Home > King of the South (Belgrave Dynasty, #1)

King of the South (Belgrave Dynasty, #1)
Author: Calia Read

PROLOGUE

 

 

Rainey

I was born on June fifth, 1891, during the heat of the summer.

The days were so hot you could barely breathe. When the sun set, the humidity stubbornly held its place. People slept with their windows open, braving the risk of mosquito bites. A sheen of sweat would cling to your forehead and neck through the night.

However, the night I was born, a storm swept through Charleston. It rattled the shutters and caused the wind to whistle through the cracks of the front doors along The Battery.

“The thunder swallowed your momma’s screams and your cries,” my daddy would tell me when I was a little girl.

“The devil knew you were comin’, and he got scared,” my momma would say.

To me, it’s fascinating what they each remembered from that night.

My older brother, Miles, was supposed to be removed from the home, but due to the storm, he was sent to the third floor. Once I was born, Miles came pounding down the stairs with his best friend hot on his heels.

They burst into the doors just as the midwife placed me, swaddled and content, in my momma’s arms.

“This is your little sister, Raina Leonore.”

According to my momma, Miles patted my head and said hello. His friend came up to me and stared at me intently. “Why is her face so red?” Livingston Lacroix asked bluntly.

Seconds later, I began to wail, and it became a joke between our families that it was a precursor to the relationship I’d have with Livingston.

When he poked, I protested.

However, as the years passed and I grew older, I would be the one to do the poking. My chagrin for Livingston grew exponentially. The high jinks became grand and artful. When I knew our families would see each other, I would preoccupy myself with the best ways to torture him. And in turn, he would do the same.

At the mere age of seven, I took our antics one step further when I shot him in the leg with Miles’s bow and arrow. Livingston was eighteen. My temper always got the best of me, and when he told me to leave them—him, Étienne, and Miles—be, I made up my mind then and there it was war. I ran into the house and up the stairs. I searched Miles’s room until I found his bow and arrows and ran back outside where I climbed a tree and waited quietly for Livingston.

Livingston had a charm that no one could deny. He could smile himself out of trouble and laugh away your tears. But no smile or words he said could escape the sleek precision of my aim.

In 1899, when my daddy died, the agony I felt seized every breath I took, and I freely waved a white flag between the two of us. Livingston chased away the pain with his grand stories. Each one better and brighter than the last. So vivid and real, they transported me to a different world, and my pain faded. It was temporary, but for a moment, I felt as though everything was all right.

Like most men, he wasn’t fond of tears. He saw them quite frequently the first year after my daddy passed, but that couldn’t be helped. My eyes felt as though they were fountains that couldn’t be turned off. Late one night, when he was visiting my brother, he found me in the garden crying. Underneath a Spanish moss tree, he sat beside me and patted my hand. I’ll never forget what he said next. “Rainey, you have more strength in your pinky finger than most grown men will ever possess. Soon, you’ll conquer this pain. You were born to survive this.”

In 1901, at the age of twenty-one, Livingston would be the one to wave the white flag when he lost his parents and younger brother in a train accident. I returned the kindness he gave to me by telling him stories. It was a dark period for the Lacroix family and especially for Livingston. I knew better than anyone that even though he would become better at coping with the pain, it would never leave. He would merely adapt to living without his loved ones. During that period, Livingston became a frequent visitor at the Pleasonton household.

By 1902, Livingston Lacroix became the king of the South with his gorgeous looks that bordered on being dangerous. He drank and charmed away his pain while I felt abandoned and left in the dust. Stories and comfort were no longer needed. To the utter horror of our relatives, I was the first one to pick up the proverbial weapon and end our treaty of peace.

While he finished college with his twin brother, Étienne, and my brother Miles, the times I saw him were few and far in between.

“God be with the woman who marries him.” Momma would sigh whenever Livingston visited.

“God be with the world with which we live in,” I would mutter whenever he left because wherever he walked, there was potential for a trail of broken hearts.

Very swiftly, he was growing into a man. Though he never grew tired of our antics as the years passed, he still saw me as just his best friend’s baby sister. As I grew older, I wanted to do things to make him see I was not a child, so I would wear dresses that flattered my figure, or leave my hair down, or even go as far as using rouge. Momma was appalled by my desires. She said a true Southern lady would never do such things, but I vowed the moment I was old enough, I would do all three to simply prove a point. Not for Livingston’s affections.

I did not care for Livingston in that way. I would never be one of the many ladies who fell for his charm. Of that I was certain.

Throughout the years, we would find ourselves at war with one another. If I took aim at him with my words, he returned the favor every time with a consistency that I more than relied on. Women came and went from his life, and I was there to remind him that he was an impossible reprobate. And he would grin with his devastating smirk that made most women blush, and say, “Le savauge, you sound upset that I’m not your reprobate.”

He had his life before him, and I believed the same for myself.

But then everything changed when the Great War struck. He left. My brother left. In 1919, Livingston came back. My brother did not.

We both lost pieces of ourselves.

The problem was, neither of us knew how to ask for help. And we were all out of white flags to wave.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Livingston

Blood seeps between my fingers, coating my skin and covering the dirt lining my fingernails. With both hands pressing on his leg wound, I use as much pressure as possible, but it doesn’t seem to help. Sweat drips down my forehead and into my line of vision.

Artillery shells impacting No Man’s Land cause smoke to billow around us. The metallic scent of blood saturates the air. The trench my unit’s been in has become my home for the past eight days. I sleep here, eat here, and protect myself with my Chauchat.

Others aren’t so lucky. Others die here.

The sergeant beneath me is losing too much blood, so I press harder on the wound. Stop the bleeding. Stop the bleeding. You’ll save him! Those words loop in my mind.

The blood is never-ending. I scream for a medic until my voice cracks, and then I look around. The rickety walkway, spanning the width of the trench, is overhead.

Strands of barbed wire are looped near it.

A fellow soldier is tending to a wounded soldier. The entire time my pressure on the wound never lessens. The sergeant, though, I’m losing him. I repeatedly call out for the medic. Even when the sergeant’s eyes close for good, I don’t remove my hands from the wound because maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance he can be saved on this hell on Earth …

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