by Ann H. Gabhart
Charlotte Vance had everything, she was a Southern Belle, her Father was Senator Charles Vance of Kentucky. She had lost her Mother at a young age but as she grew up she became the matriarch of Grayson, she would one day inherit Grayson, land owned by her Mother's family for many years, she was engaged to Edwin and preparing for her wedding, and loved by her Father and their slaves as she treated them kindly. Little did she know that her world would soon be falling apart. Edwin is thinking about going to live with the Shakers on Harmony Hill, a short distance from Grayson, instead of getting married in a couple of months as planned and joining the two family plantations, and her Father tells her to plan a grand gala for his return home. He not only wants guests from both North and South states when a war is about to break out over slavery, but when he comes home he introduces her to his WIFE, young enough to be her sister! She's taken aback by this as she realizes she'll no longer have the say about what goes on at Grayson. They also have in their company an artist, Adam, who was reluctantly talked into doing a protrait of the new Mrs. Vance, Selena. Adam is an artist that doesn't like doing portraits but was coerced by his sister to do this one, he does drawings for Harper's Weekly. Adam is attracted to Charlotte at first sight, but is a confirmed bachelor who soon gets in the habit is "surprising" her, he seems to appear when least expected.
The day after the party, Selena has Charlotte's Mother's portrait removed from the wall, Charlotte can tell how things are going to be with that one action. Things go quickly downhill for her, Edwin tells her he is going to spend a month at Harmony Hill with the Shakers and if things go as he thinks they will, he'll be signing over his family property to the Shakers, as Believers can't own anything personally. Selena talks about selling their slaves and getting younger ones, so Charlotte asks her Father to sign ownership of Mellie, her personal slave and best friend since childhood, so she can't be sold. Following through on her Mother's promise to her, he does so without consulting Selena. Adam is still working on the portrait of Selena, although he's having problems because he doesn't like her, and "sneaking" up on Charlotte, not on purpose it just seems that way.
Charlotte soon has to make some quick decisions as Selena is planning on sending her to Virginia to finishing school. Charlotte takes Mellie and they go to join the Shakers at Harmony Hill where Edwin is, she feels that way she's at least close to Grayson. When they get to Harmony Hill the Shakers accept them so Mellie's ownership papers are handed over and she is now a free person, no longer a slave, Shakers don't believe in slavery. This was Charlotte's plan anyway, to free Mellie since she is her childhood friend.
They have been at Harmony Hill a short time when Adam appears, not knowing they are there, he thinks Charlotte is in Virginia since Selena told him that. Selena also leads her father to believe she's in Virginia. Mellie leaves shortly after that to run North with, Nate, her fiance, he is not free yet so they have to go north. They are spotted and have to separate so he doesn't get caught. Adam sees Mellie and helps hide her, as most of the time they don't believe the former slaves when they have freedom papers. He takes her to a safe house where she meets Nate. Adam gives her money and a note to give to his sister in Boston. He figures she owes him something for doing Selena's portrait, so he tells her to give Nate and Mellie a job.
Charlotte stays on at Harmony Hill, she still has not joined as a believer when Adam appears again. The elders allow him to do drawings for his paper. When Charlotte sees him in the biting room, she acts sick so she can leave, but he sees her hand on her cap and he feels he knows the person, soon he finds out he's right. He tries writing to her at Harmony Hill, the elders read his letter and pass it on to her with permission for her to answer his letter. The elders have to approve any correspondence coming and going, they allow Adam and Charlotte to continue corresponding so they, the Shakers, can keep up on the war activities, he also includes drawings of the war.
Do Edwin and Charlotte sign papers to become Shakers, does Adam return again, did Nate and Mellie make it to Boston, does Charlotte's Father ever learn where his daughter really is and what happens to Selena? Questions you'll have to find out for yourself by reading this book.
I found that Ann let the Shakers be a little 'nicer' in this book, there was still one that was more strict than the others, but she wasn't as 'angry' it seemed. I just don't understand why they don't believe in marriage, they can't have conversations with the brothers and sisters, if a family joins they are all separated, parents are not even allowed to talk to their children or express any emotions. It is very confusing to me.
I really liked this book, the storyline was very interesting. I am looking forward to the next two in the series, The Blessed is already out and The Gifted comes out next year, 2012.