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Magnolia Blossoms
cover design © 2010 Ardy M. Scott.


Maggie Poinsett has the opportunity to change history. Stepping through a rusty gate, she's thrust into the middle of the American Civil War.



Book Excerpt

Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now!



Magnolia Blossoms

Leanna Sain



April 11, 2010.

"Magnolia, sugar, we're here!"

Maggie Poinsett's dream was rudely interrupted by her mother's pitiful 'Chahl-ston drawhl,' still sounding terribly fake after all these years. It dragged her unwillingly out of a sleep so deep, it could almost be classified as a coma. She shuddered. Mother's voice had the same cringe-producing effect as fingernails screeching across a chalkboard and as a result, her dream morphed into a nightmare. Maybe, if she ignored it, it would go away. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, intent on doing just that.

"Magnolia…wake up, sugar." The voice was more insistent.

It was no use. She couldn't escape it. She sat up and stretched, then yawned so wide her jaw popped. She stared through bleary eyes at her surroundings, trying in vain to remember where she was and why she was with her mother. Falling asleep in the car had been a mistake, but she'd been awake for twenty of the last twenty-four hours and her heavy eyelids had been no match for the combination of comfortable seat and quiet hum of the car rolling down the highway. It had been impossible to resist.

"The name's Maggie, mother. No one names a person Magnolia."

They'd had this same conversation at least a million times before, so many that she knew the words by heart. She turned away and glared unseeingly out the window, mouthing the words she knew so well at the same time her mother spoke them.

"Magnolia's a fine southern name, sugar. Why, whenever I say it, I can practically smell the sweet magnolia blossoms and see those wonderful old houses down along the Battery at Charleston harbor. Maggie? Hmpf! It sticks in my mouth like peanut butter. It doesn't have the beautiful flow that Magnolia does. Just listen… Magnolia! It practically rolls off your tongue, doesn't it? You must admit it sounds better than Maggie." She made a face then flipped down the visor mirror to apply a fresh coat of lipstick in her signature baby pink shade without waiting for a reply. "Listen, sugar, I'm just gonna to run in and see if your Daddy's here yet. Be back in a jif."

Maggie heaved a huge sigh and let her breath out slowly, searching desperately for the inner peace she'd read about recently.


It wasn't working; it never worked for her. Mother still had the uncanny ability to make her mentally revert back to being ten years old. Same ol'-same ol'. She should just give up because Sherilyn Poinsett would never change. Her mother--she'd been little Sherilyn Honeycutt then--had grown up in the sleepy, little town of Walhalla, South Carolina, dreaming of being a southern belle. Living the Charleston magic had been her focus throughout grade school, high school, and two years of junior college. But it had paid off. Her single-mindedness had snagged her a man with a southern lineage that stretched back to the 1600's; Beauregard Poinsett,descendant of Joel Roberts Poinsett, US Minister to Mexico after whom the poinsettia flower was named. Beau was a history professor at the College of Charleston whose 'Civil War and Reconstruction' classes always had a waiting list a mile long. He was also an avid participant in Civil War re-enactments and had personally visited all major--and not-so-major--Civil War battle sites thirteen times. Sherilyn had married him so fast he hadn't known what hit him.

As soon as they'd returned from their honeymoon, Sherilyn had moved into Beau's historic home at Number Four Price's Alley (right next door to Nathaniel Russell's famous mansion) and proceeded to make her entrance into Charleston society. She'd practiced her drawl until it was as 'natural' as she could manage, and nine months-three hours later she'd had the audacity to name a helpless baby girl 'Sweet Magnolia Poinsett.' That's right Sweet Magnolia!

How embarrassing!

Maggie'd legally dumped the "Sweet" and changed Magnolia to 'Maggie' as soon as she'd turned twenty-one, and everyone--including her father--had adjusted to the change. Everyone, that is, except Mother. It must be that Walhalla stubbornness rearing its ugly head. Another sigh escaped as she gathered her belongings from the seat beside her. This was going to be a long week.

Daddy had a speaking engagement at the Grove Park Inn up in Asheville and had flown up two days earlier. The plan was to meet him here in… what was the name of this town? Oh, yeah, MacKinlay. They were to meet him in MacKinlay at Golden Apple Farm and have a relaxing week of family time at this quaint little bed-and-breakfast inn. Mother had been after her for a year and a half to take a break and spend some time with them, but after finally bagging her dream job as a photographer for National Geographic magazine, she wasn't about to take a chance on losing it. The down-side was her job kept her on the road--or should she say, in the air--pretty much all the time. When they had an assignment for her, she didn't ask questions, she just hopped on the nearest plane for Tanzania, or Antarctica, or the Australian outback, or some remote tropical location not even on the map. Wherever they sent her, she went. She didn't want to take any chances that they'd give an assignment to someone else. She'd dreamed of a job like this ever since she picked up a camera at age eight. At least, everyone took her work seriously now. She'd finally proven herself in spite of the fact that she looked like she was twelve years old rather than twenty-five.

But fate had stepped in, and on her last assignment near Stanley Falls on the Lualaba River in Zaire she'd contracted malaria, of all things. Her boss, after warning her about the danger of relapse if she tried to come back to work too soon, had given her a medical leave of absence until she recuperated--completely. Her mother'd been nearly ecstatic over her illness, jumping at the chance for them to finally spend some "quality time" together. To tell the truth, being so sick had made her do some re-evaluating in her life and she'd actually been looking forward to a week to 'veg-out' and re-connect with her parents.

To say that the three of them had had a stormy relationship would be putting it mildly. Her parents were so wrapped up in the whole Civil War thing--no, wait, get it right, Maggie--the War of Northern Aggression or Mr. Lincoln's War… her parents flatly refused to call it the Civil War--anyway, they were so enamored with anything related to the subject, they didn't have a clue as to what life was really like in the twenty-first century. And they couldn't understand why she wasn't just as consumed with it as they were.

It was bad enough that she grew up with such a dumb name, but put that together with living right smack in the middle of Civil War history. Four blocks from the Battery and right next door to the Russell mansion/museum, she'd literally lived and breathed Civil War history from babyhood. How could anyone expect her to have a normal life? She didn't stand a chance. Good thing that 'normal' was just a setting on the dryer.

Normal certainly did not describe her parents. Quirky--? Yes. Weird--? Better. Eccentric--? Perfect. Yes, that's exactly the adjective she'd use to describe dear ol' mom and dad. Charleston was filled with eccentrics and her parents seemed to have climbed heedlessly over all others to reach the top of that list.

Mother'd finally made the concession to learn to drive and what a fiasco that had been! But she'd absolutely refused to pump her own gas--'a lady would nevah touch a filthy gas pump.' And since full-service gas stations were a thing of the past; that presented a problem. She'd become quite adept at playing the helpless female and so far, she'd always been able to get some big, good-looking, muscle-bound man to pump her gas for her. All she had to do was bat those chocolate brown eyes of hers and you could practically watch the fellow melt. Mother still looked really good at age forty-five, but one of these days, those men wouldn't be so quick to do her bidding. Dumb ol' broad… pump your own gas!

And Daddy was just as bad. He hated Yankees--all Yankees--with such a deep-seated, all-consuming passion, you'd have thought he'd personally fought in the war. Mention the name Sherman and he'd go absolutely ballistic. How many times had she heard him rant about the atrocities the South had suffered at the hands of Sherman and his ravaging army? As far as she was concerned, the South had gotten what it deserved. They shouldn't have had slaves in the first place. No person had the right to own another person. And they had no business trying to secede from the Union, either. It was supposed to be the United States , not the Divided States. Those two things were what the whole darned war was about, wasn't it? How stupid to fight for something like that! But then again, all war was just as senseless. Once, when she'd had all she could stand of it, she'd shouted at her father, "The war is over, Daddy, and the South lost! Get over it!" He didn't speak to her for over a month. As a concession, she'd learned how to take and develop pictures the way Matthew Brady's crew had done during the war. Call it her version of waving a white flag. It was only when she'd demonstrated the technique to him that he'd finally forgiven her.

And how many times over her life thus far had she been subjected to visiting the historical Poinsett Bridge--named after her great-great-great-great-great… well, however many 'greats' there were supposed to be… grandpa, J.R. Poinsett. Yes, folks… come see the oldest surviving bridge in South Carolina; the 130 feet long marvel over Little Gap Creek; the fourteen foot tall Gothic arch built with absolutely no mortar; the bridge from which, according to legend, a slave was supposed to have been hanged and one could still see the ghostly form at night--that bridge! She couldn't believe her mother had actually suggested they take a little detour on their trip up here today in order to see that stupid bridge again! On second thought, yes, she could believe it. And her dad would probably suggest a day trip down there one day this week--maybe they could stop and have a picnic lunch…. The thought made her want to run away--far away--screaming and pulling out her hair.

Her parents… you gotta love 'em.

Was the week over yet?

No! Wrong attitude, Maggie. You're going to enjoy this. Keep telling yourself that. Enjoy… enjoy… enjoy!

She got out of the car and stretched again, working out the kinks from the long drive from Charleston. She took a deep breath. Ahhh… the air was invigorating--crystal clear and slightly cool--so unlike her home town. At home, it was sticky even in April. The humidity usually hovered around one hundred-twenty percent from March until October. This was more like it.

She made a complete circle, visually drinking in the way the mountains seemed to snuggle around the valley in which the bed-and-breakfast lay. She began another turn, but did a double take when she spotted an object that seemed out of place.

A gate.

Not that a gate was something unusual on a farm, but this was different; it had no fence attached. It was just a gate… and it must be iron one too, by all the rust. So, what on earth was an ornate iron gate doing in the middle of the front yard? Time to investigate. She'd taken two steps in that direction when she heard the screen door slam and her mother call, "Magnolia, honey, you want to pop the trunk so we can get our bags up to our rooms?"

"Yeah, sure, whatever." She absentmindedly hit the trunk release button, but she couldn't seem to drag her gaze away from the gate. What was going on here? That rusty hunk of metal had a magnetic quality, giving her the sensation of being pulled slowly toward it. The feeling made her want to dig in her heels or grab hold of something--the car, a tree-- anything solid to fight that insistent pull.

Enough of this creepy stuff. She scurried back to the car, grabbed her purse and camera bag, and almost sprinted to the front porch. She wrenched the screen door open, but just before stepping inside, she gave a quick glance over her shoulder at the gate. Suddenly, her arms were covered with goose bumps. She shuddered once and let the screen slam behind her.


"Well, hello there. You must be Sweet Magnolia. Your mama's been talking my ear off about you."

The old woman could be a clone of Aunt Bea. Her salt-and-pepper hair was even pulled up in a loose bun on top of her head in the same way the television character wore hers.

"Call me Maggie, please."

A veritable fan of smile lines radiated out from her cornflower blue eyes; a chuckle shook her round shoulders. "That was exactly what your mama said you'd say, too. Maggie it is." She extended her hand. "Aileen MacKinlay, owner of Golden Apple Farm. But everyone around here just calls me Miss Mac. Nice to meet you, Maggie."

When Maggie reached out to shake hands, she found her own clasped firmly between both plump hands of her hostess who had a warm welcome shining from her eyes. "Thank you, Miss Mac. It's nice to be here."

The elder woman motioned her to an ancient looking rocking chair that had to be every bit of a hundred years old. She sank into it gratefully. It was amazing how little it took to tire her out. Would she ever regain her strength? Her gaze traveled around the large, but cozy room. A stately grandfather clock stood against one wall as if guarding over the gallery of paintings that surrounded it. If that clock could talk, she was sure it would have plenty of stories to tell. She found the rhythmic ticking soothing. Heart pine floors gleamed with a rich patina that reproduction flooring couldn't mimic. A silver tea tray sat on a small table by an overstuffed armchair into which Aunt Bea--no, Miss Mac had seated herself. The tea service looked like something you'd see in a museum. She could just make out a deer or elk or some such creature etched on the tray that Miss Mac held out to her. The sumptuous array of goodies made her stomach growl. It seemed a long time since lunch.

"You're a wee one, all right. Just like your Mama said. Well, I'm a right good cook if I say so myself, and we'll just see if we can get some meat on those bones of yours this week. How's that sound?"

Mo-ther! If a look could cause bodily injury, by all rights her Mother should be in the back of an ambulance on her way to the nearest hospital. Why in the world did that woman think it was okay to discuss her weight--for heaven's sake--with a perfect stranger? It's not like she could help being so skinny. The malaria had really left its mark, but it wasn't something she'd like discussed over tea and crumpets! She clenched her fists and tried desperately to send her mother a silent 'don't talk about me behind my back' message. It was no use. Mother just sat there, smiling brightly, blinking those big, brown eyes of hers. She was clueless, as usual.

A vision appeared behind eyelids squeezed tightly shut. She saw herself as a cartoon character whose head had turned into a thermometer--the red part rose so quickly that it blew the top of her head right off. Only this wasn't a cartoon. It was her life and it wasn't funny. This whole vacation-with-her-parents idea was a mistake. It was time for her to go.

The very air in the room was thick with tension. As if trying to diffuse the situation, Miss Mac offered, "Would you care for a cup o' tea, dear? Or would you prefer coffee? We're tea drinkers around here." Her lilting voice had music in it and Maggie found her fists unclenching and the knot in her stomach loosening. "My great-grandfather brought the ritual--along with this tea set--all the way across the Atlantic from Scotland in the early 1800's. He built this house, and planted every one of the apple trees you saw in the orchards along both sides of the road on your way out here."

"I'm afraid I missed the orchards, Miss Mac. I was asleep until we stopped."

"Tis no matter, dear. You can see them later. They're quite a sight when they're all a-bloom. That won't be happening 'til next month, though. P'rhaps you'll see them."

Sudden goosebumps covered her arms again just like when she looked at that gate. Next month? No, she wouldn't see them. She'd only be here a week--maybe not that long, if time already spent with her mother was any indication of what the week would be like. What on earth had the old woman meant by that remark?

Before she had the chance to ask, Mother piped up. "Miss Mac, sugar, you just gotta tell Magnolia about Golden Apple's ghost."

"Ghost? Mother, you know there's no such thing as a ghost."

Miss Mac reached over and patted her hand in an almost patronizing manner. "That's what most people say… at first. They usually change their minds."

"Okay, tell me about your… " She couldn't hold back the smirk. "… ghost."

"All right, dear, but first I need to give you a little of the background of Golden Apple Farm." She leaned forward slightly and whispered conspiratorially, "It'll help you understand the ghost part a little better if I do."

Oh brother….

Miss Mac ignored her attitude. "I've already mentioned my great grandfather from Scotland. His name was Gavin MacKinlay--the man our little town of MacKinlay is named after, mind you. Gavin was a bachelor until his mid-thirties. That's when he met my great-grandmother, Emma. No one knows for sure where she came from. There are stories… stories involving that gate out front you know…"

Her ears perked up. "Gate?"

"Oh, yes, dear, but I won't go chasing that rabbit right now. Gavin and Emma adopted my grandfather, Michael, then had five children of their own. Michael was Gavin's nephew--son of his twin brother, Ennis. I could tell you that story, but its long and I'm digressing. You're wanting to hear about the ghost. And that would be Thomas, one of Michael's half-brothers. Thomas was moody and some say hot-headed, but he must've inherited some artistic qualities from his mother, Emma. She painted all those portraits, you know." She waved vaguely toward the paintings by the grandfather clock Maggie had noticed earlier.

"Artistic qualities?"

"Oh, yes. He drew and painted some, built some furniture and the like, but what he was known for was his photography. Matthew Brady's crew wasn't the only photographers during this war. It's said that some of the best photographs taken during the war were really Thomas' work. He had a knack for being at the right place at the right time, always where the action was."

A photographer ghost. Hmmm. A laugh threatened to escape. "So what happened to him? Why is he…" She wiggled her eyebrows and whispered melodramatically. "… a ghost?"

"As the war dragged on, the Confederacy needed all the soldiers it could round up. So the South passed a Conscription Bill that required all young men to 'volunteer'. Thomas had to give up his photography and enlist. Everything was as good as could be expected until harvest time. Things were quiet then and Thomas' company had a long period with no war action. He decided to take advantage of that down time and come home to help his family with the apple harvest. You have to understand that it was a common practice at the time--not like a soldier going AWOL in today's day and age. But maybe it was becoming too common and his captain wanted to make an example of him, or maybe it was something else. I have my own idea about it, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, when he returned, he was arrested for desertion and sentenced to death by firing squad. Men from his own company--some were friends of his--were given the orders shoot to kill. And with the South needing soldiers so badly, too. Tsk. … such a shame. Thomas was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in South Carolina rather than in the MacKinlay family cemetery where he belongs. It's said that's why he wanders around Golden Apple Farm. He wants to be home, but since he's not buried here, he can never rest in peace."

Maggie gave a very un-ladylike snort that caused her mother to purse her lips and shake her head in a what-am-I-going-to-do-with-this-girl? manner.

"Huh! You might be able to suck in all the other losers with your photographer ghost story, Miss Mac, but I've been around the world several times and have seen things you wouldn't dream of. All kinds of voodoo, hocus-pocus malarkey that people in power use on less intelligent peons in order to keep said power. Everything has a logical explanation if you look at the facts. The problem is… people don't. Look at the facts, I mean. They'd rather believe in magic."

Miss Mac's eyebrow arched and her eyes had a decidedly mischievous sparkle. "Oh? You think so, do you?"

Maggie took a sip of her tepid tea, made a face, and thunked the cup back down on the tray so hard the liquid sloshed over the side. "I don't just think so, I know so." She gathered her things and stood. "Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get settled in my room. Which way do I go?"


Maggie awoke with a start and sat straight up in bed. Moonlight streamed in the window, painting the room with a luminous glow. Outside, the night's chill had woven a misty veil over the fields. What had woken her? Oh… a dream. A dream, yes, but it seemed so real. Shreds of it still seemed to cling to her like cobwebs. She could feel them, but couldn't shake them off. She looked toward the fireplace. See… there was nothing there. It was just a dream. Just a dream….

Something caught her eye. What was that? Her hand fumbled around until she found the light switch on the lamp. So intent on finding out what that shape was, she forgot to turn her head away to give her eyes time to adjust to the to the sudden light. The brightness nearly blinded her. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut, then squinted. What she saw made her heart thump wildly in her chest.

Apparently, her room belonged to the family housecat, Opie (an appropriate name since Miss Mac looked so much like Aunt Bea). He was letting her sleep in his room for the time being, and the jury was still out on whether that decision would last the week or not. He had a cocky attitude and wasn't afraid to let anyone and everyone know that he was the king here and he expected his subjects to act as such. But there was nothing kingly about him now. He stood in front of the fireplace with his back arched just like a Halloween cat--with every hair sticking straight out. His eyes--the enormous pupils making his green eyes look black--seemed ready to pop out of his head and his tail was about the size of a zucchini squash that had been missed several days in the garden.

"Opie? What is it fella? What do you see?"

At the sound of her voice, he yowled and tried to make a U-turn, but the slick hardwood floors caused him to skid and flop over on his side in a very un-catlike manner. Back on his feet, he would have been running at quite a clip if he'd had some traction. In another situation, she'd be doubled over laughing, but this wasn't another situation. Something had frightened the poor animal out of at least eight and a half of his nine lives. And it was something she couldn't even see. When he finally got some momentum going, he was by her in a flash, crashing through the kitty exit that had been installed in the bedroom door. She could hear his retreat down the hall; then down the stairs. After a moment it was quiet again… except for her pounding heart. She stared, unblinking, at the fireplace until her eyes burned. What had that cat seen? What could've scared him that badly?


Miss Mac's eyes popped open and she found herself instantly wide-awake.

He's here… with her.

She and her sister Jane had always been able to sense his presence. But Jane had died over three years ago and he hadn't been back for all that time. She'd been afraid that maybe it'd been Jane's gift and not hers, or that she'd lost the gift somehow. The fact that she hadn't gave her great satisfaction. She glanced out the window at the fat-faced moon and smiled. It would be full tomorrow. Somehow she'd known he'd come tonight.

It was times like this when she missed Jane the most. Missed the secrets they shared… secrets of full moons… and the iron gate….

Sweet Magnolia.… She chuckled softly in the dark. No, Maggie was more appropriate right now, but Magnolia was in there somewhere. If ever a person seemed right for the task, that little scrap of a girl fit the bill. What a lot of bluff and bluster she had for such a wee thing! And anger… my, there was a lot of anger trapped inside that child. She needed this as much as he did. Maggie was the one; she was sure of it. But she crossed her fingers under the blanket and breathed a prayer, just in case….


"Is s-s-somebody there?" Was that her voice? It sounded so weak and quivering. Suddenly the air around her turned frigid… cold enough to see her breath. Good grief! Was that movie… what was its name? Oh, yeah, The Sixth Sense… was it right? Did ghosts make the air in a room turn cold? Or was Aunt Bea somehow playing a trick on her? Was this a staged routine for guests at Golden Apple Farm? Somehow it didn't feel like it.

A shape--almost a shadow at first--slowly became clearer, like a photo in developing solution. Ghosts were supposed to be white and wispy… maybe glowing a little, weren't they? At least that was Hollywood's version. This didn't look anything like what she'd seen in movies. When it came into full focus, it seemed real enough to reach out and touch--if she'd been brave enough. A soldier in raggedy Civil War garb stood in front of the fireplace in the spot the terrified cat had been staring at moments before. The front of his uniform had a large reddish-brown stain across the chest that looked like it could be… blood? He'd taken his cap from his head and dark red, wavy hair was now visible. The sweat-streaked grime covering his face couldn't hide the fact that he was a very handsome man. Nor could it hide his expression of unspeakable sadness. He wanted desperately to tell her something--of that she was certain--but for some reason, he couldn't.

Shivering, with her heart still thudding in her ears, she whispered. "Thomas? Are you Thomas?" Great! Just great! She was talking to a ghost!

The figure slowly nodded.

"Can you speak?"

He shook his head.

Well, that certainly made things a tad more difficult; if that was possible "Why have you come? What do you want?"

He reached out his hand toward her, beckoning to her. And he smiled. It was that sweet, pleading smile that got her. She moved toward the end of the bed, dragging the quilt with her. The smile faded and the look of sadness returned. His hand, looking real enough to hold just a moment ago, began to lose its solid shape. Within seconds she could see right through his body to the fireplace on the other side. He was dissipating before her very eyes.

"No! Don't go yet. Where are you going? How can I help you if I don't know what's wrong? Wait! Thomas, don't go!"

The area in front of the fireplace was empty. The temperature in the room warmed quickly, and everything was back to normal.

Everything, that is, except for her.





Author Bio

Leanna Sain lives in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and her son. Now that the MacKinlay saga is complete, she's hard at work on some new projects. When she's not writing, she keeps busy as a free-lance portrait artist, co-owner of two retail stores and part-time farmer.

TTB titles: Gate to Nowhere
Magnolia Blossoms
Return to Nowhere

Author web site.




Magnolia Blossoms Copyright © 2010. Leanna Sain. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.


Format: Trade Paperback
    Available now!


  Author News

Gate to Nowhere is the Winner in the category of Fiction - General in the ForeWord Magazine 2008 Book of the Year Award.


  Praise for Gate to Nowhere

"...the plot is ingenious and fast-moving, the ending poignant. Her style is charming and includes Scottish and black versions of English, contrasting with 21st century standard-speak, all expertly rendered. Her descriptions are colorful and intensely visual, and her characters come to life for the reader, portraying the gamut of emotions from eager anticipation to white-eyed terror, from love and compassion to red-eyed hatred.

"The Gate to Nowhere is engrossing, an enjoyable read for all ages, and earns my most enthusiastic recommendation."

Florence Weinberg, author of Seven Cities of Mud.

"May I say this is one of the best time travel books I've ever read. It has suspense, romance, mystery, and enough action to keep things interesting. My compliments to the author for writing a book that successfully mixes all those elements into an enthralling and entertaining story."

Carol Guy, author of Sins of the Past.




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