As she enters the Commencement Ball at West Point Military Academy on a spring evening in 1837, in her pink gown with white silk roses and ropes of pearls, Cecelia Stovall looks---and feels---like the perfect, innocent Southern belle. Little does she know that at that dance she will meet the man who will change her life---and the lives of all her fellow Southerners---forever. Cecelia falls instantly in love with the dashing young Northern cadet, William Tecumseh Sherman, and they embark on a fiery, secret rendezvous despite their broad cultural differences and the expectation that they will marry others. Their love remains poignantly aflame and survives the worst obstacles over years of separation and longing. And then the long-threatened Civil War starts, and both Cecelia and William assume prominent positions on opposite sides of their country's deepest and fiercest rift, as William becomes the very same General Sherman who will be feared and hated throughout the South.
Legend has it that Sherman's love for Cecelia was the reason he spared her hometown of Augusta during his infamous march to the sea, in which his troops cut a swath through nearly every other town in Georgia and burned Atlanta to the ground. Now Diane Haeger, the author of the acclaimed The Secret Wife of King George IV, has re-created this lost romance in a sweeping and lyrical novel that will be treasured by the history enthusiast---and hopeless romantic---in everyone. A multilayered historical saga spanning a quarter-century, Diane Haeger's My Dearest Cecelia is an epic novel of star-crossed lovers Cecelia Stovall and General William T. Sherman---a romance for the history books.
Release date: April 24, 2004
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 288
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My Dearest Cecelia
But there's nothing half so sweet
In life as love's young dream.
MAY 1837, WEST POINT, NEW YORK
Cecelia Stovall sighed. She was distracted and yet dazzling in a new shell pink gown trimmed with flounces, white silk roses, and ropes of pearls. The wide bell skirt, in the Southern style, with layers of petticoats beneath, rustled and swayed, making a grand impression as she strolled with her three brothers along the brick pathway from the West Point barracks toward the Commencement Ball. But her mind was elsewhere. The words that had been shouted so angrily at her brother Bolling back home in Augusta, only a few days before, still played across her mind. They were pressing her to acknowledge them and their meaning: "How could you do it to Anne, Father?" Bolling had asked. "Much less with a slave?" "Stay out of this!" their father's voice had boomed. "You're just a boy who hasn't a clue what I have with yo' stepmother, or what it is to have the needs and pressures of a man!"
Her mind and heart were made so unbearably heavy by those words, and by the questions the scene had aroused. So, too, her father's response to her eavesdropping: "Very well, young lady! You want to involve yourself in my affairs as well, then so you shall! You'll go to West Point along with them and be out of my sight until you learn to mind your place!"
Cecelia and her other two brothers had spoken little about it on the rough, noisy train as it clattered and clacked its way out of Atlanta or on the dusty, rattling carriage ride from Albany. Clearly it was something bad. But she feared knowing precisely what. Old Joe and his daughter Cretia had been a part of their lives for as long as she could remember. Though slaves, to Cecelia, they were a part of her family.
And now her family had a dark secret.
"What is there between Father and Cretia?" she had asked her younger brother, Bolling, as the train swayed along a length of track through a seemingly endless field spotted with cotton. Bolling was sixteen but very tall, serious, and, she thought, worldly for a boy his age. Of all Pleasant's first family of children, it was he who most resembled their dead mother. His skin was smooth, his hair, ebony black and very straight. Like her own, his eyes were dark as coal and largely indecipherable.
"You know perfectly well she's one of his slaves," he had said, opening a book and refusing to say more. But there was something more. Of course there was. Her stomach had churned ever since as the unthinkable conclusion had settled heavily upon her.
Cretia was her dearest friend. They had grown through childhood and adolescence together. Shared their lives. All their secrets. Or so she had long believed until a few days ago. Certainly Cretia would have confided something so horrible. Then had come the trip to West Point, along with two of her brothers, and one long, hot train ride after another to spirit them away from the truth. All of that had brought them very far from the South. As it was a long and strenuous journey from Georgia, and plebes were required to remain over summer, her trip was meant to last at least a few weeks.
Now she was going to the Commencement Ball at the military academy where her brother had just completed his first year. And for the first few hours since her arrival, Cecelia had managed to feel a bit of joy at the unexpected adventure. Here, she would be with Marcellus, the eldest Stovall brother, and the one person in all the world who could make sense of things. She had longed to ask him about it from the first moment of their arrival this morning. Thus far, there had been no time. But he would tell her the truth.
Reunited, she was surrounded now by the three of them. Marcellus was tall and dashing in his cadet's gray coat, gleaming brass buttons, and starched white trousers trimmed with black silk braid. Bolling and Thomas were dressed in dark coats and shiny gray-striped cravats. They all moved together into the crowded cadet's Mess, a room already full of handsome, uniformed young men. For this evening, the Mess had been admirably transformed into a representation of a ballroom. Tall, ivory tapers flickered in wall sconces and on tabletops, bathing the open room in a soft, golden glow as the band played the popular tune, "There's Nothing True But Heaven." Already she could see that it was a world away from a Southern summer evening.
"It's lovely." She softly smiled, gazing around at the uniformed men and elegant women.
"Not so lovely as you, dear sister." Marcellus squeezed her arm. "You've grown up while I've been away."
"So it happens with us all." She smiled up at him, her face shining in the profusion of candlelight.
"Glad as I am to see you, Father didn't write to me that you'd be joinin' the boys."
She exchanged a glance with Bolling then, her dark ringlets bobbing, but he looked quickly away. "It seems he decided it at the last minute."
"Well, however you got here, I'm thrilled. Now, do let's enjoy ourselves! And judgin' by the number of eyes upon you just now, the evenin' is young!"
For the first time, Cecelia, too, saw the way the men regarded her. In this place far from home, she became aware of how the eyes of several cadets found her and then cut away amid soft, suggestive laughter. As children, her sisters had been cruel. Her glossy, raven-dark hair was too black to go with her dark eyes, they had said, especially against her white, white skin. She resembled a crow sitting in cream, they had taunted. Taunted, until she began to grow steadily and gracefully into features that became striking rather than hawkish as they once had been, bold rather than unremarkable, as both her sisters now were. In an oddly victorious moment she wished her two married, and heavily pregnant, sisters could see her now—a free spirit in a new party dress, unencumbered by their father's rules, smiling—and admired.
As they moved more deeply into the already warm and crowded hall, with Marcellus holding tightly to her elbow, Cecelia was introduced to a blinding collection of her brother's classmates. The motions and manners she found tedious, especially with things at home still tugging at the corners of her mind. But it was worth anything in the world to her to be back with the one person she loved best in the world, her Marcellus. The one who would always tell her the truth.
"Might I have the pleasure of this dance, Miss Stovall?" The voice was deep and unexpected—full of reassuringly familiar Southern charm. Still clutching her brother's arm, Cecelia looked back before her. The cadet was older than Marcellus and admirably handsome in his uniform. He had thick, dark hair, heavy dark brows, and discerning, steely eyes. He extended his hand as if the request had been rhetorical.
"Thank you, suh, but I believe I shall wait until my brother is ready to dance."
"Cecelia!" Marcellus's startled tone stopped her. "Pardon her, suh. My sister has only just arrived after a long journey from Augusta. I'm certain that explains her rudeness. Cecelia, this is my friend, and senior classmate, Mr. Braxton Bragg. You may feel quite free to accept his invitation."
Bragg smiled at her and bowed. The music was beginning again. "Shall we, then?"
Reluctantly, she took his arm as he led her toward the crowded dance floor.
Bragg danced smoothly. Too smoothly, she thought. And the smile that only briefly left his face was marked by a smug self-confidence. Her mind quickly wandered. Words, inferences—and Cretia's last tormented expression as they left home played across what was already heavily on her mind. Anne, their stepmother, had been defensive over the way Bolling had pressed her before they had left. "I know," Anne had told him. "I've always known … ."
Cecelia's stomach turned sharply as the unthinkable conclusion settled yet again into the pit of her already nauseated stomach. But Father would never … something so unspeakably vulgar as … And with a slave! He had a wife, children … Of course she had misunderstood. She was too young, too spoiled, and, as he so often said, impossibly romantic about life. Her sister Marie was married and living in Rome, Georgia. Caroline, as well. The reason Cecelia had no suitors, Thomas always teased her, was because her head was filled with too much fantasy. And who the devil, he said, was man enough to unburden her of that?
She had never met a boy who she thought came close to understanding her. And if there ever were to be someone, he would not be like those perfectly proper, dull boys in Augusta. How in the world could she consider spending her life with a man like Caroline had married? Even Marie's husband, handsome though he was, wore his dullness upon his gentility like a proud badge of honor.
When she married, it would be someone wildly industrious, brimming with confidence, and ambitious beyond measure. A self-made boy, not someone living off the family largesse and in their shadow like the man Marie had married. Men like that reminded her of warm milk-toast that Setty Mae, their cook, had given her as a child. It had been bland but predictable, sure to settle one's stomach. Kind and gentle, Setty Mae had always had a lovely way of coming up with relevant snatches of Scripture when they seemed to be needed the most. "De Lawd, He say Ask and He answer," she had told her one day when she was mixing up a fresh batch of corn bread. Yes, one day Cecelia would meet the right man, and take Cretia to live with them in a grand, lovely house by a river. She had it all planned. Cecelia's dress rustled again as she curtsied to thank the dull, steel-eyed cadet for the dance.
Late and uninterested in dancing, William Sherman pushed himself in among the swell of cadets and guests hoping for little more than a cup of iced punch. There was a last topography paper he had been intent on finishing, in spite of the mass exodus from the drafty, three-story stone North Barracks. Everyone else, it seemed, was here tonight, needing little prodding to enjoy a bit of socializing after a rigorous and deadly serious academic year. He rocked back on his heels, surveying the crowded room where the laughter and chatter had crescendoed. So this was a West Point ball, he mused to himself, largely unimpressed by the trappings of social grace.
Two of his roommates were dancing, but the third, Marcellus Stovall, stood a few feet away, beside a graceful, dark-haired girl in a pink dress with a wide bell skirt. The girl, who was just then accepting a dance, suddenly and very strongly took William's breath away. The sensation was intensely sharp and all encompassing. So that was Stovall's sister from Augusta, he thought as his heart slammed against his ribs—the girl about whom Stovall had told his roommates just this morning. Her arrival here with their two younger brothers had been quite unexpected.
As she moved toward the dance floor, William eased himself over to a corner to watch her, trying to make sense of what drew him so powerfully. She was attractive, certainly, but not in that pale, vapid way by which he had come to define Southern women. Miss Stovall had an inner strength that showed past her pretty Southern party dress and the oddly strained expression on her face as the dance began. Seeing it, William changed his focus to her tall and burly dance partner. It was Braxton Bragg, one of the graduates being feted.
William felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He had heard plenty of the infamous Bragg, and his standard procedure with the out-of-town girls. They were the first to be danced with, he had often boasted, and the last to be left at dawn. Bragg, his name, William thought, from the tales he had heard, was a fitting one. William Sherman could not have been more different from Bragg, and from most of the other cadets at West Point. His short, wild hair was the color of fire-lit copper, and looked as if it had been cut by gardening shears. But his eyes, with their long dark lashes, were a dramatic cinnamon brown flecked with gold. The combination, along with a tight, hard body, made him uniquely attractive among the light-haired, smooth-skinned, or more swarthy gentry, with whom he had begun at West Point.
He continued to watch them dance, and he watched the dark-eyed girl's expression grow more strained. When the music stopped, William saw Bragg's meaty hand grip her arm below the elbow, keeping her there with him. It was a subtle move no one else would have noticed, other than someone watching them closely. Something curiously defensive in him churned, and he felt his legs move decisively toward the dance floor before he had made a conscious decision to do so.
"Pardon me, sir," William said formally, trying to keep the clipped anger from his tone, "but I believe this to be my dance with the lady."
"I don't expect Miss Stovall would agree to that," Bragg said icily.
"Then shall we say that I am making the decision forher," William countered, feeling a muscle twitch in his jaw as an odd sense of knowing took him over. Her face became all that he saw. He must do this. He must dance with this dark-haired, ebony-eyed girl, now, here, so that she would not walk out of his life.
The music rose up again, and everyone else began awkwardly to dance around the three of them, a swirl of shoes, skirts, lace, and laughter. "Miss Stovall?" Bragg said with an overly solicitous tone. "Shall we continue?"
William's eyes blazed with a fury. "I said unhand her."
Bragg let go of her, and Cecelia took a small step back, her eyes never leaving William's. He took her hand then, feeling as if he were taking possession of her soul. There was a strange unexpected shudder of excitement that coursed through him at their strangely immediate connection.
"We will dance now, Miss Stovall and I. When we are finished, sir, I expect not to look at your face again this evening. Is that perfectly clear?"
"And just who the devil do you think you are, besides a first-year, no-account plebe?"
"I am William Tecumseh Sherman, sir. And you would do well to pay heed to that."
William could see his rival growing angry and the veneer of affability beginning, once again, to shatter. "I shall speak with yo' brother 'bout this presently!" He glared at Cecelia, his heavy black brows merging over his eyes.
"I am quite capable of decidin' with whom I dance, suh, and just now I believe my choice to be Mr. Sherman," she shot back with a defiant flair that surprised both young men.
"I have been good to yo' brother this year—" Bragg stammered at Cecelia, disarmed by her self-possession. "I've helped him along what has been, fo' him, a difficult academic road!"
"And I'm certain he's grateful, suh. But I'm equally certain he never intended payment fo' it to include me."
"I see that I've misjudged you." Bragg's steely eyes narrowed. "A sharp tongue in the place of manners holds no interest fo' me." Without waiting for her response, he looked at William. "And you should consider yo'self lucky, Sherman, that I'm on my way out of this place, or you would live to regret this. I won't forget tonight."
"Nor shall I."
William led her more deeply into the other dancers before it could get any uglier, as Bragg stalked off, muttering to himself. It was an instant before he realized he had not let go of her hand. They turned to one another, and only then did her hand fall away. She lifted her face to his, and he felt it was a face he had looked upon all his life.
"I suppose I owe you my thanks," she said uneasily as they began to dance, William taking in the heady fragrance of soft lilac perfume. For an instant, he was controlled by it. "But I confess, I feel at a loss fo' words just now."
William managed a smile. "Now, why do I find that difficult to believe?" They turned, nodded, and turned again in time with the music. "I have a strong suspicion, Miss Stovall, that you could have taken care of yourself."
Her eyes widened. He saw the intelligence there. "Ah, but circumstances, like appearances, Mr. Sherman, can so often deceive."
He nodded, giving her the point as a small, sly smile turned up the corner of her slim lips. The fire in her eyes, he thought, was powerful. She was as sharp as she was lovely. He had never known a girl like her, and a Southern girl with a smooth, honeyed drawl that made him feel dispossessed of himself, as if he were another person looking down at their exchange, seeing her as she saw him. He was convinced suddenly, in spite of all that, that she found him foolish, unimportant. It was how her brother Marcellus openly referred to Northerners. Unimportant.
"I do thank you kindly fo' intervenin' in my behalf, truly I do, Mr.—"
"Sherman," he said deeply. "William Tecumseh Sherman."
"But my father always warned me not to trust Northern men."
"My heritage alone changes your impression of me?"
"My father says it must. Whether or not young men can come together at a place like this, the North and the South are two entirely different worlds."
"Respectfully, Miss Stovall, that remark disappoints me." With his retort like a punctuation mark, the song was at an end. William nodded and returned her to her brother's side. Although he did not realize it then as he moved toward the garden doors, that very moment marked the beginning of his obsession. It was a sensation with which he would do battle for the rest of his life.
"Damn it to hell!" William snarled, not at all certain then why her opinion mattered. He meant to say that she had surprised him. But instead self-preservation and fear had caused him to walk away.
Outside, the warm summer breeze cooled him even as he tossed down his gloves, and the sweet music of the crickets distracted him from the surprising power of his encounter with Cecelia. William wondered, as he touched the stone balustrade, what exactly had happened in there with a fellow cadet, but moreover, why had a Southern girl who should not have touched his defenses been able to do so?
"Well, now. You're not going to just leave things like that, are you?"
William turned with a start. He had believed himself alone on the terrace. But behind him, beside a twisted vine of wisteria, full of flowers, stood a compact, dignified man. He had a shock of umber-colored hair, arched brows, and gray-green eyes flecked with gold that were directed on him as he stood holding a full cup of punch. The man was alone, a total stranger to William.
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
"The girl. You don't plan to end up in the same position with her as that insufferable looking lout with the heavy eyebrows, do you?"
William glanced back inside for a moment before he replied. "I don't expect either of us has particulary impressed her this evening."
The other man chuckled and extended his hand. "Name's Lee."
"Sherman. My friends call me Cump," he responded, shaking his hand in return. "You a cadet?"
"I was. Graduated in '29. Second in my class. I've a commission now as first lieutenant of engineers supervising the work in Saint Louis Harbor."
"That is impressive. But what on earth brings you back here now?"
"I'm the commencement speaker tomorrow. Never having won a demerit here seems to be a lightning rod for the other cadets."
William shook his head. "I had two demerits my first month."
"I'll wager you haven't had a great many more since."
"You learn quickly."
"Not quickly enough, apparently, to win a second dance with the illustrious Miss Stovall."
"And that matters to you?" Lee asked as they both watched her dancing now with a different upperclassman William did not recognize.
"I don't exactly know if it does or not."
"Then it seems to me, you owe it to yourself—and Miss Stovall—to find out for certain."
William looked back at the dance floor for another moment and watched her dance. Lee was right. Something very odd inside him told William it was absolutely essential that he find out. Still he faltered. Lee saw it.
"Not that I don't appreciate the advice but—"
"She's a Southern girl, and you're from the North. Is that it?"
"She seems to think so."
"I met Miss Stovall myself this morning at the church social. She reminds me of my own wife—proud, fiery, yet delicate as glass—and in need of a man who can handle all three."
"And you think I'm that man?"
"Well, son. I wouldn't make a guess on that." Lee gazed out over the river, a sweeping black space behind a frame of tall pine trees, as he took a swallow of punch. "But you sure as hell aren't gonna find out standing here with the likes of me!"
William smiled. A heartbeat later, he extended his hand. "Thank you, Lieutenant—"
"Lee, son. The name is Robert E. Lee."
"I would be honored if we might try that one more time."
Surrounded by a collection of other young ladies and cadets, Cecelia turned to the voice behind her. William's eyes met hers again. They were such an odd color, his eyes that blazed with mysterious fury. She had not expected him to return after her nervous foolishness, and she had pinched her wrist repeatedly with anger. Now she felt her face warm as he looked into her eyes.
"Very well, suh," Cecelia said, struggling to find her voice. "Perhaps we did get off on the wrong foot the last time." Lord, what is it about him? He makes me absolutely weak in the knees!
"We shall see," he cooly replied as he wound her arm in his.
There was a power between them that had risen up like a huge wave the very moment William Sherman returned to her side, and it startled Cecelia. Inexperienced though she was in these matters, she was absolutely certain that this was far more than attraction. It cannot be! This sort of thing—this sort of connection with a stranger does not happen! Still, here it is, this feelin' that I have known him all my life. When the dance was over, they walked together to the side of the room where there was too much activity around them for anyone to notice the intensity between them. William got them each a glass of punch, then stood facing her.
"Your eyes are so dark, they are difficult to fathom."
In his very quiet tone there was no pretension, only honesty. She realized he had not expected a response. He did not condescend to her, or flatter her overly. He spoke to her as if she were an adult. A woman. It was the first time in her life anyone had ever done so.
"And yo' eyes earlier toward Mr. Bragg, suh, startled me. I found them as cold as they were cruel. Truly," she said with an unexpected tremor to her soft drawl, "I would pity anyone who might ever become yo' enemy."
"You need never worry about me, Miss Stovall. Perhaps this is a wild, impetuous thing to say, but no matter what, you may trust that I would ever love and protect you."
Soon, the next dance ended, and couples pushed in around them, but William's eyes never left Cecelia's as they remained beside a white Ionic column that shielded them from the open glances of anyone who might be passing by. Remaining like this with him, the world—her world—tilted, then changed. This feelin' is not possible! she was thinking. I know nothin' of him beyond those eyes, and yet they tell me everythin'!
"Sho'ly you don't mean love, suh." The word passed across her lips in a strained, shocked way reflecting the loss of control she felt inside.
"I never say anything I don't mean."
"But, Mr. Sherman—"
"I am as direct as I am level-headed. You shall never find cause to dispute me on that."
Cecelia tipped up her chin, taking her eyes from his, unable to bear a moment longer the open admiration she saw there. Yes, she would be all right so long as she did not look directly into their gaze. His eyes mirrored the future—and she very clearly saw herself there.
"You're quite certain of yo'self."
"Early disappointments made me a realist and have left me no time at all to perfect the art of flattery, I'm afraid."
"I suspect that shall endear you to the young lady you will one day come to court."
He lifted two fresh glasses from the refreshment table beside them and handed one to her, drawing his eyes away from hers for only an instant. "The young lady I one day mean to court will desire purity of heart over flattery, or I won't court her at all. Nor would there be any purpose in our being together unless we intend to spend the rest of our lives in open devotion. For me, that's the only way the story can end."
"You see yo' life as a story, Mr. Sherman?"
"Everyone's life is a story, Miss Stovall. I'm just determined to give mine a happy ending."
She was warm—warmer suddenly than she had ever felt in her life. Cecelia opened her fan, a small ivory thing with lace, and edges painted with salmon pink roses. She wanted more than anything in the world suddenly for them to touch—for him to take her hand again, or to feel his fingers brush hers even absently. His name is William … , she was thinking. Like the great warriors … Like William the Conquerer.
"Let's not dance again. But will you walk with me to the terrace for some air?"
Her mind spun even as he asked her—even as she wound her arm once more with his and let him lead her outside. The moon was full as they stood at the stone terrace edge and gazed down at the silvery Hudson River with two other couples who had come out before them.
"How did so curious a man ever find his way to West Point?"
"The same way that I came to meet you, I expect—with the light of the good Lord shining down on me."
She shivered, cold suddenly in the warm summer night air. She was so powerfully drawn to this mysterious Yankee that she could not catch her breath, but she did not even mean to try. "You know, you really shouldn't say things like that—speak about courtin' or love."
"Why not speak the truth? There's so much to do in this life and so little time for all of it."
She saw a new excitement light his eyes as he said that. It made her smile, and the thrill inside her flared. "And what is it you wish to do in this world, William Sherman?"
He gazed heavenward, as if the dark sky were his canvas. "I think I will command an army one day … travel the world … and, of course, lead and inspire my men while I'm at it."
She was smiling up at him, watching the secrets behind his eyes slowly yet powerfully revealed to her as a flower unfurls itself to the sun. "You sound like Marcellus," she tried to say, tried to make what he said seem unimportant. "I do believe, as a child, a soldier was all my brother ever wanted to be. But mostly, I expect, now it is fo' him to measure highly in our father's eyes."
"Was your father's expectation what brought you to West Point, as well? Perhaps to find a husband among the cadets?"
"Oh, gracious, no." Her laughter was honey soft, barely audible. "My father has far mo' grand ideas than that fo' his daughters. We are Southern royalty, he always says. And he'll never settle. I don't suppose yo' own father is anythin' like that."
William looked away from her and out toward the shimmering river, silver now and glittering beneath the quarter moon. "My father died when I was a boy. I have no idea what sort of match he would have wanted for me. But he always saw West Point as a path to greatness. All I knew was he was intent that I somehow find a way into it."
"And so you have," she said with special gentleness. And yet her heart battled her mind. Her father and Marcellus would tell her this was nowhere near right, this unbelievably charged power and the sense of a future for the two of them. It frightened her to think of going against her family. But it was more inconceivable to consider never seeing William Sherman again. Cecelia wondered as he spoke and smiled—was it actually possible to meet a man like this, a virtual stranger, and yet know within moments that your future would be inextricably wound with his?
Cecelia wrapped her arms around herself against a sudden chill. "You're so certain of yo'self."
"Only of the direction ahead of me. Not where I have been in this world so far."
"Has it been so bad?" she asked. "Where it is you've been?"
"I wouldn't fancy living it over, I can tell you that."
"You seem a gentleman possessed of fortune, as any other cadet here."
"As I believe you suggested earlier, Miss Stovall, appearances can be deceiving."
"Are they with you, suh? Have I misjudged you?"
"Only your favorable opinion of my heritage. The rest, I plan fully to rise above, given half the chance."
"Yo'self-assurance is inspirin'."
"I am flattered that you think so."
She smiled at that, finding it impossible to keep any sort of logical defense against him. He made her heart race, and heat flushed into her cheeks as though she were on fire. "For some reason, I feel quite certain you will accomplish everythin' in life you hope to."
Suddenly, he was shaking his head and washing a hand across his face. "I really can't believe I just told you all of that."
"Are you sorry that you did?"
He met her gaze again squarely. Again the charge between them flared. "Not sorry at all."
"Ah! There you are!" Marcellus's rich drawl broke between them like glass, and Cecelia took a defensive step away from William before she pivoted back. Thomas and Bolling were beside their older brother. "Sherman? Well, suh, I trust you have been a gentleman with our sister."
"Your sister had grown warm with all the dancing. I simply escorted her out here for a breath of air with all of the others who felt the same. She was perfectly safe, I assure you."
"Yes, well, by her tremblin' she appears to have gotten quite enough cool air," Marcellus surmised, glancing suspiciously from one of them to the other.
"Indeed." William nodded to Marcellus before he turned back to Cecelia. "Miss Stovall, I've enjoyed our dance and our conversation. A pleasant evening to you all."
"And to you, suh," Cecelia said, summo
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