Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Time To Say Goodbye by J.M. Downey

Cotton plantation daughter, May Lynn Whitley sees nothing wrong with owning others. After all how would they fend for themselves if it wasn’t for gracious people like her family? But a handsome young preacher’s probing words and mesmerizing blue eyes unlock a new sense of justice and lead her on a journey that will change her life and soul. But she is betrothed and May Lynn’s controlling fiance’ will do anything to make sure they wed. Anything including destroying all that she holds dear. Set in Antebellum America, May Lynn’s adventure spans the Eastern seaboard as she joins a movement she once scorned. 


Chapter One
Dorset, England. 1855

A lady should always have five minutes of peace. May Lynn Whitley pushed through the glass doors and made her way to the end of the porch, squeezing the rail. And she needed that peace. It wasn’t too much to ask. Her stiff limbs loosened, her eyes closed, and she leaned against the porch rail. A light breeze blew by, cooling her face and making a few curls bounce off her cheek. She opened her eyes. Darkness hid the barren heath that spread out before her. An utter contrast to her garden full of lavender roses back home in North Carolina. That garden was a perfect escape.

The sound of a male’s voice too low to understand made her stiffen. May Lynn glanced at the glass doors as Mr. Hopkins walked by with his new bride on his arm. She exhaled. It wasn’t Richard with more sharp words for her. May Lynn ran a hand over the silk skirt of her dress, the fabric felt cool to her touch. What could be so offensive about the color burgundy? Even her father thought this dress would be perfect for tonight. But Richard hated it nonetheless. She should have chosen blue. He loved the color. May Lynn shook her head, making a few curls bounce  against her cheeks. She must try harder to win Richard’s favor. Her future depended on it.

May Lynn pushed back her shoulders and tipped her nose in the air. She had best go inside before he came looking for her, again.

“When will this ball end?” she mumbled as she grabbed the skirt of her gown, lifting the hem away from her slippers, and headed back to the ballroom. May Lynn slipped around several small gatherings of young ladies chatting amongst themselves, and footmen bearing platters of cheese and fruit crumpets. A wisp of raspberry scent floated by her.

She spotted her mother smoothing the skirt of her dark brown silk taffeta gown, which accented her pepper-gray hair. She looked diminutive against the large red tapestries with ornate gold threaded tulips that completely covered the walls. Her pa and fiancé stood nearby but were engrossed in conversation.

As she approached them, Richard looked her way, his eyes narrowing. “Where have you been, my dear?” His blond curly hair made the red tint of his face stand out.

May Lynn squeezed the fabric of her skirt. How could she deflect his temper before he made a scene? Her mother’s words filled her mind. Always be submissive to soften a man’s mood. “I’m sorry, dear, the ballroom is too warm. I just went outside for some fresh air.”

“Were you looking at the stars again?” His face relaxed and he turned to her mother. “Your daughter, Mrs. Whitley, finds the English sky fascinating, though I do not see the difference between it and that of our own.”

“Now, she’s always looking at the view from home,” her mother replied.

“Yes, women love the simple things of life,” he said.

May Lynn bit her bottom lip, forcing herself not to roll her eyes. And men loved nothing. Nothing but their accomplishments. At least the stars and the rest of nature didn’t vanish at a moment’s notice.

A smile spread across her mother’s face. “It helps us be….”

“Richard, have you heard any news about La Jane?” her father asked.

May Lynn glanced at her mother, who just folded her hands in front of her, almost disappearing as the conversation continued without her. Her face took on a blank look. Yes, it was time for them to be quiet. May Lynn shook her head and gazed around the larger parlor that had been turned into a ballroom for tonight.

“Right now, sir, the plantation is doing just fine.…”

Punch could moisten her dry mouth. May Lynn looked at a table complete with crystal glasses full of punch, a large crystal bowl, and light pink flowers. A young woman dancing with a gentleman glided past the table. Her beige dress blended with the other gowns of rose red and lavender, with white or gold lace trimmings and little puffy sleeves.

Pa spoke, “I hope it won’t….”

May Lynn turned away, but then quickly turned back in the direction of the dancing couples. Who was that? Off in the distance with her neighbors the Jacobs stood a young man who appeared out of place. But why? He wore the clothes of a gentleman, a black coat with a tail and a red vest. He’d brushed his dark hair back. May Lynn slanted her head. He held his glass too low, and he gripped it instead of holding it with his fingertips. She looked at Richard’s hand as he held his glass with the right grip. The stranger must not be a gentleman, but who could he be? Perhaps, a friend of the Jacobs. She touched the shoulder of her fiancé.

“Yes, my dear,” Richard said, stopping in mid-sentence. His eyes narrowed again as he stretched his mouth into a thin line.

So much for diverting his temper. May Lynn took a deep breath and let it out in a smooth stream. “I’m sorry to interrupt. It’s just, I haven’t spoken with the Jacobs yet.”

A smirk crossed his face. “My dear, you haven’t spoken with most of our guests.”

May Lynn clenched her hands into fists. Of course, he would mention her shortcomings. But she must not show her anger. That would only make things worse. May Lynn tipped her head to the side and batted her lashes, relying on an old trick she learned from finishing school.

He looked away and held out his arm. “Pardon us, my future wife wishes to visit.”

May Lynn placed her hand on it as a chill rippled over her. Tomorrow, he would have a long list of social mishaps to speak to her about, but she wouldn’t dwell on that now. She tilted her chin upward and walked toward the Jacobs with her fiancé at her side.

Mrs. Jacobs tapped the young man on the shoulder with her fan and then pointed to a circle of young women drinking punch. Was she encouraging him to talk to one of the girls? The young man glanced at the girls and shrugged his shoulders. He must be shy.

The Jacobs’ small group turned to them as Richard stepped to Mr. Jacobs’s side and held out his hand. “Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, I am so glad you could come,” Richard said.

Mr. Jacobs gripped Richard’s hand. “Mr. Crumin.” Miss Whitley, it’s a delight to be your guest.” He nodded towards both of them. His dark brown tie brought out the blue in his warm, welcoming eyes.

May Lynn smiled, glancing at the young man, who stood a step back from the Jacobs, still clenching the glass. He had a youthful handsomeness. His face was free of any hard lines, and he had high cheekbones like an aristocrat.

“Oh excuse me.” Mr. Jacobs extended a hand towards the young man. “Let me introduce you to Michael Thompson. He’s visiting with us before he journeys back to his birthplace of North Carolina.”

“We’re from North Carolina, just vacationing in Dorset,” Richard said. “Isn’t it a beautiful state?”

A smile stretched across his face. “Sir, I have no memory of it. I spent most of my life in Africa and the last four years at a seminary school in England. Now I plan to return and work at a church in the mountains near a town called Henderson.”

May Lynn opened her fan and waved it in front of her face. His speech was almost perfect except for his slight accent. It sounded British, but yet his African accent sounded deeper when he pronounced his vowels.

“Then you have been robbed of its magnificence.” Richard raised his glass.

Mr. Thompson raised his glass to Richard’s. “And I can’t wait to see it.”

A girl tripped making May Lynn look past Mr. Thompson. Had she drank too much of the punch? Mr. Thompson must have noticed her gaze because he glanced over his shoulder.
“Miss Whitley, do you enjoy dancing?” he asked, looking at her, their gazes connecting.

May Lynn’s bottom lip dropped as something sharp ran through her. Placing her hand over her heart, she took a deep breath. His eyes were so beautiful, a dark blue full of some kind of lightness. She looked away, focusing on the gold buttons of his jacket. “I like the movement of it. I guess you could say I enjoy studying things.”

Mr. Thompson placed his hands behind his back. “My mother taught me and some of the village girls to dance. She said it was a skill I’d need in order to attract a young lady.”

“Young ladies do enjoy it,” Richard said, his eyes trailing over Mr. Thompson’s head. “You should dance with May Lynn. It’ll allow me some time to talk business with Mr. Jacobs. I have some matters I need to address with him that would only bore her.”

May Lynn shook her head. How easily he could dismiss her.

“Shall we?” Mr. Thompson held out his hand.

May Lynn stole a glance at his outstretched fingers, before inching her hand into his. His large hand closed around hers, holding it like a captured butterfly. They made their way to the center of the parlor.

With her other hand, she fanned her face. Her cheeks burned like she had spent all day in the sun and every part of her felt jittery. Something about the young man at her side unnerved her. But what could it be?

She turned to face, Mr. Thompson who placed one hand a little too high on her arm and took her other hand. She smiled and pulled his hand to the proper place on her elbow.

“Sorry.” A faint smile crossed his face and his high cheekbones flushed red.

May Lynn chuckled. “Bless your heart. We all make mistakes every now and then.”

His eyes filled with a twinkle. “I’m glad you understand.”

They began to move though not in time with the music. He didn’t know the steps very well, and would always move a second after she did. She tried to guide him, but soon gave up and they just waltzed to their own tempo. She looked at his face. His crimson cheeks made his dark blue eyes stand out. They looked as innocent as a child’s.

“You move much smoother than the village girls,” he said.

“Now, Mr. Thompson, what do you mean by village girls?”

“The girls who are natives of Africa.”

“Like the help back home?”

“Yes.” His tone dropped. He pushed his lips into a narrow line.

May Lynn took a deep breath. A thick tension filled the space between them. “My father owns many darkies on our plantation.”

“And how are they?” he asked.

“They’re fine, and quite happy. Well provided for, I would say.”

“Is that so.” He laughed as he leaned his head back a little, rolling his eyes.

May Lynn dropped her gaze. What did he find so amusing? Didn’t he realize how rude he appeared? But perhaps he didn’t. He would not have been exposed to proper society in an African colony. She bent her head to the side. His oddness intrigued her. If he was cultivated like a gentleman, all the belles in America would compete for his attention.

They danced until the music ended, and May Lynn stepped away from him, fanning herself with her hand.

“Are you too warm?” he asked.

“Yes, I could use some fresh air. Would you like to go to the courtyard? I’d love to hear about your experience in Africa.”

“That would be pleasant.”

May Lynn folded her hands in front of her while he looked off to the side. She giggled. Poor thing. He had no idea what to do. Mr. Thompson was like a child thrown into a game for the first time. “You’re supposed to escort me.”

 Mr. Thompson blushed again and held out his arm to her. She placed her right hand on his arm, and they walked outside to the garden, stopping at a stone bench. Several rose bushes flanked the seat and petals decorated the cobblestone walkway around it. Overhead burned an oil lamp, giving the area an angelic glow. Off in the distance water trickled from a fountain creating a slight murmur. May Lynn sat down, and Mr. Thompson stood in front of her, looking at the steamy glass door -- his broad back and shoulders facing her.

“You seem nervous,” she said.

“I was just wondering if this is improper.”

“It’s all right. We’re just in the courtyard. Everyone can see us through the glass door.” She pointed at it, just as a couple glided by.

He turned back towards her. The light from the lamp caught his eyes, accenting them. May Lynn bit down on her bottom lip and looked away. She best not focus on those eyes or she wouldn’t be able to piece together one sentence.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know the customs. I haven’t spent much time with the upper class.”

She smiled. “It’s all right. When we attend balls, I usually end up outside. I just find the air too stuffy during large gatherings.”

He nodded and looked at the ground, kicking a pebble. “Are you and Mr. Crumin betrothed?”

“Yes, the wedding will be next Spring.”

“Are you looking forward to it?”

May Lynn sighed. “It will be splendid.” Something heavy grew in her. It’d be a challenge until death parted them. She just needed to remember the sole benefit of this marriage. It would keep her family out of the ruthless hands of creditors, wanting to strip them of everything and leaving them to starve.

Mr. Thompson gazed at the stars. “This is my first ball.”

“Why? Did you not attend any when you were at seminary?”

He shook his head. “I went to a small conservative school that taught dancing was frivolous. I’m only here at the insistence of the Jacobs.”

May Lynn folded her hands in her lap and looked at the clear sky, studying the stars. She found the Little Dipper, but couldn’t find its bigger counterpart. “It’s not hard to learn the nature of these parties. Everybody will talk about the same subjects. My mother and some of the women will talk about my engagement or the latest fashions. My father and Richard will talk about cotton or the rising price of a decent field hand. The same music will be played in the same order. It always is. There are a lot of parties at home.”

“I’ve heard those conversations and others.” Mr. Thompson pushed his lips into a thin line again.
He kept making that face when she mentioned the help. Did he follow the Jacobs’ new beliefs on slavery? He had grown up among heathens. If he did then he probably wouldn’t approve of her way of life. May Lynn ran a finger down a crack in the bench, brushing a lone rose petal off. The idea that he would find something repulsive about her, didn’t sit well. Maybe she could make him understand. “We provide....”

“Darling.” Richard appeared at the door. “I was wondering where you were. There are guests who would like to meet you.”

The smile disappeared. At least she had five minutes this time. She turned towards Richard, noticing how he clenched the glass door. She was entertaining a guest. Didn’t he at least approve of that? Nothing else. Besides, didn’t he need to be free of her so he could talk business with Mr. Jacobs? “Mr. Thompson and I were talking about his experiences in Africa.”

“Well come, my dear.” Richard held out his hand.

May Lynn went to her fiancé, but smiled at Mr. Thompson over her shoulder. “I hope we can finish our conversation later.”

“Maybe at some other time,” he said, not even turning to look at her but focusing on the fountain.

May Lynn nodded and then walked with Richard into the ballroom. Yes, they would have to talk later, and she would make him understand that the Abolitionists lie. He just couldn’t be left with an unfavorable impression of her.

About J.M.:
J.M. Downey lives in the South with her husband and daughter. She has been writing since grade school and earned a master's degree in English 2005. In her writing J.M. Downey focuses on women overcoming great adversity.

To purchase her book, go here:

To connect with J.M., go here:

J.M. Downey is giving away a copy of A Time to Say Goodbye. The giveaway is only available to U.S. addresses.
To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment along with your email address. You may enter the book giveaway twice -- once on each spotlight post. (It's not too late to go back and leave a comment on yesterday's post.)

Off to read another great book!
Sandra M. Hart


Anonymous said...

A story about the Antebellum years. Plantations. I know I would love this book. Please put my name in. Enjoyed this.Thanks. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

Patty said...

Richard sounds just awful! I look forward to reading May Lynn's story.


Cindi A said...

Looks like such a delightful read.
I hope I win.


apple blossom said...

thanks for sharing the excerpt

ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

Boos Mum said...

Thanks for the excerpt. Beautiful cover. Please enter me. Thanks.

sweetdarknectar at gmail dot com

sharon m said...

I really enjoy historical fiction and the Antebellum period is very intriguing. Love to win and read your book about Mae Lynn. sharon, CA wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

Amy C said...

Wow! This book sounds awesome! Thank you for the excerpt.
Campbellamyd at gmail dot com

Amy Putney said...

Sounds like a great book!

aeputney [at] liberty [dot] edu

bonnie said...

Love this storyline - would love to read/win the book. Thanks for the book giveaway opportunity!


MsRubyKat said...

Reading the Excerpt makes me want more. I want this book, it sounds like a really great book. Thank you for the chance to win.
Karen G.

Veronica Sternberg said...

This sounds wonderful! I would love to win.

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