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Southern Cross

Amanda Jackson, 1995 ... Nick St. Laurent, 1867.... Two people riding an unwitting collision course toward each other and destiny. A collision course set in irreversible motion with the theft of the solid gold, jewel-encrusted Southern Cross in 1842.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Linda Opdyke

    Trixie Belden and her mysteries was my first foray into the fascinating world of suspense, and at age eleven I realized I was happiest with a pen in my hand and a plot swirling in my mind. My first creation, a ghost/murder mystery, was performed for the school by my seventh grade classmates via the support and encouragement of my teacher, Mr. Schlegle. Organizations like RWA, NJRW, Kiss of Death (RWA Mys/Sus) and Sisters in Crime fanned creative flames and my imagination took flight, into "what if" and "whodunnit".
    My first book, award-winning thriller STONES THROW, was a December 1999 release from Hard Shell Word Factory. "Best Pick for July 2000" romantic suspense LAKE BRAXTON features a husband-and-wife private investigation team (Ethan's a pro - Mickey's not) based in Nashville. SOUTHERN CROSS is my first time travel and is set in the mystique, romance and intrigue of 1867 New Orleans. My works-in-progress include BETWEEN THE MOON AND MIDNIGHT, a tale of murder, revenge and deadly family betrayal and WAITING FOR MIDNIGHT, a thriller about a fatal honeymoon and the clock-dominated, cat-and-mouse game to solve the murder.
    Free time finds me relaxing and listening to country music at the Jersey shore with my husband of almost thirty years, our two children and three grandchildren.
    For more information or updates drop me a line at llopdyke@verizon.net or P.O. Box 1038 Barnegat, NJ 08005. Visit my website at http://www.lindaopdyke.com/

Reviews

4 Stars!

"SOUTHERN CROSS has a fresh voice with this wonderful time- travel that has two women switching places and the adjustments each must make to live in an unfamiliar time. Giving readers double the pleasure with a cast of charming characters and suspense, Ms. Opdyke transports us from the past to the future and back again easily without jerking readers out of the story. The surprising turns the author throws in and the historical locality blends in well with the romance. Fans who love Time Travel stories will take pleasure in SOUTHERN CROSS with its unique premise and well- written scenes that capture the imagination."

SimeGen Reviews


5 Stars!

"Opdyke has written an interesting and believable story. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. Amanda's character is fun because she is truly a 90s gal caught more than a century earlier. The character development is well done considering that it spans two centuries. Opdyke developed characters that are believable and appropriate to the time and place. A feat not always seen in time travel books. Face it, a 1990s woman is going to be out of place in the 1860s and vice versa. Opdyke moved along smartly with her story. I appreciate that she didn't waste time on fluff, but stuck with the plot. There were no yawn sessions while reading this book. It was fun and not too predictable."

Midnight Scribe Reviews

"Visit New Orleans of the present and the past in this suspenseful, sensual time travel romance. Filled with characters both wonderful and strange, and overflowing with humor, this love story will warm your heart. Travel back in time with Amanda, as she overwhelms the well-mannered, 19th century man of her dreams. She has him alternately praying for a little peace and quiet, and longing for the most contrary woman he's ever met."

Romantic Times Magazine
Excerpt

Prologue

Louisiana, 1995...

WITH THE hem of her ball gown firmly in both hands and her dark blonde hair flying behind her, Amanda Jackson hurried up the winding marble staircase of Belle Reve. The Restoration Ball had been an unqualified success, unequaled in elegance, she'd been assured by the long list of society guests who lingered late, unaware of her impatience to be alone. She hadn't even had a chance to give her friend, Eric, more than a fleeting description of what she'd found. Time for that tomorrow.

Her dark green slippers were soundless on the polished black and white tile of the second floor hallway and the pale green, watered silk ball gown made only the slightest whisper as she closed her bedroom door behind her.

She had been disinterested in Belle Reve's restoration, a tedious undertaking that had been her parents' dream. But she'd been so distraught when their private plane crashed that she had thrown herself into the project as a way of keeping them close to her. No one had been more surprised than she was when what began as a mixture of healing and grief therapy became a fascination with her family history.

And a source of tremendous mystery.

The plantation, reduced to near skeletal form during the Civil War, was rich in verbal history but only had written records dating back ninety-five years, to the turn of this century. The work tracing earlier records had been postponed until after the ball.

Two months ago, in a rusty-hinged, dry-rotted trunk almost hidden in a corner of the century-plus attic, she'd found a moth-eaten, faded ball gown, a gown whose aura of beauty hadn't been dimmed by the years. Along with the watered silk gown she'd found an exquisitely crafted diamond pendant on a heavy gold chain. Determined to wear both incredible finds when she presided over the ball festivities, she had the dress replicated. Many women had sent envious gazes toward her dress and pendant tonight.

This morning she'd climbed the narrow attic stairs again, wondering if there was anything she'd overlooked during her original search for any antique items that could be used as decorations for the ball. Maybe an antique, frilly parasol or two to hang beside the reproductions, for effect? Maybe even a few authentic Japanese lanterns. She hadn't really cared about what else she might find up there. She enjoyed sitting in the cramped, sunny attic. It was peacefully quiet and encouraged images of the distant past.

Her search through the trunks revealed nothing promising. Already late with last minute instructions to florists and decorators, she started toward the stairs, then stopped. The brilliant sunlight bouncing off the bronze latch of a trunk in the corner caught her eye. It took several seconds before Amanda realized there was something unusual about the trunk in which she'd found the dress and pendant. It wasn't that it stood all alone, or that it was dissimilar to the others in the attic. Then it hit her. The contents! The dress and pendant were much older than anything else she'd found.

If there were anything else that could be used at the ball it would be inside the antebellum trunk. Admittedly, after discovering the dress and pendant, her search of that trunk had been less than thorough, something she would correct immediately. Dragging the small, heavy trunk into the middle of the floor, she plopped onto her behind in front of it.

She flipped the lid up and began methodically sorting through delicate, yellowed-with-age linen blouses, dark cotton skirts, cotton trousers and brown and gray woolen socks. Every item was riddled with moth holes and several pair of stockings were so fragile from the accumulated years that they threatened to disintegrate in her hand. But the greatest surprise had been carefully tucked inside an embroidered white blouse at the bottom of the trunk. When she saw the old, fragile diary Amanda's cry of delight resounded from the attic rafters. Inside the front cover was scripted The thoughts of Justin Beaumont. It was little more than a vague memory, but she was sure her father had told her he'd been unable to obtain information concerning their family founder: Justin Beaumont.


* * *


NOW, TAKING the diary from her dresser drawer, Amanda propped herself on oversized bed pillows, tucked her slippered feet beneath her and opened the cracked, faded brown diary. The entries, written in the bold flowery penmanship of the nineteenth century, began with Justin's marriage in 1845 to Claudine Hamilton. Belle Reve had been a gift to the young couple from Claudine's father, a gift cherished and loved by both of them. Justin described the tender, overwhelming joy he and Claudine had shared at the birth, in 1846, of their only child, Angelique.

Drawn into the honest emotions in his writing, Amanda felt his and Claudine's deep joy and shared the total devastation Justin had put into words five years later when his beloved Claudine had been lost to the ravages of the dreaded swamp fever.

The entries became routine, Justin's words showing spark solely when he wrote about Angelique. Daily life had been entries of plantation accounts and visits of friends.

Oddly, there were no long, passionate writings concerning the war or his feelings about it. There were only notations on fleeing with Angelique to safety in Texas. His fervent wish that Belle Reve could be spared from the flames of Yankee torches had not been granted, and Justin had returned to find his home in ruins.

Amanda skimmed past these entries and pushed her long, dark blonde hair behind her shoulders as her green eyes searched for the place she'd stopped reading that morning. Her fingers carefully turned fragile, yellowed pages and she drew her breath in as she found the entry that had been the first indication of a horrible tragedy. A tragedy hidden, for unknown reasons, nearly a hundred and thirty years. Settling comfortably into the blue-and-white-gingham pillows, she began reading.

April 28, 1867... How can I allow him to expose my daughter to this knowledge? I must find a way to convince him I do not have that which he seeks. But how?

April 29, 1867... He persists and my time grows short, for Angelique returns soon. I can feel his menace and fear he means to do harm, whether his demands are met or not.

April 30, 1867... I cannot face her if she knows the truth. I am a coward, but will do what I must.

May 1, 1867... I fear Angelique will learn the truth. She has agreed, most unhappily, to fake her death in the river and will hide in New Orleans until I feel it is safe. I am heartbroken, certain it is the last I shall ever look upon my beloved daughter.

May 2, 1867... It is done. She will hide, using the name Amanda Jackson, until I summon her. God be with her and watch over her. I fear my hour is near.

Amanda lowered the book but continued to stare at the name Amanda Jackson. Her name. Though most of the research her parents had done into the family history had been unsuccessful, they certainly would have told her of such an odd coincidence. Was she named for the girl in this diary? Wouldn't they have told her the story of the woman whose name she bore?

When Amanda had briefly mentioned the diary to her closest friend, Eric Montgomery, who worked for the parish historical society, he'd expressed interest and promised to examine it first thing tomorrow before they discussed restoring the burial ground. Yes, she thought excitedly, Eric would be more than happy to help search headstones for these names. Turning back to the diary, she continued reading.

May 12, 1867... At last, word from New Orleans! Angelique is safe. My grief at her staged passing is painfully real, for his intent has become clear. I must act quickly.

May 13, 1867... I have never killed a man and pray I do not weaken from my chosen path. If the Lord does not stand with me, an explanation lies hidden in the ruins. I can only beg a coward's forgiveness.

Amanda turned the page but the entries stopped there. What was Justin talking about? Who did he plan on killing, and had he done so? Fear and anxiety flowed with every stroke of his pen and she found herself filled with sympathy for his plight. The entries stopped so abruptly she wondered if that meant he'd been killed instead. Justin's writings showed him to be a gentle man. If he had killed someone, perhaps he couldn't bear to put it into words.

Tomorrow, she and Eric would search the burial ground for Justin's grave and check the date of his death. She wanted to know what had happened to the devoted father she'd met through the words in his diary. And she definitely wanted to know more about his daughter. Especially why Justin insisted she hide under another name. Amanda's name.

Amanda rose from the bed and looked around her room in the beautiful, nineteenth-century plantation house with new appreciation. She walked to the open gallery doors, hugging the old diary to her chest. She gazed through silver moonlight at the decaying burial grounds, then beyond them toward the crumbling red brick-and-mortar mausoleum.

"How many more of your secrets are waiting to be revealed?" she whispered, her smile expectant.