The Cost of Hope
Book 1 in the Cost of Love Series
What can a former slave without a penny to her name and no memory beyond the last five years ask from life?
Soleil has no delusions of living a grand life. Or even a happy one for that matter. The only thing she wants is safety for her daughter. But when even that seems impossible she takes matters into her own hands. Only life has a different plan, sending her into the arms of a handsome plantation owner. The strangest part is, he claims to already love her.
Alexander Cummings had long ago accepted that love was lost to him. After picking up the pieces of his broken heart, he threw himself into the duties of owning one of the largest plantations in Elba, Alabama. But life shows him mercy when the woman he thought he lost appears back in his life as if conjured from his deepest desires. Only she returns far from the same and with secrets he never imagined.
As society threatens, and lives could be lost, only together can they both get what they want. But neither will come out unscathed and they must ask themselves, is the cost of love to high?
Carr's attention to emotional detail, be it the caustic dialogue of the antagonists or the tender interactions between the lovers, is certain to resonate with readers.
~BookLife Prize Judge
This well-told historical romance is intense and powerful.
~Publishers Weekly Reviewer
Second place winner of the Romance Writers of America HHRW Chapter's Romance through the Ages Contest- Civil War Romance Category
Quarter Finalist in the BookLife by Publishers Weekly Prize Contest
Books in this series:
Enjoy this excerpt
The Cost of Hope
New Brockton, Alabama
Sarah stared into the coffin-sized hole that represented the end of her hope. Mrs. Williams was dead, and with her had died the little protection she’d provided.
Rain poured down, plastering Sarah’s dress to her body like a second skin. The wind pelted her with droplets of water, each one an icy razor. She didn’t mind the pain; because of it her outside matched the painful bleakness she felt within.
The storm howled its intent to destroy her, but to Sarah, it was no more than a mosquito’s annoying buzz. She knew she needed to get out of the storm, but her body refused to move. All she could do was stare into the black hole and try to keep the maddening hysteria at bay.
The light pull of a tiny hand on her skirt freed her from her trance. Air filled her lungs as her chest heaved with a cleansing breath like a corpse come back to life. Sounds, sights, and sensations flooded her previously muted brain. Lightning flashed across the gloomy night sky, illuminating the rows of weathered headstones around her. Each told the brief story of a person once amongst the living.
Sarah closed her eyes against the despair lurking at the edge of her sanity. As she opened her eyes, the sight of her beautiful daughter’s face was a balm for her soul. This precious little one was the reason she needed to hold tight to her mental stability.
“Maman, come inside.”
Sarah stroked the side of her daughter’s face. A small smile pulled at her lips. “Oui mon trésor. We will catch our deaths in this rain.” She allowed Hope to pull her by the hand, silently following her back to the house.
The soft thud of the front door closing as they entered the house sounded like the loud hammer of a nail being driven in her own coffin. A chill ran along Sarah’s spine as they walked down the narrow hallway toward their room. She looked over her shoulder to find a set of lustful eyes roaming every inch of her body. Disgust hit her hard, which made it difficult to keep it off her face. She managed to hold tightly to the mask of indifference she had been trained to wear at all times.
James’s lewd thoughts were on full display. His hand stroked up and down his inner thigh as his eyes slowly undressed her. His leash had been removed, and for the first time in a long time, Sarah felt petrified. A beating she could take, but to endure what she saw in his eyes…she wasn’t so sure. She averted her gaze back to her daughter. She needed to come up with a plan to protect them, and soon.
“Maman he scares me.”
Sarah lay next to her daughter in their tiny bed, stroking her pigtails as she held her close. “I know, mon amour. But do not worry I will always protect you.”
“Of course, my dear.” Sarah kissed her on the forehead and pulled the covers to her chin. “How much do I love you?”
“Five hugs’ worth,” Hope said. Her little arms opened wide, fingers wiggling.
“How much do I love you?”
“Twenty hugs’ worth!”
“How much do I love you?” Sarah whisper-shouted.
“Unlimited hugs’ worth!”
“That’s right! I love you with all that I am. Now close your eyes and rest.”
Hope kissed her mother on the cheek before rolling to her side and closing her eyes. Sarah stroked her daughter’s head until her breathing evened out and sleep claimed her. Meanwhile, what-ifs and trying to piece together a plan for their future kept sleep an elusive state for Sarah.
Nightmare became reality when the room door creaked, alerting Sarah to an intruder’s presence. The glow of his candle-light cast a sinister look over James’s features. Sarah squeezed her eyes shut and lay perfectly still, willing him away.
“Sarah, come to me now,” he whispered into the room.
She refused to move. She prayed to whatever God would listen to a nobody like herself that he would leave her be.
“I said come now, or I’ll come get the little brat instead.”
The rush of nausea at the thought of what was to come nearly sent her rushing for a waste bin. Tears stung the back of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She extracted herself from her daughter’s arms, slipping from the bed.
The smile of triumph and gloating spread across James’s face with each step she took toward him. She locked her hands at her sides to keep from smacking it off. Each step took more effort than the last. Her feet dragged across the floor as though laden with iron. Satisfied that she would follow, James turned to lead the way to his bedroom.
Panic, swift and overwhelming, overtook Sarah as the door to James’s room came into view. Her breaths wheezed through her lungs and tiny stars formed at the sides of her vision. Every fiber of her being wanted her to turn and run.
Like a predator taunting its prey, James held his room door open for Sarah to walk through ahead of him. Sarah took one step at a time, each more difficult than the last, until she stood just over the threshold.
James brushed past her to sit in his large wing back chair in the room’s corner. Near him, a fire simmered in the fireplace. Under different circumstances it would have lent a soothing, romantic ambiance to the room.
Sarah stole a peek at the large brass, four-poster bed in the middle of the room. No embroidered pillows or other decorations rested on the large surface, only starched white sheets and a serviceable blue spring quilt. She had made that bed three days ago. If she had known it would be the place her soul died, maybe she would have taken more care to add a little beauty to it.
With his legs spread wide, his back slouched against the chair, and his hands clasped together in his lap, James looked every bit the arrogant king of his castle. As if made of stone, Sarah stood unmoving with her gaze trained on the floor, awaiting his next command.
It took a moment for Sarah to get her feet to move, but slowly they carried her to stand in front of James. A rough hand gripped the skirt of her dress and pulled her between his open legs.
“You belong to me now. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes,” she whispered past dry lips.
“My mama treated you too good. Had you thinking you were something special. And them nut-job Yankees went and gave you darkies freedom. Foolishness. Well, my mama is gone, and you’re my employee now. That means we play by my rules. From now until I say so, you sleep in my bed. You want to sleep in my bed, don’t you?”
Sarah couldn’t push the lie he wanted to hear past her lips. To some, James might be considered handsome: his sandy blond hair, chiseled jaw, and clear blue eyes were features many envied. But Sarah could see the evil beneath; she saw the darkness that would have him beat her simply for his own amusement. She had seen it first-hand, and his inner ugliness bled right through those blue eyes.
She knew what she needed to say, but couldn’t bring her lips to form the words. As the seconds ticked by with the words unspoken, James’s lips pressed into a white slash. He dug his fingers into Sarah’s waist and squeezed.
“I said you want to sleep in my bed don’t you.”
She winced in pain but refused to cry out. “Yes,” she ground out past gritted teeth.
“Good.” His grip on her waist loosened as he sat back in his chair with a smug grin. “Get on your knees and crawl to me.”
“No!” The reaction was so immediate and primal, Sarah couldn’t stop the word before it slipped from her mouth. All playfulness vanished from James’s face. Beast. Demon. These words came to mind as Sarah faced the twisted expression and heinous snarl that overtook his face.
Sarah didn’t see it coming until it was too late. James’s hand shot out, slapping her across the face. She was too shocked to recover her balance before she crumpled to the ground.
“I said crawl. Now!” James growled. “Or else I’ll go get that little brat and play with her instead.”
“No! Please, I beg your forgiveness.”
Sarah obeyed his command, crawling on her hands and knees to James’s chair. James’s hand shot out again, slapping her across the other cheek. She found herself dazed and on her back, the metallic taste of blood pooling in her mouth.
A heavy body came atop her, crushing the air from her lungs. James clawed at her clothing, ripping the fabric and raining wet sloppy kisses over her neck and face. Fear, thick and crushing, spurred her into action. Fueled by instinct, Sarah clawed, kicked, and fought with everything she had.
She bucked her body as wildly as she could, trying her best to push him off. But his hold was too tight, and her struggling only served to tire her out.
As if restraining a child, James grabbed her small wrists in his large hands and pinned them above her head. “That’s right, fight back. It makes this more fun.”
“Get off me!” she yelled.
Despite her exhaustion, Sarah refused to stop fighting. He would not crush her soul. This would not be her fate. She would never be a willing victim. In the only act of defiance left to her, Sarah spite in his face. James smiled and wiped the spit on her dress.
“Get off my mama!”
Startled by the small voice, Sarah craned her neck to see Hope running toward them.
“No, mon amour! Stay back.”
The command fell on deaf ears as Hope began pounding on James’s back. As if she weighed nothing, James grabbed the back of Hope’s dress and flung her backward. Tears spilled unchecked down Sarah’s face at the sight of her little girl crumpled on the ground, crying. She took advantage of James’s distraction, and balling her fists, she put all her strength into the punch she landed under his chin.
He fell back, and Sarah pulled herself from underneath him. She rose to her feet and ran to Hope, scooping her into her arms. She was halted in her tracks by the burning of her hair being ripped from her scalp. Her head and neck jerked backward, and tears burned the back of her eyes. The pain was so intense she nearly dropped Hope.
“You’re gonna pay for that,” James snarled, next to her ear.
His hot breath was laced with the acrid smell of tobacco; it assaulted her nostrils, almost caused her to lose the contents of her stomach. Hope’s frightened wails. Searing pain. The overpowering sensory stimuli threatened to shut down her ability to think.
Desperate, Sarah’s eyes scanned the room until they spotted the vase perched on the dresser next to them. She reached out with her free hand to grab the vase before swinging it over her shoulder, connecting with James’s head. Almost as soon as she felt the ease of tension in her scalp, a searing pain sliced across her back. Sarah stumbled forward, an arm extended to brace herself against the dresser.
Silence. The deafening drum of her heart and harsh, ragged breathes being pulled into her lungs nearly caused her to miss it. No noise from her attacker greeted her ears. That James had been injured-or worse-was almost too fanciful a thought to hope for. Trembling racked her body as she glanced over her shoulder. James lay unconscious on the floor. In his hand was his hunting knife, dripping with blood.
Sarah’s brain went blank with relief and shock. She momentarily forgot how to speak, how to think, how to move. Light whimpers penetrated her foggy mind. Sarah looked down at her daughter’s tear-streaked face. That Hope had witnessed James’s abuse tore a new hole in Sarah’s heart. She chastised herself for failing at her most important job of protecting her daughter, no matter the cost.
But such thoughts were for another time; she needed to move. Fueled by the adrenaline surging through her veins, Sarah ignored the pain in her back as she kicked the knife away from James’s hand and ran to her room.
Sarah placed Hope on the floor before she scanned the room. What would they need? She would have to hold Hope for most of the journey and wouldn’t be able to carry too much extra weight with her wound.
“Maman, I’m scared.”
“I know, mon amour. All will be well.”
“You gots blood there,” Hope said, pointing at her mother’s back.
“I know, but it doesn’t hurt. Grab Mr. Snow.”
Without protest, Hope obeyed and ran to retrieve her make-shift doll from the bed.
Sarah grabbed some fabric from her sewing area, tying some around her wound to stunt the bleeding and the rest around her shoulder to create a sling. She packed a bag with thread, scissors, and an extra dress for herself and Hope.
“Come here, my love,” she beckoned to her daughter.
Sarah scooped Hope into her arms, then tucked her into the sling. With one last scan of the room to make sure she had what she needed, Sarah turned to walk out the door.
As soon as her feet touched the ground outside the place she had called home for the past six years, Sarah broke into a run.
Where are you going? her mind screamed at her. She had no answer, but she knew she had to keep running. She had to get Hope to safety. The head start she had wouldn’t last forever; soon James would wake up and send the dogs after her.
She had to keep running. Just keep running.