Hello romance readers! Today author Piper Huguley is stopping by to share an excerpt from her debut novel, The Preacher’s Promise, a historical Christian Romance. I enjoyed the excerpt and as soon as I’m done with line edits, I’m going to read the entire book!
1866: Amanda Stewart promised her dying father to use her education to uplift their race and teach newly-freed slaves. When she arrives in Milford, Georgia, blacksmith and town leader Virgil Smithson tells her female teachers aren’t welcome there. But Virgil made his own promise—he told his dying wife that their daughter would learn to read and write. In Amanda, he meets a woman whose will is as strong as the iron he fashions. These combatants must put aside their personal feelings to learn God has his own plan that comes from the promises they made to their loved ones.
On the train bench, sat the most beautiful lady he had ever seen.
He would have been no less surprised if a colorful parrot or macaw from one of the Milford grandchildren’s picture books came and lit on the wooden bench.
March took in a deep breath and he put his hand on her shoulder to steady her. His little daughter trembled at the sight of the lady.
His own stomach pitched around like ash at the edge of the fire. The lady leaned forward to regard them both. Her skin was the medium brown color of cooked oatmeal, the kind someone else made and not him, since he tended to scorch it.
And she flashed a smile to them with small, even teeth of the pearliest white.
Her cheeks had dimples that sunk in so charmingly he would have sworn his heart flipped upside down inside of his chest.
But almost as spectacular as she was in face, she was surrounded by yards and yards of black dress material, a dress so big and wide with hoopskirting, she tamed it down with small dainty hands as she stood to greet him.
Her black bonnet bobbed in kind as she greeted them with a pleasantly voiced “Good Day to you.”
“She’s so pretty.” March breathed in.
She must be the schoolmaster’s wife. Such a beautiful lady must be married to a high-up man like a schoolmaster. Where was the schoolmaster? No one emerged and instantly, he was made a fool in front of this beauty. He would have to speak to confirm it.
“Ma’am. We’re here to meet the schoolmaster. Is he ’round this way?”
She regarded him with large eyes that resembled the candy chocolate drops Mrs. Milford kept in a big jar in the parlor. Her eyes were merry. “Are you Virgil Smithson?”
He did not put out his hand as it would not be appropriate to shake hands with another man’s wife. He had a daughter to raise and did not want to start trouble with the schoolmaster first off.
“I’m Amanda Stewart.”
Virgil nodded. A nice proper name. “And your husband is getting your trunks?” Although it made no sense, a trunk should have been unloaded with them, but he saw nothing.
“I have no husband, sir. And I have no trunk.”
“Your black dress?”
“For my father. Lawrence Stewart. I’m his daughter, Amanda. I’ve come to be the schoolteacher.” A rush of blood came into Virgil’s ears and his heart threatened to beat right out of his chest.
“You? A schoolteacher?”
The lady, she said her name was Amanda? She rearranged her big skirt, big like how Mrs. Milford’s used to be, and put her gaze on him. Something about her eyes, made her look as hopeful a little girl as March. “Yes, thank you Mr. Smithson. I’ve just finished the course at Oberlin College in Ohio. I’ve been my father’s pupil for many years before that. Let me assure you, I’m well qualified.”
“We wanted a man. Where is he?” Virgil blurted out and red heat blossomed onto his neck and face. She was sure to see it, no matter the deep brown of his skin tone. “Oh. So sorry for your loss.”
The look on her delicate features etched deep pain. If she had been punched in the gut, she would have looked as hurt.
He wanted to collect her up and tell her it would be all right. “I’m sorry for your loss, miss.” And he was sorry, but there was some terrible mistake.
“Thank you.” She pulled a delicate white hanky out of a skirt pocket within the big skirt and wiped at her nose with it.
The whiteness of her hanky contrasted sharply with the deep jet of her gown and Virgil almost forgot his daughter in his discomfort until March said, “Pretty lady teacher.”
And before he could stop it, Amanda Stewart bent down to talk with March, her big wide skirt spreading out into the dusty wooden platform. “Hello, I’m Miss Stewart.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Stewart.”
She bestowed that smile of hers on his little daughter and a connection knit itself between the lady and his child. No. Time to cut this off. He took March’s hand in his. “The community sent for a male teacher, Miss.”
Amanda stood and faced him again. This time he was surprised that the tip of her bonnet just about measured up to his chin. She carried herself much bigger than that. Or maybe it was her clothing. “You are mistaken, sir. The missive said you needed a teacher. I can provide that service.”
He let go of March’s hand and pointed down the road. “Most of them who needs the lessons is going to be old and big. Case you hadn’t heard, freed slaves want to read and write. Got to stand up to them and not have no tinies talking to them just so.”
He was a man who saved his eloquence in defense of God, especially when he prayed. He didn’t know how to talk to some fancy Northern schoolteacher lady.
“Mr. Smithson. What are tinies?”
“Well, now…” Virgil spread his hands.
“Someone like me, ma’am. Small. Getting in the way. Daddy calls me a tiny sometimes. But I’m March. Mamma name me that so I know when I was born.”
The lady inclined her head and looked down at March, her bonnet bobbing. “No tiny you, my child. You are a big girl. Even I can see that. A lovely spring child, just like your mamma named you.”
“Got lots to do,” Virgil interrupted. Wasn’t too good for March to get big notions in her head. “And I don’t have no time to watch over no schoolteacher lady.”
“There have been women schoolteachers all over the South before and after the war, Mr. Smithson. I have my letter from the mission right here.”
Virgil held up a hand. “I don’t need to see no letter. And those women are widows. Or married. White ladies.”
Silence lay between them.
The cast of her skin lit from within, shone incandescent. The recent loss in her life turned up in the deep wells that showed sharp cheekbones above the dimples. Did she have Indian blood? A mixed-blood lady teacher would have an even harder time. No, she had almost got him, but she had to go home. He picked up her case. “Well, I get you on to Pauline’s and get you comfortable for the night. Bring you back here to meet the train in the morning.”
If he had shot March with an arrow, he couldn’t have wounded his daughter more, judging from the screwed-up look on her brown face. And made him all the more determined for this pretty lady to get on about her business. This woman with her fancy bonnet and her big trailing dress with the smallest possible waist put big ideas into March’s head. What would he do with that once this lady was gone on about her rich life? Best to put all of that to an end. Now. Today. Well, at least tomorrow.
He moved off the platform, and March dragged her feet in her dusty shoes. But the rustle of the lady’s skirts did not follow them.
Virgil turned. She was still up there on the platform, a dark bell against the afternoon sky.
“Got to walk. Town’s up this way, Miss. Can’t wait out here all night.” If she stayed all night on the platform, he really would be responsible for her then. The thought of what could happen to her in the night made his dry throat catch.
“I’m staying right here, Mr. Smithson.”
A stubborn female. An even worse sight for March to see.
He started again. “Nightfall come, Miss, and the night riders could come and do you great harm. Wouldn’t want it to come to that.”
Couldn’t she see her safety was at stake? And he couldn’t touch her to bring her on. He looked at March to see if she were concerned about this lady’s safety, but his daughter, his own child, looked away from him.
Miss Amanda embodied danger itself. She had to go.
“I mean to say, I can’t go anywhere else, Mr. Smithson. If you’ll just take me to the teacher house, I’ll be comfortable.”
“I’m telling you, Pauline will put you up. What else you need to know?”
“I’m homeless, sir. I have no home or family or anywhere else to go.”
He dropped her case to the dust, clean out of options and responses. No matter that he was a freeman who bought himself out of slavery way before the war come. A man who used fire to make iron bend to his will had just met his match.
Piper G Huguley is the author of the “Home to Milford College” series which follows the building of a Teachers and Preachers college from its founding in 1866. The Preacher’s Promise is book one in the series. On release, the prequel novella to the “Home to Milford College” series, The Lawyer’s Luck reached #1 Amazon Bestseller status on the African American Christian Fiction charts
Huguley is also the author of “Migrations of the Heart,” a five-book series of inspirational historical romances set in the early 20th century featuring African American characters. Book one in the series, A Virtuous Ruby won the Golden Rose contest in Historical Romance in 2013 and is a Golden Heart finalist in 2014. Book four in the series, A Champion’s Heart, was a Golden Heart finalist in 2013.
She blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.