Deanna Beaufort’s family line could be traced back almost three hundred years.
One of the Beauforts fought against the British in the Siege of Savannah in 1778 and another defended the city against the northerners in 1864. Deanna’s grandmother had told her stories about all of the great Beauforts of the past since the time she was three years old. She knew them all by heart. They were as familiar to her as her neighbors.
The old Beaufort house in Savannah had been built in the early nineteenth century and had never been out of the family’s possession. When they’d had money, the house was a point of pride. Now, however, it was just a money-pit, and it had been crumbling down around Deanna’s head for as long as she could remember.
At the moment, it was the grand staircase that was in danger of collapsing beneath their feet. Deanna and her youngest sister, Kelly, were on their hands and knees, trying to nail down the loose planks before someone tripped on one and cracked open their skull.
“This is ridiculous,” Kelly said, pushing one of her long braids back behind her shoulder and her glasses back up her nose. “Tacking some wood down isn’t going to do any good. The whole staircase needs to be rebuilt.”
Deanna sat up, sighing as she looked up at the dilapidated stairs. She used to slide down the balustrade when she was a girl, but she wouldn’t dare put any weight on it now. She loved the old house, and it hurt her, almost physically, to see it in such bad shape. “I know. But unless you’re prepared to do it yourself, then it’s not going to get done. It will take us five years to save up enough money to pay for that kind of work.”
“I know. If you’d let me get a job, I could—“
“No,” Deanna said sharply. “You’re finishing college first. We’ve had this discussion before.”
Their parents died when they were kids, and they’d been raised by their grandmother ever since. The life insurance ran out several years ago, since their grandmother wasn’t exactly into frugal living, so money had been tight for a while. Deanna worked as a receptionist in a marketing company—without a college degree that was the best she could do—and their middle sister, Rose, worked as a nanny for a family who was presently summering in London. But the sisters had decided a long time ago that Kelly would get through college, since she was the most academically-minded of the three.
If their grandmother had her wish, all three would be married to wealthy men by now, but so far that hadn’t happened. Deanna was twenty-six, and she hadn’t had a serious boyfriend in four years. She was pretty sure that her eccentric, intimidating grandmother scared away any guy who might otherwise be interested, but she didn’t dare say that out loud.
Her grandmother loved her and had raised them when they’d had absolutely no one else. So what if she was obsessed with their family history—so much so that it caused her to act irrationally a lot of the time? Deanna wasn’t going to give up on her.
Since she was eleven and her parents had died in a car accident, she’d worked desperately to hold her family together, often a losing battle as they always seemed on the verge of disaster.
“What are you doing?” The sharp voice came from behind them and startled Deanna so much she jerked.
She turned to see her grandmother, a small woman with rigid posture who always wore a black dress and a tight bun. “We’re working on these loose boards. I almost fell down the steps earlier because I tripped on one.”
“Well, you can do it later. We need to leave for the ball in thirty minutes.”
The “ball” was a black-tie party at the country club for which her grandmother refused to give up her membership. Three or four times a year, Deanna was hauled to one of the parties and foisted on any available bachelor who happened to be present.
She’d known what was coming this evening, but she’d been hoping that pretending it didn’t exist might make it go away.
That particular strategy never worked, but she kept trying.