front of him as
though it were a lifeline. “I know you might think me daft
for saying this, but I’m not sure I’ll make it to
North stifled a sigh as he felt the need to
comfort yet another friend. He knew God was the compelling
force in his life that urged him to reach out to people, but
he sent up a quick prayer that the Almighty would see fit to
give him a little break during his stay in Louisiana.
“Hamish, my dear fellow, these ships are built
to withstand storms. Are you sure you are not just
experiencing a case of nerves about your new post?”
“Not at all,” Hamish insisted as he reached into
his plain, brown coat and pulled out a small, worn Bible. He
held it against the rail in both hands, his thumbs stroking
the leather cover reverently. “It’s. . .it’s more of a
feeling, I suppose. I’ve been sensing for some time that my
time on earth is almost at an end.”
Hamish’s words put a chill in North’s heart as
he struggled to understand. “You are not so old that you
will soon die,” North reasoned. “And, too, why would God
send you all the way over here if He did not mean for you to
become the pastor of the church at Golden Bay?”
Hamish didn’t answer for a moment. The slightly
balding man, who was near North’s size and height, just
stared off into the now choppy sea as if contemplating his
next words. Finally he muttered something that North
couldn’t decipher and turned to him, his eyes serious. “I
think it has something to do with you.”
North raised a dark blond brow. “I beg your
Hamish nodded his head. “Yes, that must be it! I
have felt compelled to befriend you ever since I boarded the
ship.” He held up his Bible in a strange moment of
contemplation and then thrust it toward North, hitting him
in the chest. “Take it, please!”
North’s hand automatically caught the Bible, but
he immediately tried to give it back to Hamish. “What do you
mean, ‘Take it’? Will you not need this to construct your
sermons and what have you?”
Hamish ignored North’s attempt to return the
small book and turned back toward the railing. “I will not
be needing it, I fear. I beg you to take it and—”
Hamish’s plea was interrupted when one of the
ship’s crew ran over to them and gave a brief nod to North.
“Your grace! The captain’s askin’ all to clear the deck.” He
pointed out to the increasingly rough waters. “We’re lookin’
at some rough weather ahead. You could be washed overboard.”
North agreed with the young
sailor, but when he motioned for Hamish to begin walking
toward their cabins, his friend shook his head and pointed
to one of the chairs a few feet away from them. “I must
retrieve my spectacles. I left them lying on the chair,” he
insisted as he began to head toward the chair and away from
The wind was picking up, and
North could hear large waves hitting against the ship’s
hull. It seemed as though the noonday sky had gone from
sunny to almost dark in just a matter of minutes. North knew
he could not leave Hamish alone, so he tucked the Bible
inside his coat and began to walk quickly to him, although
the swaying of the ship was making the task very difficult.
The ship jolted sharply, and Hamish stumbled and then fell.
North was able to grab hold of a deck chair and steady
himself before moving to where his friend had fallen.
“Are you all right?” he
called loudly over the wind.
Hamish nodded as North helped him stand back up. “I didn’t
realize the weather could change so fast,” he commented as
they again steadied themselves against the swaying deck.
North focused on getting them to the chair to retrieve the
small wire-framed spectacles. Once they were finally in
Hamish’s possession, North led him to the railing. “Use the
railing to steady yourself and follow me,” he yelled as he
looked back to make sure the older man was holding on.
Together they began the trek back to their cabin.
A large wave slapped hard against the ship, spraying them
both with water. North found it hard to hold on with the
chilling wetness making both the railing and the deck
slippery. Finally, they were mere steps away from the door
that led to their cabins. North glanced back to see how
Hamish was faring, but his attention was caught by the vast
wave that was several feet above the ship and heading
straight toward them.
He tried to yell for Hamish to hold on, but there was no
time. The water hit both men with more force than either
could withstand. As the water swept over the ship, North
could feel his body being picked up. Panicked, he tried to
keep his head above the water while at the same time looking
for his friend. But then pain exploded in the back of
North’s head. Though he tried to fight unconsciousness, the
pain was too great.
His last thought was a prayer that Hamish had somehow
managed to keep from being washed overboard.
Two Weeks Later in Golden Bay, Louisiana
The large and rather bored-looking alligator barely glanced
in Helen’s direction, despite her yelling and waving a broom
about like a madwoman to shoo him away from the house. After
about five minutes of this, Helen finally gave up; plopped
herself down on the grass, not even giving a care of her
dress as she would have months ago; and glared at the huge
Before coming to America three months earlier,
Helen Nichols had not even heard of an alligator, much less
thought that she might stand so close to one.
No, Helen, a gentleman farmer’s daughter, had been gently
brought up in her native England with no more cares than
what pretty ribbon she’d wear for the day. It had sounded
like such a grand adventure when Claudia Baumgartner,
granddaughter and heir to the Marquis of Moreland,
approached her with the offer of paid companion to her
little sister, Josie, in America. Claudia had explained her
parents wanted an English girl to provide not only
companionship to the lonely girl who lived on her parents’
plantation, but also to instruct her in the proper ways of a
But adventure was not the only thing that
compelled Helen to leave her family and friends behind. It
was the same reason she ventured often to her best friend
Christina’s home when she heard a certain person had
arrived. It was the reason she allowed Christina, who was
also the Countess of Kenswick, to provide her a whole new
wardrobe for the London season, even though she was mostly
snubbed by those who were of much higher class. It was the
first thing she thought of in the morning and what she
dreamed of at night.
Helen Nichols was in love with North, the Duke
And the duke was traveling to America, just
twenty or so miles from where she was living in Golden Bay.
Helen knew it was foolish to believe that she
would even see North while he was staying at his plantation.
Yet she knew the Baumgartners, her employers, were
acquainted with North’s relatives and held out a small hope
they would at some point socialize with one another.
She didn’t even know if North had arrived in
Louisiana. So day after day, she’d keep a keen ear out to
hear any news about the Kent plantation. So far, though,
she’d heard nothing.
“What are you doing?” A young voice sounded
behind her. Josie Baumgartner, Helen’s precocious
thirteen-year-old charge, skipped around and plopped down in
front of her. With wildly curly brown hair, freckles, and a
mischievous gleam constantly glowing in her hazel eyes,
Josie looked just like the wild child that she was. In fact,
Helen despaired ever turning the young girl into anything
remotely resembling a proper lady. She liked to ride astride
horses, fish while wading in the swamp, and climb trees.
Those were the semi-normal things she did. The other
activities consisted of playing practical jokes, collecting
every creepy crawly thing she could find, and voicing her
opinion about every subject her father and mother would
bring up at the dinner table, usually expressing an opposing
But despite her incorrigible behavior that would
likely leave most of English society agog, she was an
extremely likeable girl with a personality that made it hard
to reprimand or be angry with her for long.
Helen sighed as she answered Josie’s question.
“I am trying to get this big lizard to move away from the
front door so I can go into the house.” She pointed at the
ugly beast. “But it seems he is determined to ignore my
Josie giggled. “We have five other doors, you
know. Why don’t you just go through one of those?” she
reasoned in her drawn-out American accent.
Helen sniffed. “It’s the principle of the thing,
my dear. I will not be ruled by a slimy green creature!”
Josie jumped up and crept closer to the
alligator, though still at a safe distance. “Did you know
they eat small animals? Dorie LeBeau said one ate her cat
Helen shivered with disgust. “Well, that’s just
uncivilized, isn’t it?”
Josie turned back to Helen with a look of
longsuffering. “You think
is uncivilized if it’s not from England.”
Helen stood and brushed off the skirt of her
gown. “Well, of course I do,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“We’re the most civilized people in the world!” She had a
brief recollection of Christina and she running about the
countryside with dirty dresses and faces. They were forever
rolling about with puppies and kittens and trespassing on
others’ property to climb their trees. Not a very civilized
way to behave for a couple of young ladies.
Helen wisely kept the memory to herself.
“Well, we can go get Sam to come over here and
kill it. They make for pretty good eating, you know,” Josie
said, interrupting Helen’s thoughts. Sam Youngblood was a
Choctaw Indian who lived on property adjoining the
plantation. He also fancied himself in love with Helen and
was forever trying to barter horses or cows with Mr.
Baumgartner for her. He said it was the Choctaw way.
Helen told him the practice of bartering for a
woman was just plain barbaric!
Helen shivered again as she got back to Josie’s
comment. “Ladies do not eat—”
“I know, I know,” Josie interjected. “Ladies do
not eat anything that crawls around on their
bellies. It’s quite uncivilized!” she mocked, using
Helen’s higher-pitched English accent.
“Scoff if you must, but you will do well to—”
“Miss Helen! Miss Josie!” a male voice called
out from behind them. They turned to see George, the
Baumgartners’ house servant who usually ran their errands in
town, running up the dusty drive.
Though the Baumgartners owned many slaves to run the vast
plantation that consisted of thousands of acres, a sugar
mill, the slave and servant quarters, not to mention the
huge three-story white mansion, they had freed many of those
who worked in the house and the higher-ranking field hands.
The Baumgartners were good people who treated every worker
and slave fairly, but Helen secretly felt the whole slave
system was unjust and inhumane.
“What is it, George?” Josie asked as he stopped
before them and tried to catch his breath.
“The preacher. . .” His voice cracked as he took
another deep breath. “They found him. He ain’t dead like
Helen and Josie exchanged a disbelieving look.
“You mean he did not drown as we were all told?” Helen
attempted to comprehend. Just over a week ago, the people of
Golden Bay had been informed that the preacher for whom
they’d been waiting had fallen overboard with another man
and had drowned. The Baumgartners, LeBeaus, and Whitakers
were all distressed and saddened, since it was these
neighboring families who had gotten together to build a
church and then pay for his voyage from Scotland.
If this news were true, they wouldn’t have to go
to the trouble of searching for another minister!
“A couple of fishermen fished him out of the
gulf and took ’im back to they cabins ’bout thirty or so
miles from here,” George explained. “They sez that he didn’t
wake up fer about fo’ days, but they found a Bible on him
that had his name on it. They sez he didn’t know who he was
when he finally woke up, but after they told ’im his name
and that he was a preacher headed for our town, he seemed to
Josie clasped her hands together. “Why, that
sounds like a bona fide miracle!” she exclaimed. “Is he in
town? Can we go see him?”
“Yes’m, Miss Josie, you sho’ can. That’s why I ran back
lickety-split.” He ran the back of his sleeve across his
beaded brow. “They’s wantin’ the mastah to come out and give
’im a proper welcome with any food or house gifts to help
’im get settled.”
“Oh, this is exciting, isn’t it?” Helen
whispered eagerly as she looked from George to Josie. “It
will be so refreshing going to a proper service again
instead of waiting for the circuit preacher to pass by. It
will be just like it was in—”
“England! We know, we know,” Josie finished for
her with exasperation. “Let’s just hurry up and tell my
parents so we can meet him!”
It didn’t take long for the family to assemble
the goods they had set aside for the new preacher and to
load their wagon and carriage. Ten or so minutes later, they
pulled into the small town that consisted of the blacksmith,
a general store, and the newly built church. The town was
actually owned by three plantations, unlike many others
along the river that were self-contained. The three families
signed an agreement that they would share the profits from
the businesses as well as the labor to keep them running.
There was already a small crowd in the tiny yard
of the church, with its small parsonage on the side. Mr. and
Mrs. Baumgartner stepped out of the carriage first, followed
by Josie and Helen.
As they drew nearer, Josie walked on her
tiptoes, trying to see over everyone’s heads. Helen,
herself, tried to see around them but could only see the top
of a man’s head. In fact, the hair was such a pretty golden
blond, a person couldn’t help but notice through all of the
dark heads gathered around him.
Helen was finally close enough to see better,
and as the crowd parted, she was disappointed to see the
man’s back was turned as he spoke with Mr. Baumgartner. She
studied his longish, wavy hair then the width of his broad
shoulders for a moment. He seemed almost familiar to Helen,
as if she had met the gentleman before, yet she was sure she
had never heard of a Hamish Campbell until she had arrived
“Oh, I wish Papa would turn him around so we
could see him! I had imagined he would be an older man, but
he appears to be younger than I thought,” Josie whispered as
their neighbors chatted excitedly around them.
“Indeed,” Helen murmured as she tried to inch
her way closer to him. She noticed he was quite tall. Though
they seemed to be a little ragged and faded, his clothes
were very well made, cut like those worn by the nobility.
When she finally was able to hear him speak,
Helen suddenly realized who the preacher reminded her of.
He was the same height and build and sounded
just like. . .North, the Duke of Northingshire.
Helen briefly rubbed her brow, thinking that of
course she must be mistaken and perhaps had been in the sun
too long. The preacher was supposed to be a Scottishman, and
the accent she thought she heard was clearly a cultured
“Ah! Here are my wife and daughter,” Mr.
Baumgartner said, motioning toward Helen’s direction. “Let
me introduce you.”
As she began to turn, Josie bumped her as she
scrambled to go to her father, and then Mrs. Baumgartner
stepped in front of her, again blocking her view. She heard
the man speak to her employer and daughter and again was
struck by his rich voice.
I just miss North. I am clearly
“And this is Josie’s companion, Miss Helen
Nichols, who has come from England and been with us for two
months now,” she heard Mrs. Baumgartner say as she stepped
back. For the first time, Helen got a view of the tall man’s
For a moment Helen said nothing, frozen by the
sheer shock of seeing the man before her.
It was North!
And he was smiling pleasantly at her without so
much as a gleam of recognition shining in his light blue
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss
Nichols,” he responded smoothly with a nod.
Helen was horrified that he did not recognize
her. She had spent many hours in his presence in the past
and thought it humiliating that she didn’t seem familiar to
him at all. But then she had a second thought: Why was he
pretending to be a preacher?
Confused, she found herself blurting, “North? Do
you not remember me?”
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