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When she was young—and she seemed always to be young—Evelyn
Whitebloom was convinced her father’s garden covered the whole
earth. If there were boundaries, she couldn’t see them. Only endless gar-den plots carved into a thick carpet of fescue so green that on a wind-whipped day in Savannah, when the humidity lifted like a thick curtain,
the intense hue of the lawn stung her pale blue eyes to the point of tears.

It was the only time she cried, and even then it wasn’t truly weeping.
Whatever for? Her life was too heavenly for anything but the brightest of

Her first memories were of walking with her father through row after
row of mulberry trees covered with purplish black fruit. In no time she
would be nose-to-chin purple, which delighted her father immensely.

Although their home was one of the most venerable in the Historic Dis-trict, where the wide expanse of Forsyth Park served as their front lawn, it
was here in the garden, surrounded by her father’s floral handiwork, that
Evelyn spent most of her waking hours.

The Garden—he said it as if it were on the Register and needed capi-talizing—was her father’s pride and joy, eclipsed only by his love for his
daughter. He demonstrated his love in infinite ways, not the least of which
was his concern for her welfare.

“You may do this and this but not that,” he often commanded. Evelyn
teased her father that he treated her with such care one might deduce he’d

Oliver Wendell Holmesmade her by hand himself. If that were true, he’d assured her, then she was
fashioned from pure ivory taken from the single finest animal in God’s

There were few things in life that mattered more to Evelyn than her
father’s love. In truth, she couldn’t think of any others.
He’d designed his garden to please her, of that she was certain. Fragrant
jasmine tickled her nose. Brilliant blue hydrangeas and saucy pink man-devillas tantalized her eyes. Trees heavy with pears and peaches, apricots
and plums filled her mouth with their juicy, sweet fruit most months of
the year. Stately ferns, taller than she, waved at her when the occasional
soft breeze blew in from the Atlantic, eighteen miles to the east. Hosta
skirted the borders of smaller garden squares, and wisteria spread its grace-ful tendrils along low brick walls, dividing the immense green space into
manageable quarters, which converged at the centerpiece of the garden:
the gazebo.

Not that she’d ever truly seen the gazebo. No one had. Ever. It was sur-rounded by a towering stand of live oaks, older than time and dripping
with a heavy curtain of Spanish moss, smothering the whole gazebo in a
gray-green shroud. Whatever the appeal had once been, the gazebo was to
be avoided at all costs. Hadn’t her father said so? Yes, indeed he had,
numerous times. The only reason a young person would go there, he cau-tioned her, would be to look for trouble. The “trouble” was not described.

He said only that she would be ruined. In fact, “dead to him” was how
he’d phrased it, which made her shudder at the very thought.
“Because I’ve asked you not to” was the only explanation he ever
offered. She loved him, adored him. Obeying him was effortless then.
Only last week she’d overheard him making it clear to her beau, Adam
Mann, that under no circumstances was he to step inside the gazebo—not
alone, and especially not with his daughter, Evie.
Evie. Her father’s favorite term of endearment for her.
Of late, Adam had tentatively begun to call her that too, which thrilled
her. They were betrothed, were they not? Friends giggled at her old-fashioned name for it. “Where’s the diamond?” they wanted to know.

Not yet, not until they were officially engaged. That would come tonight at her
debutante ball.
The ball! She jumped to her feet, startled. Here she’d sat, lollygagging
on a stone bench in the garden, with her formal entrance into Savannah
society mere hours away. Move, child! Hurrying across the spongy grass
toward the enclosed porch that stretched the length of the house, she
caught another glimpse of the moss-draped garden centerpiece, then
quickly turned away.

Why would anyone want to venture inside the gazebo anyway? It had
none of the lilting fragrances or eye-popping colors or luscious flavors that
the rest of the garden offered in abundance. Silly old gazebo. If her father
wanted her to keep her distance, she would do so. Adam, too.

Hours later, in her ivy-and-lilac-papered bedroom, her grass-stained
chinos and sun-faded blouse had given way to the dress of her dreams.
Not her wedding gown, not yet, but it might as well have been. Hooking
the last tiny button at her neck, she held her breath and turned toward the
full-length mirror.

Ohhh… The dress was breathtaking.
It was white moiré silk, the purest white her seamstress could find, to
match Evelyn’s pale, creamy skin and shoulder-length blond hair. Carefully
tailored to her slender form, the simple gown would shimmer in the radiance
of her father’s chandeliers hanging like twin suns in the ballroom downstairs.
Other girls celebrated their debuts at museums and private clubs
around the Historic District. Theirs were larger events with longer guest
lists. Evelyn’s would be a small but exclusive gathering. Savannah’s finest
in white tie and tails, gathered under the gabled roof of the wealthiest man
for counties round—some said in all of Georgia. They’d dance properly
and nibble divinely on low-country fare of exceeding good taste.

Absolutely none of that mattered one whit to Evelyn.
The man who was responsible for her very life would present her on his
arm to the world at large and to one very special person in particular:
Adam Mann. He was the brightest son Savannah had ever produced—an
exceptional student, inundated with scholarships. Adam Mann, with his
Eve: All About Evie 11tall, athletic body and blond good looks, never failed to capture the eye of
every woman in the room.
But he had eyes only for Evelyn Whitebloom. And she for him.

There was no one else and never had been since her very first glimpse
of his manly face, bronzed from years spent in the sun producing prize-winning gardenias for the family nursery business. It was one of their
shared interests that made them perfectly suited for each other.

Their mutual love for all things outdoors extended to the animal world
as well. He was always naming her pets, which were legion. He knew all
the best places to watch for creatures in their natural habitats, from wood-land deer to box turtles. When they strolled hand in hand through the
verdant squares of Savannah—Monterey and Liberty and Telfair and
Oglethorpe—they both sensed a permanence about their relationship,
mirrored in her father’s approving eyes.
Adam was her best friend, the older brother she had never had, and her
future husband—all rolled into one. In mere minutes she would see him
in his white tails and fall in love with him all over again.

He was every-thing good, everything pure, everything right.
And he was hers alone.
Smoothing her skirt for the umpteenth time, she stepped into a brand-new pair of silk dancing flats—white, again—grabbed a tiny purse that
held nothing but her hopes for the future and one pink comb, and walked
as serenely as she could down the long hall toward the staircase.

Her father waited at the top.
Adam waited at the bottom.
In the foyer the harpist waited for her father’s signal that his daughter
had arrived and the music could begin.
The chandeliers glowed. And she, Evelyn, glowed as well, inside and
out. She could feel it, a sense of joy-bathed tranquillity, as she slipped her
arm inside her father’s. “Daddy,” she whispered, not daring to say more.
The look of love and pride shining in his eyes was too much to bear, it
blessed her so.

They eased down the wide, curving steps in tandem, his large, black dress shoes next to her tiny white flats, while the harp music swirled around them and a roomful of friends and supporters lifted their sparkling glasses in her direction. The only thing she could take in, though, was

Adam standing at the foot of the staircase, blue eyes locked with hers,
straight white teeth in an ear-to-ear smile.

There was only one word for it all: Paradise.


To be Continued…

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