- Publisher: Grand Central
- Release Date: 1997, 2001, 2014; Dell Books 1981
- ISBN-13: 978-0446364287
- Available Languages: Japanese (4), Norwegian, Indonesian, Estonian (9949), Germany, Large Print
- Available Formats: Audio, e-Book, Print
Camille Jameson has the chance of a lifetime—the opportunity to renovate Mississippi’s proudest plantation house. The decorator accepts the dream job, not knowing that it’s the Prescott family who has commissioned her. Or that Zack, the man she couldn’t forget, would be there daring her to risk heartbreak—and love—again.
Camille brought her compact car to an abrupt stop as she caught her first glimpse of Bridal Wreath. She had followed the directions given her at the tourist information office in historic Stanton Hall and taken Homochitto Street from downtown Natchez. The lady behind the desk told her that the lane leading to the old mansion would be on her left just before the road she was on intersected with Highway 65.
She almost missed the small, weather-faded sign obscured by thick shrubbery designating that this unpaved trail was the driveway she sought. She wended her way over the deep potholes while marveling at the enormous oaks trailing their gray, beardlike moss from branches of inestimable proportions; the magnolias that still retained a few creamy, fragrant, white blossoms, despite the lateness of the season; and the fountainlike formation of the shrubs lining the drive that had given the plantation house its name. The snowy flowers of the bridal wreath had long since disappeared in the summer’s heat, but the branches were thick with their dainty, bright green foliage.
Camille opened the car door and stepped out, leaving the engine to idle. She gazed at the house before her. The basic facts of its history flashed through her mind. It had been built in 1805. The colonial architecture depicted the period. It had two stories. The rooms on the second floor opened onto a balcony that provided a roof for the front porch surrounding the first floor on three sides. The structure was red brick, though the years had faded the color to a dull rose. Six white columns rose majestically from the porch to support the balcony. Tall, wide windows flanked by forest green shutters were symmetrically spaced, three on each side of the huge front door, which was white. Suspended on a heavy chain was a brass chandelier hanging just over the front door.
Camille Jameson sighed in ecstasy and climbed back into her car. As she engaged the gears she laughed out loud and shouted, “Scarlett O’Hara, eat your heart out!”
That she had been hired to restore this mansion to its former glory was an intoxicating thought. She prayed silently that she would be able to meet the challenge. It was important to her career as a decorator and to her financial future.
Camille and her mother, Martha, owned a decorating business in Atlanta. Martha Jameson had tried to maintain it after Camille’s father died, but by the time Camille had graduated from college with her decorator’s degree, it had deteriorated into little more than a gift shop featuring undistinguished antiques and mediocre bric-a-brac. Camille soon began ordering contemporary decorating items and increasing the quality of the antiques they stocked. She offered her services as a consultant to customers who sought advice in their choice of wallpaper, carpet, draperies, furniture, and entire decorating schemes. Camille’s good taste and easy, friendly manner had soon earned her a reputation and a respectable clientele. She now employed two other women who helped in the “studio,” while her mother handled over-the-counter sales and the bookkeeping.
When Camille had been approached by Mr. Rayburn Prescott of Natchez, Mississippi, to redo his mansion, she jumped at the chance. This was by far her most important commission. She was well acquainted with the antebellum homes of old Natchez. She and her mother had toured the restored houses during one of the annual spring pilgrimages. Camille had been a young girl then, but those lovely homes had made a lasting impression on her.
Rayburn Prescott was the typical Southern gentleman, using courtly manners when addressing Camille or Martha. The other ladies in the studio had twittered when he spoke to them in a drawl more pronounced than they were accustomed to hearing even in Atlanta. His shock of white hair was still thick and waved away from a broad, high forehead. His blue eyes retained a sparkle, though he must have been approaching seventy. He was tall, stately, distinguished, and eloquent.
After the preliminaries of getting acquainted, he told Camille about his house in Natchez. “I’m ashamed of it, Miss Jameson. After my wife died, over twenty years ago, I let it fall into a sad state of disrepair. It has become a bachelor’s house. My son spends most of his waking hours at our plantation across the river, but he agrees with me that we should restore Bridal Wreath to its original beauty.”
“It has such a lovely name,” Camille mused, already conjuring up pictures of the house in her mind. “I’ll gladly accept your commission.”
“But we haven’t even talked about your fee or any of the details!” he exclaimed.
“It doesn’t matter. I know I want to do it.” She laughed at his surprised expression before his face crinkled into a pleasant smile. She had come highly recommended by a friend of his who owned a restaurant in Peachtree Plaza that Camille had decorated. Rayburn Prescott was convinced of her abilities. They talked about her fee and she was astounded at the sum he quoted. He gave her an almost limitless budget for the restoration. Apparently she wouldn’t have to consciously economize. He insisted that she stay at Bridal Wreath during the restoration, promising that arrangements to that effect would be made for her. They set a mutually convenient date for her arrival, and now she was here, standing on the front porch, her purse under her arm, waiting for the bell she had rung to be answered. Upon close inspection, she noticed the chipping paint, the dulling rust that was corroding the brass appointments on the front door, and the warped boards waving the front porch beneath her feet. If the interior were as bad as the exterior, she had a lot of work to do.
Camille smiled wryly to herself. Work was all she had to do. Her life revolved around her career, much to the consternation of her mother and close friends, most of whom had husbands and several children. Her mother encouraged her to date the young men who stopped by the studio on contrived business, but Camille remained aloof to their advances. She passed off their flirtations as inconsequential, and Martha Jameson worried about her daughter’s obvious lack of interest in the opposite sex.
It distressed Camille to see her mother so frustrated over her love life, or rather the lack of one, but she couldn’t tell her the reason. She couldn’t say, “Mother, I gave myself to a man once, and all I felt afterward was shame and humiliation. I don’t intend to fall into that trap again.” One didn’t tell one’s mother things like that. Besides, some memories were too painful to articulate. Camille shuddered and drew a long sigh at those recollections just as the front door opened. She looked into a smiling face.
“Hello. I’m Camille Jameson.” She smiled, not knowing how fetching she looked with the sunlight bouncing off her dark, curly hair.
“Hello, Miss Jameson.” The man’s welcoming face was wreathed in smiles. “Mr. Prescott is waiting for you. He’s as excited as a schoolboy going to his first dance. I’m sure glad you made the trip safely. He’s been worried about a young lady like you driving herself all the way from Atlanta.”
“I had no trouble on the trip, and I’m just as anxious to see Mr. Prescott again.” She stepped into the entrance hall as the man moved aside. She glanced around her in awe. It was just as she hoped it would be!
“My name is Simon Mitchell, Miss Jameson. Any time you need anything, you call on me,” the man said, drawing her attention momentarily away from her perusal of the house.
“Thank you, Mr. Mitchell.” Her smile was genuine.
“Simon, please. Have a seat, Miss Jameson, and I’ll go find Mr. Prescott. I think he’s out back watering his plants.”
“Take your time. I won’t mind waiting.” He nodded and moved toward the back of the house down the broad hall that ran its length. Camille longed to peer into the rooms that opened off the corridor, but felt she should wait for her host and new employer to show her through his home. Southerners like Rayburn Prescott were scrupulous about manners and etiquette.
She sat down on a chair in the hall and assumed the ladylike pose drilled into her by her mother: back straight, knees together, hands reposing gracefully in her lap. She suddenly wished she had a more refined look. She was cursed with dark, curly hair that she wore at a medium length so that on particularly humid days, she could pull it back into a chignon when only the tendrils around her face escaped into unruly curls. The dark hair was complemented by her apricot-toned skin. It wasn’t dark enough to be called olive, and not rosy enough to be fair. Instead it glowed with the color of warm honey. She had always coveted her friends who had Dresden complexions that blushed becomingly. She saw no compensation in having skin that tanned to a dusky hue under the summer sun. And no one else on earth had eyes like hers. Why couldn’t she have plain blue or green or hazel or even brown without those silly golden highlights in them? Other brown eyes were touched with a spark of hazel, or were mysteriously deep like ebony, but hers reflected gold in their depths. She hated them. Her long, dark lashes, wide, generous mouth, and pert nose had combined with her hair to give her a gypsy look. That had been her father’s pet name for her—his little gypsy.
A Note From Sandra
Originally published under the pseudonym Rachel Ryan as Dell Candlelight Ecstasy #21. Love’s Encore was my first published book. Remember Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England”? That song sparked the idea for this story. In it, I incorporated my love of the Deep South, interior decorating, and antebellum houses. You’ll no doubt notice the many things that have changed in our culture since the early 1980s when I wrote this book specifically for a line of romances. But the theme is a constant—two people meeting and falling in love despite the odds and their self-imposed resistance. In 1997, it was re-released and became a New York Times bestseller, staying on that list for four weeks. If you’re acquainted with Love’s Encore, I hope you enjoy revisiting Camille and Zack and their love story. If it’s new to you, I take pleasure in sharing my first book with you.