Loves Encore


By Sandra Brown

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Two years ago, a designer’s passionate tryst with a handsome stranger ended in regret and longing — and now, she must face him again while remodeling a storied Southern plantation.A tall, handsome stranger, an evening of romance, and enough heartache to last a lifetime — in one reckless night, her life was changed forever. Two years later, Camille Jameson is a successful interior decorator with the opportunity to renovate one of Mississippi’s proudest plantations. She arrives excited and eager to face her greatest professional challenge yet — until Zack Prescott saunters through the mansion’s front door and back into her life. He is exactly as she remembers, except for the knowing look in his eyes that reminds her of what they once shared. Now, forced to live in unbearably close quarters, Camille and Zack will learn whether they have the courage to face the past — and, perhaps, build a future together . . .


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A Note from the Author

Love's Encore was my first published book. Remember Barry Manilow's "Weekend in New England"? That song sparked the idea for this story. In it, I incorporated my love of the Deep South, interior decorating, and antebellum houses. You'll no doubt notice the many things that have changed in our culture since the early 1980s when I wrote this book specifically for a line of romances. But the theme is a constant—two people meeting and falling in love despite the odds and their self-imposed resistance. In 1997, it was re-released and became a New York Times bestseller, staying on that list for four weeks. If you're acquainted with Love's Encore, I hope you enjoy revisiting Camille and Zack and their love story. If it's new to you, I take pleasure in sharing my first book with you.


Camille brought her compact car to an abrupt stop as she caught her first glimpse of Bridal Wreath. She had followed the directions given her at the tourist information office in historic Stanton Hall and taken Homochitto Street from downtown Natchez. The lady behind the desk told her that the lane leading to the old mansion would be on her left just before the road she was on intersected with Highway 65.

She almost missed the small, weather-faded sign obscured by thick shrubbery designating that this unpaved trail was the driveway she sought. She wended her way over the deep potholes while marveling at the enormous oaks trailing their gray, beardlike moss from branches of inestimable proportions; the magnolias that still retained a few creamy, fragrant, white blossoms, despite the lateness of the season; and the fountainlike formation of the shrubs lining the drive that had given the plantation house its name. The snowy flowers of the bridal wreath had long since disappeared in the summer's heat, but the branches were thick with their dainty, bright green foliage.

Camille opened the car door and stepped out, leaving the engine to idle. She gazed at the house before her. The basic facts of its history flashed through her mind. It had been built in 1805. The colonial architecture depicted the period. It had two stories. The rooms on the second floor opened onto a balcony that provided a roof for the front porch surrounding the first floor on three sides. The structure was red brick, though the years had faded the color to a dull rose. Six white columns rose majestically from the porch to support the balcony. Tall, wide windows flanked by forest green shutters were symmetrically spaced, three on each side of the huge front door, which was white. Suspended on a heavy chain was a brass chandelier hanging just over the front door.

Camille Jameson sighed in ecstasy and climbed back into her car. As she engaged the gears she laughed out loud and shouted, "Scarlett O'Hara, eat your heart out!"

That she had been hired to restore this mansion to its former glory was an intoxicating thought. She prayed silently that she would be able to meet the challenge. It was important to her career as a decorator and to her financial future.

Camille and her mother, Martha, owned a decorating business in Atlanta. Martha Jameson had tried to maintain it after Camille's father died, but by the time Camille had graduated from college with her decorator's degree, it had deteriorated into little more than a gift shop featuring undistinguished antiques and mediocre bric-a-brac. Camille soon began ordering contemporary decorating items and increasing the quality of the antiques they stocked. She offered her services as a consultant to customers who sought advice in their choice of wallpaper, carpet, draperies, furniture, and entire decorating schemes. Camille's good taste and easy, friendly manner had soon earned her a reputation and a respectable clientele. She now employed two other women who helped in the "studio," while her mother handled over-the-counter sales and the bookkeeping.

When Camille had been approached by Mr. Rayburn Prescott of Natchez, Mississippi, to redo his mansion, she jumped at the chance. This was by far her most important commission. She was well acquainted with the antebellum homes of old Natchez. She and her mother had toured the restored houses during one of the annual spring pilgrimages. Camille had been a young girl then, but those lovely homes had made a lasting impression on her.

Rayburn Prescott was the typical Southern gentleman, using courtly manners when addressing Camille or Martha. The other ladies in the studio had twittered when he spoke to them in a drawl more pronounced than they were accustomed to hearing even in Atlanta. His shock of white hair was still thick and waved away from a broad, high forehead. His blue eyes retained a sparkle, though he must have been approaching seventy. He was tall, stately, distinguished, and eloquent.

After the preliminaries of getting acquainted, he told Camille about his house in Natchez. "I'm ashamed of it, Miss Jameson. After my wife died, over twenty years ago, I let it fall into a sad state of disrepair. It has become a bachelor's house. My son spends most of his waking hours at our plantation across the river, but he agrees with me that we should restore Bridal Wreath to its original beauty."

"It has such a lovely name," Camille mused, already conjuring up pictures of the house in her mind. "I'll gladly accept your commission."

"But we haven't even talked about your fee or any of the details!" he exclaimed.

"It doesn't matter. I know I want to do it." She laughed at his surprised expression before his face crinkled into a pleasant smile. She had come highly recommended by a friend of his who owned a restaurant in Peachtree Plaza that Camille had decorated. Rayburn Prescott was convinced of her abilities. They talked about her fee and she was astounded at the sum he quoted. He gave her an almost limitless budget for the restoration. Apparently she wouldn't have to consciously economize. He insisted that she stay at Bridal Wreath during the restoration, promising that arrangements to that effect would be made for her. They set a mutually convenient date for her arrival, and now she was here, standing on the front porch, her purse under her arm, waiting for the bell she had rung to be answered. Upon close inspection, she noticed the chipping paint, the dulling rust that was corroding the brass appointments on the front door, and the warped boards waving the front porch beneath her feet. If the interior were as bad as the exterior, she had a lot of work to do.

Camille smiled wryly to herself. Work was all she had to do. Her life revolved around her career, much to the consternation of her mother and close friends, most of whom had husbands and several children. Her mother encouraged her to date the young men who stopped by the studio on contrived business, but Camille remained aloof to their advances. She passed off their flirtations as inconsequential, and Martha Jameson worried about her daughter's obvious lack of interest in the opposite sex.

It distressed Camille to see her mother so frustrated over her love life, or rather the lack of one, but she couldn't tell her the reason. She couldn't say, "Mother, I gave myself to a man once, and all I felt afterward was shame and humiliation. I don't intend to fall into that trap again." One didn't tell one's mother things like that. Besides, some memories were too painful to articulate. Camille shuddered and drew a long sigh at those recollections just as the front door opened. She looked into a smiling face.

"Hello. I'm Camille Jameson." She smiled, not knowing how fetching she looked with the sunlight bouncing off her dark, curly hair.

"Hello, Miss Jameson." The man's welcoming face was wreathed in smiles. "Mr. Prescott is waiting for you. He's as excited as a schoolboy going to his first dance. I'm sure glad you made the trip safely. He's been worried about a young lady like you driving herself all the way from Atlanta."

"I had no trouble on the trip, and I'm just as anxious to see Mr. Prescott again." She stepped into the entrance hall as the man moved aside. She glanced around her in awe. It was just as she hoped it would be!

"My name is Simon Mitchell, Miss Jameson. Any time you need anything, you call on me," the man said, drawing her attention momentarily away from her perusal of the house.

"Thank you, Mr. Mitchell." Her smile was genuine.

"Simon, please. Have a seat, Miss Jameson, and I'll go find Mr. Prescott. I think he's out back watering his plants."

"Take your time. I won't mind waiting." He nodded and moved toward the back of the house down the broad hall that ran its length. Camille longed to peer into the rooms that opened off the corridor, but felt she should wait for her host and new employer to show her through his home. Southerners like Rayburn Prescott were scrupulous about manners and etiquette.

She sat down on a chair in the hall and assumed the ladylike pose drilled into her by her mother: back straight, knees together, hands reposing gracefully in her lap. She suddenly wished she had a more refined look. She was cursed with dark, curly hair that she wore at a medium length so that on particularly humid days, she could pull it back into a chignon when only the tendrils around her face escaped into unruly curls. The dark hair was complemented by her apricot-toned skin. It wasn't dark enough to be called olive, and not rosy enough to be fair. Instead it glowed with the color of warm honey. She had always coveted her friends who had Dresden complexions that blushed becomingly. She saw no compensation in having skin that tanned to a dusky hue under the summer sun. And no one else on earth had eyes like hers. Why couldn't she have plain blue or green or hazel or even brown without those silly golden highlights in them? Other brown eyes were touched with a spark of hazel, or were mysteriously deep like ebony, but hers reflected gold in their depths. She hated them. Her long, dark lashes, wide, generous mouth, and pert nose had combined with her hair to give her a gypsy look. That had been her father's pet name for her—his little gypsy.

She couldn't help her features, so she saw to it that she was always dressed with utmost care. Her flair for color and design, which was so valuable to her vocation, went into her wardrobe, too. Now, she tugged the skirt of her yellow linen suit over her knees, wishing she might take off the jacket and wear only the cool, sheer print voile blouse underneath. The humidity in Natchez was wilting her clothes, not to mention what it was doing to her hair, which she had tamed into a semblance of control this morning. Now she knew it must be curling around her head in wild abandon.

She heard the crunch of tires on the driveway outside and then the loudly squeaking sound of a car door being slammed shut. She counted the three steps that she remembered leading up to the porch as someone took them quickly and then three more long steps across the front porch to the door. The knob on the door turned and it was flung open. It swung back and crashed into the wall before the looming figure standing silhouetted against the afternoon sun reached behind himself to close it. He stamped into the entrance hall, leaving muddy scuff marks on the parqueted oak floor. He moved with an easy gait that was vaguely familiar, but Camille was so infuriated with his negligent disregard for the abused floor, the door, and the wall, that she didn't give the familiarity a conscious thought. Before she reasoned against speaking out, she blurted, "It's no wonder this house is in such deplorable shape. If everyone who came in here was as careless as you are and as unappreciative of its beauty, it would be falling down within a week!"

The man stopped suddenly and glanced quickly around the hall, surprised by the feminine voice that was berating him. He had just come in from the blindingly bright sunlight, and it took a moment for him to adjust his eyes and spot her sitting in the shadows of the hallway. Without speaking, he removed his wide-brimmed straw hat and raked his arm across a perspiring forehead. Then, still holding his hat in one hand, he put both hands on his hips and looked at her fully for the first time.

"I beg your pardon," he said with deceptive calm, anger just below the surface. He took five steps forward and stopped within a few feet of her chair. Their gazes met and locked and there was a simultaneous sharp intake of breath from the two people staring at each other.

It couldn't be! He couldn't be here! What was he doing here? Is it him? Yes! No! It can't be! Camille's mouth had gone as dry as cotton and she tried convulsively to swallow. Her heart was pounding so hard she knew he must be able to see it stirring the fabric across her breasts. She flushed hot all over and then shivered with cold. The roaring in her ears was like a cannon blast. She knew by his stance and shocked expression that he was as dumbstruck as she.

He looked the same as he had in Utah almost two years ago. Maybe there were a few more web-like lines fanning out from the corners of his eyes, but the irises were as blue as ever, startling, piercing, hypnotizing. She knew all too well their hypnotic power! Was he taller? No. It must seem so because she was sitting down, but she knew that if she stood, she would still only reach his collarbone. He was as broad of shoulder and narrow of hip as she remembered. The physique that had been a part of her fantasies for these many months had not been exaggerated in her memory as she sometimes convinced herself that it was. His brown hair was streaked with sun-bleached strands. The tan skin drawn tightly over the lean lines of his face intensified the blue of his eyes, which studied her with the same hungry stare she felt in her own.

He wasn't dressed in the tight ski pants and soft sweaters she remembered. He wore western-cut jeans and cowboy boots—muddy boots that scuffed up floors. His blue chambray shirt was unbuttoned to the middle of his chest, the sleeves rolled to his elbows. It was damp and stained with perspiration. The hair on his arms and chest was bleached almost completely blond, and nestled in the curls on his chest was the gold ornament that Camille remembered tenderly. He told her the cross had belonged to his late mother. The chain that suspended it around his neck was heavy. In no way did the piece of jewelry look feminine, especially lying as it was in the damp hair of his chest.

"Zack Prescott?" She was barely able to verbalize his name. When Mr. Rayburn Prescott had introduced himself to her, said his name, she felt that sharp pang around her heart that accompanied any reminder of the skiing vacation she had taken after her graduation from college. She would never have imagined that those two men would be related. Zack had never told her where he called home. Had she ever asked? Had she cared?

"Don't I know you from somewhere?" He parroted the corny Hollywood line with all the sarcasm he could muster.

The tightness in Camille's throat relaxed long enough for her to say, "You told me you were a farmer, but I assumed you were joking." She tried to smile, but her lips were quivering. The muscles of her face wouldn't work.

The lines on either side of his mouth hardened. "What else did you 'assume' about me? I'd be curious to know."

The bitterness underlying his words stung Camille, and she flinched. Then the familiar regrets that had haunted her for days, months, years came back and with them the guilt and shame he had caused her to suffer. Anger flared from the golden depths of her eyes as she snarled, "What do you think I assumed about a man who so heartlessly seduced an innocent girl."

"No less than he assumed about a woman so easily seduced." His words fell on her like physical blows and she catapulted out of the chair to stand directly in front of him.

"You… you're hateful and immoral, without conscience. I despise you for what you did to me—"

"You have an unconvincing way of displaying your aversion, Camille," he interrupted her, and she wanted to slap his arrogant face. But the sound of her name coming from those full, soft, sensual lips halted any action she would have taken. She had the overwhelming compulsion to reach out and stroke his lean, brown cheek. She clenched her fists to stymie the impulse. They stared at each other for a long moment before they heard Simon's footsteps coming down the hall. Camille whirled away from Zack and tried vainly to compose her features.

"Miss Jameson, Mr. Prescott will see you now. Hello, Zack. Have you met Miss Jameson?" Camille had her back to him, and Zack must have nodded in acknowledgment, for he didn't speak. "Well then, you come with me, Miss Jameson, and Zack can join you for refreshments later. Mr. Prescott hopes you don't mind meeting him on the terrace."

"N-no, that's fine." Anything to get away from the disturbing presence behind her. She followed Simon down the hall without looking back.

* * *

They crossed a large screened back porch that extended the length of the house and allowed an unobstructed view of the grounds. Simon held a screened door open for Camille and she stepped out onto the brick terrace. Mr. Rayburn Prescott gallantly rose from his wicker chair and came toward her, his arms outstretched.

He grasped both her hands in his. "Miss Jameson, what a pleasure it is to look at you. Welcome to Bridal Wreath." He spoke with the soft and melodious voice Camille remembered. She returned his deep smile, almost forgetting the shattering experience of seeing Zack just a moment before.

"Thank you, Mr. Prescott, but please call me Camille. I love your home. It's even more wonderful than I expected it to be."

He shook his head sorrowfully. "If Alice, my late wife, could see it, I'm afraid she would be very angry with me. I went into an abysmal depression for years after I lost her. Zachary, my son, was some comfort, but no one could replace her in my life. I concentrated on the plantation and it prospered as a result, but since I did little entertaining except for an occasional poker game, I let the house run down. That's why I hired you to restore it for me. We have all the modern conveniences, of course, but it needs to be redecorated. I have every confidence in your abilities."

His smile was kind and gentle as he led her to a glass-topped table where a frosted pitcher of lemonade and several glasses shimmered in the dappled sunlight that filtered through the large shade trees. He held a chair for her and offered her a glass of lemonade with an inclination of his head. She accepted by nodding.

Looking around her at the lovely grounds, better maintained here than the ones in front of the house, she wondered how she was going to tell him that it would be impossible for her to accept his commission. She wouldn't be able to live and work at Bridal Wreath, be near the one person in the world whom she had never wanted to see again. She couldn't live with the chance of meeting Zack several times a day as they came and went about their business and be submitted to that flush of acute embarrassment every time she looked at him, realizing that he remembered well the last time they were together. She couldn't do it! But how could she tell this old gentleman that she must disappoint him in order to retain her own sanity? She felt compelled to leave his house and his son as soon as possible, now, today. The thought was a crushing one. What would this do to her career? How could she sacrifice such an incredible opportunity?

"Do you like my garden?" Mr. Prescott's question brought her back from her reverie as he gestured to take in the broad expanse of lawn. "I take pride in my plants. Since I'm no longer able to work in the fields of the plantation—Zack has adamantly refused that I so much as cross the river—I spend as much time with these plants as I can. I have some outstanding tomatoes over there." He pointed to the plants that were growing in large redwood tubs at the corner of the terrace and Camille responded with genuine praise.

"They do look outstanding. I've never seen any larger, and I'll bet they taste just as good as they look."

He beamed. "We'll have some for dinner. I'm rather proud of them. I enjoy growing food, but I love my flowers, too."

Camille glanced around at the myriad flowerbeds, hanging baskets, and urns, each boasting its own variety of flowering plant. They bloomed in profusion, in a rainbow of colors. The ferns growing in wire baskets hanging from the branches of trees by long chains were lush and three times Camille's arm span. It looked like a tropical paradise.

"I think you'll miss working outdoors when the weather starts growing cooler, won't you?" she asked perceptively.

He nodded his white head. "Yes, but then Simon and I work on our house plants. We take most of these ferns and tropicals inside. Zack accuses me of trying to move him out when the house is so crowded with plants." He offered her more lemonade, but she declined. He was so generous and sweet. How was she going to do what she must gracefully?

He had referred to Zack by name three times since they had sat down. Why hadn't he mentioned him in Atlanta? She would have known the name readily enough, for it was never far from her thoughts. She could have contrived some excuse to refuse the job and avoided any unpleasantness.

She was perspiring and could feel her hair escaping the small amount of control she had sprayed on it earlier from an aerosol can. She must look frightful. Her nervousness at what she had to tell him didn't help. She licked her lips and raised her eyes to his. "Mr. Prescott, I'm afraid there's something—"

"There you are, Zack! Come meet our house-guest." Rayburn Prescott's eyes were looking over her head and she heard the unmistakable tread of cowboy boots coming closer.

"Camille Jameson, I want you to meet my son, Zack."

Camille was studying the purse clutched tightly in her lap, but glanced up at the man who stood so close to her chair. "We met, Dad." Zack paused significantly, then added, "Out in the hallway."

"Good, good. Would you like some lemonade?"

"Yes, please. It's hotter than—"

"Zack! Remember we're going to have a lady around here from now on," Rayburn chided him.

"Of course. Please excuse me." Zack executed a mocking bow to Camille. "Aren't you warm, Miss Jameson? Let me help you with your jacket."

Before Camille could accept or refuse, he slipped behind her and placed his large, masculine hands on her shoulders. She tingled at his touch and wanted to scream in frustrated anger that he still had the power to make her tremble with alarming sensations. His fingers tightened on her shoulders and his hands remained there longer than necessary before he slid the jacket from her shoulders, following it with his hands down her arms until her fingers slipped out of the sleeves. He draped the jacket over the back of her chair before taking a chair across from her. She mumbled a "thank you" before she raised her eyes.

He had showered, and damp hair fell over his forehead. He had forsaken the western work jeans for a clean, starched pair with a designer label on the hip pocket. They fit his taut hips and muscled thighs far too well. The eyes fixed on her were vivid blue and full of sardonic amusement. He was enjoying this predicament! He wanted her to feel ashamed and embarrassed! He was a cad of the worst sort. He used women for his own pleasure and then was contemptuously delighted at their shame. She straightened her shoulders and flashed him a look of pure venom before she returned her attention to Rayburn, who was totally unaware of the undercurrents of tension between his son and his new employee.

Camille tried to catch the last of what he had been saying. "… know you have excellent taste and will do a good job, and I for one wouldn't presume to tell you how to do your work."

"What Dad is trying to say, Miss Jameson," Zack cut in, "is that we don't want the house to look like some fairy-decorated Bourbon Street bordello."

"Zachary, that is no way to talk to a lady. You have been around the field hands too long," his father remonstrated.

"I apologize, Miss Jameson," Zack's words sounded sincere, but the look he gave her revealed that he didn't think she was a lady at all. She was further insulted when his gaze moved from her eyes to her chest. The sheer voile blouse could have vanished under his intent stare and Camille wouldn't have felt any more exposed. Did he remember what she looked like under her clothes? Or had he taken so many women since then that he had long forgotten her? Either way, she wished he wouldn't look at her with that smug, knowing expression on his face. She had a mad desire to reach for her jacket and cover herself.

She blushed a deep peach color and apparently the elder Mr. Prescott thought her discomfort was due to the heat because he said, "Forgive us, Camille, but you must be tired and hot after your trip. We can go over the rest of the details after dinner. Right now, you need to rest. You'll be staying in what we call the dowager house." He indicated a small apartment across the terrace from the main house. "It's a presumptuous name, I'll concede, but my wife's mother lived with us for several years after we married and insisted she stay under a separate roof. She made what was once a carriage house into a comfortable apartment. At least I hope you find it to be. She gave it that name and it's stuck all these years."

Camille couldn't look at Zack. Her heart was pounding and she dreaded the next few minutes, but she had to get it over with. The sooner, the better, she couldn't let this kind old man go on thinking she was going to stay here and do what he had hired her to do. She was thankful no money had exchanged hands yet and that she had not ordered materials for the restoration.

She stared at the empty glass in front of her and followed with her eyes a small bead of moisture as it rolled to the bottom of the glass and became part of a pool forming there. "Mr. Prescott, I don't know how to tell you—"


On Sale
Mar 1, 1997
Page Count
272 pages

Sandra Brown

About the Author

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-nine New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 Seeing Red. There are over eighty million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work has been translated into thirty-four languages. She lives in Texas.

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