Miss Phoebe Antoinette Honeycutt, of the Atlanta Honeycutts if you must know, is the youngest of five children and is raised to be a proper southern belle. She is taught from the cradle “a lady does not give voice to her private thoughts or air her tragedies to any passing stranger” and, “a Honeycutt female does not weep in the face of danger”. Having been thoroughly ingrained with these maxims, she is told often by her genteel but resolute mother, “Phoebe dear, I do declare that I plum must of run out of Honeycutt backbone by the time you came along”. Phoebe is beautiful with a flawless complexion, a full pink mouth, big bourbon-coloured eyes, and chestnut-coloured locks that glisten around her shoulders like waves of dark chocolate when it isn’t braided and pinned. She tried at all times to emulate her mother and two stunningly attractive sisters, but had to be content to live in their shadows, her mother berating her for allowing her emotions to often run away with her. Her belief in her own beauty and her ability to succeed at whatever she turns her hand to is at an all-time low – in fact, she believes that she is just plain useless.
Five years after the civil war and finding herself to be the last of the Honeycutts, Phoebe is forced to sell the family farm. At the tender age of twenty-five she has a ready made family of two children without a husband, so she makes her way towards Santa Fe hoping, with the support of her only surviving relatives there, to make a new home for herself and her sister’s children. Knowing she is unworthy of a man’s love and is destined never to be married, Phoebe is determined to make a success of this venture. With her two wards, William, who is almost a man at the age of twelve, and Sarah Finnerty, who has the makings of a right proper little lady at eight, Phoebe finds herself lost and stranded somewhere in the wilds of Texas, through no fault of her of course. She wasn’t to know that the mules would wander off as soon as she and the children stepped down for a drink. Apart from trying to take good care of her niece and nephew, the only thing that Phoebe can do now, worn and exhausted, is pray that a saviour comes to rescue them from their uncomfortable predicament.
With an easy stride speaking suggestively of his confidence and a devilish grin, Jack Valentine was taught over and over again that southern women were nothing but trouble. Having seen first-hand the inhumanity and senselessness of war, he moved to San Francisco to the escape the memories of lost friends and shattered innocence in a war where he realised that he didn’t hate anybody enough to kill another person. It is there that he makes his fortune through shipping goods from the east to the west. Tall and robust with black hair and a moustache that framed sensual lips, his swarthy complexion displays to advantage the wickedest blue eyes, which are as clears as a summer’s day that you have ever seen. Many know him as Black Jack Valentine: scourge of the South; defender of the Union; right-hand man to General Sheridan himself. Stubborn, with a deep rumbling baritone, Jack doesn’t take fools gladly. Surprisingly, though, he has a way with children – even if he is a plain-speaking Yankee, and a cussing one to boot. Except for the family back home, Jack Valentine needs nobody, and nobody needs him. And that’s just the way he likes it.
Concluding a business deal in Austin, Jack travels toward Santa Fe on his horse, Lucky Strike. The animal received its moniker due to the fact that the large black beast was won in a poker game. Just as Jack is deciding his trip through Texas is not too deplorable, he encounters a veiled woman and two pint-sized children. Upon further scrutiny, he realises to his ever-increasing amazement that all three of them are dressed as if for a party. When the woman speaks, Jack cringes. He had hoped never to hear a southern drawl again before now. He is not a man who can see a lady in distress and not try to help her, so resigning himself to his fate, Jack retrieves the mules and wagon for this pathetic female, unable to believe that she didn’t know the wagon had a brake. On his return he realises that he must play nursemaid to the aggravating woman, who had probably never seen as honest day’s work, if she and her children are to survive the desert. Her mincing ways and airs and graces are provoking beyond endurance, but Jack begins to suspect over time that this woman is not at all what she seems to be. To top it off, the exasperating woman is beginning to shake his serene sense of order, and he doesn’t like it one tiny bit.
After the Civil War sees many changes. A change of circumstance, a change of thinking, a change of doing things. Miss Phoebe Antoinette Honeycutt clings to the old ways like a dying man clings to his last breath. She fights Jack tooth and nail as he seeks to open her eyes and make her transition to the new world a smooth one. She despairs when her wards more easily accept the changes that are happening around them. Especially so when they appear to bond more readily with Jack, a stranger, than with herself. But what choice does she have? If she abandons the old ways, how is she ever going to cope with the tragedies that have befallen her? As Jack escorts his charges to Santa Fe, he realises that he is mistaken in his initial judgement of Phoebe. She is more than just a southern belle extraordinaire. She’s no stranger to hard work and she has tremendous courage, even if she sometimes wants for common sense. She has an excessive amount of pride and secrets that torment her. Getting her to open up about her demons is like getting blood out of a stone, causing Jack to lose his temper countless times. It’s a vicious circle though, for when Jack loses his temper, he starts cussing, and when he starts cussing, Phoebe becomes more clam-like. In Phoebe’s Valentine, escaping the reaches of a nemesis, and dealing with the challenges that only the frontier can produce are only minor hurdles as this couple slowly learn to re-evaluate their biased opinions of each other. Heaven forbid, they might just come to respect each other.
Realistically set in the post Civil War era, Alice Duncan projects mental images that are so realistic you can feel the heat and taste the dust of the wilds of Texas. Phoebe’s Valentine is not only lively and light-hearted, but also poignant and exhilarating with the humour of children’s innocence thrown in for good measure. Alice Duncan has done her research well. Phoebe’s Valentine diplomatically handles the essence of the times, when corsets were thrown out windows as the frontier was pushed further west. People’s thinking had to undergo radical changes in order to survive, regardless of whether it was based on ignorance or not. Alice Duncan has been more than able to demonstrate this with a humorous edge whilst maintaining a smooth storyline throughout the entire book. Published by PageFree Publishing, Phoebe’s Valentine is a must read which should be added to your library as you will want to read this one time and again. You will want to follow Jack and Phoebe as they journey towards a new era and a new life. You will share their joys and sorrows, as this book is a most absorbing read. Alice Duncan’s book, Phoebe’s Valentine is available now. So what are you waiting for?