King of the South
by Calia Read
Book 1 in the Belgrave Dynasty Series
The year is 1919, and the Great War has ended. As everyone picks up the pieces of their lives, I have only copious amounts of alcohol and women keeping me together.
Most of the men I went to war with didn’t make it home, including my best friend, Miles. I thought I knew everything about him until I discovered he made me the executor to his little sister Rainey’s dowry.
Rainey Pleasonton is anything but pleasant. Most men in Charleston found her wild and carefree ways to be terrifying, which explained why she was twenty-eight and still unmarried.
I have sixty days to help her find a husband before she loses her inheritance, her family’s legacy, and I lose the last of my sanity.
The only problem is, I’ve watched her go from a little girl who chased us around with a bow and arrow to the only woman in the South immune to my charm. And the men who were once scared of Rainey? They now find my le savauge beguiling, and I do not care for it one bit …
King of the South is the first book in Calia Read's spin off series from her Surviving Time trilogy. It centers around Etienne's twin brother, Livingston, and Nat's best friend, Rainey Pleasonton. The first World War has ended. Livingston made it home, but is a changed man, hiding his trauma. His best friend Miles, Rainey's brother, did not. When it is revealed that Miles made Livingston executor to Rainey's dowry, with the stipulation that she would need to find a husband in 60 days, or the dowry would be donated to charity, Livingston and Rainey are confused ... and annoyed. Livingston and Rainey are bickering on the best of days. But when Rainey is told that her family is broke, and her mother is on the verge of losing their ancestral home, she decides to find a husband. When Livingston is forced to watch man after man attempt the woo the beautiful, but wild Rainey, his le sauvauge, he doesn't like it. But can Livingston find it in himself to accept someone in his life, when he isn't the same man he used to be?
I ADORED THIS BOOK! This ended up on my TBR when I saw it talked about a few times on #booktok. I was looking for a steamy, but run read, and I love a good enemies to lovers trope, so I picked up this one. I am so glad I did! I didn't realize it was a spin off series until a scene with Livingston and Serene popped up that left me confused. I quickly pulled up goodreads, and realized I was reading ahead of myself. Did it stop me? Nope. I was already fully immersed in King of the South. I loved Livingston and Rainey - separately, and together. I liked that Rainey is a bit of a tomboy. She doesn't truly care that she is a spinster, doesn't dream of marriage. She only considers it to save her mother and herself from being thrown on the streets. And Livingston, despite his pain from the war, is funny. Definitely charming (to all but Rainey). And when they are on the page together, their chemistry is electric, whether they are having a battle of wits, arguing, or more. The plot was great, the banter was fantastic, the sex was ... ermagod. Hot. I LOVED THIS BOOK!
Even if historic romance isn't your thing, I think you will love this book. It's 1919, so there is a hint of modern to it. The characters feel natural, and Calia Read doesn't "cookie cut" the characters to fit the mold of your typical historic romance character roles. They felt utterly unique. With characters like these, and a plot that is engaging, how can you not love this book?
*By purchasing the book using the links below, I will receive a small commission, at no cost to you.*
“The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” - Mark Twain According to my momma, Miles patted my head and said hello. His friend came up to me and stared at me intently.
Livingston: “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. Livingston: “I had a date with …”
I see the empty bottle on the floor and pick it up. Focusing on words hurts my eyes.
I pronounce slowly. I spin the bottle around, and when I see the profile of a man at the bottom, I squint.
Livingston: “My, that woman has masculine features.”
Étienne snatches the bottle from my hands and shakes his head.
Etienne: “That’s Franz Joseph I of Austria.”
Livingston: “My God, that explains the mustache.” Livingston: “What. Was. That?”
Happily, I go toe-to-toe with him.
Rainey: “What. Was. Last. Night?”
Rubbing his hands down his face, he gestures to the bow, and shouts,
Livingston: “You just tried to kill me!”
Sighing, I stare down at my bow and lovingly pet it.
Rainey: “Livingston, if I wanted to kill you, I would’ve done it years ago.” I lean in toward her and lower my voice.
Rainey: “In case you’re wonderin’, the man who you were moonin’ over used to call his underwear wiener wear when he was a boy.” Livingston: “If you keep speakin’ in such a manner, you’ll never find a husband,”
Livingston says from behind me. Turning around before I can take a deep breath, I find myself in the same position I was in not ten minutes ago. Livingston has his back to me as he walks toward his armoire. I’ve already been dismissed.
The arrow moves through the air with a sleek precision that leaves me satisfied. Livingston turns right as the tip of the arrow cuts through the back of his sleeve, grazing his bicep, and settling into the solid oak of the armoire. With his arm essentially pinned, Livingston stares at me. Mouth open, and eyes wide. Slowly, I lower my bow. I don’t bother to retrieve my arrow.
Rainey: “If you keep turnin’ your back on me, you won’t live to see the end of these sixty days.”
Feeling pleased with my shot, I give him the curtsy that would make queens throughout the decades weep and my past governesses nod with approval.
Rainey: “Have a good day, Mr. Lacroix,” Serene: "The only person you can’t charm is Miss Rainey. Speakin’ of my favorite Southern belle, I heard she shot you in the ass.”
Livingston: “She told you?”
Serene looks at her husband.
Serene: “Rainey walked in on Livingston doing it with some chick and shot him in the ass with a bow and arrow because she was pissed at him. She didn’t elaborate on why. I just assumed Livingston did something to tick her off because he’s, well … Livingston.”
Etienne: “This was recent?”
She nods. Étienne rises from his chair and gives me a quick once-over before he sits back down.
Etienne: “For bein’ shot in the buttocks, he’s sittin’ remarkably well.”
The two of them converse about me as though I’m not there. Finally, I lift my hand, and they look over at me impatiently.
Livingston: “She did not shoot me in the ass, as Serene so eloquently put it.”
Livingston: “She almost did.” Livingston: “I must say, receivin’ an invitation to have dinner at the Pleasonton house was a shock.”
Rainey: “Why were you shocked? You’re like family.”
Livingston: “I didn’t feel the warm embrace of family when you barged into my room days ago.”
I bite down on my tongue and force my lips to curl into a polite smile.
Rainey: “That was an unfortunate misunderstandin’.”
Livingston tucks his hands into his pockets. From my vantage point, I’m taller and able to turn my nose down on Livingston. I could become quite comfortable in this spot.
Livingston: “And the scar on my leg? Was that a misunderstandin’ too?”
Crossing my arms, I lean against the wall.
Rainey: “I was a child and didn’t know how to properly hold a bow or nock an arrow. A mere slip of my hand. I do apologize.” Rainey: "It’s perfectly normal for a woman to want to get married.”
Livingston: “No, you’re right. But you came to my home and tried to shoot me with your bow and arrow for a second time because you were so outraged by Pleas’s will, so forgive me if I’m skeptical. And while we’re on the topic of your arrow. Would you like it back?”
My blood begins to boil.
Rainey: “If we’re on the subject of my bow and arrow, I shot you because you humiliated me in front of virtual strangers. And no, you can keep the arrow as a reminder never to anger me again.” I open the door, and I can’t stop myself. My eyes examine Rainey to make sure there’s no possible way she’s hiding her bow. I don’t have the desire to be shot today. Livingston: “Do you have an idea?”
At that, Serene hesitates.
Serene: “Not yet, but I will. And if I don’t … hell, you can marry Étienne if you want.”
Rainey laughs and shakes her head.
Rainey: “If only it was that easy to have a man like yours for the choosin’.”
My brows furrow.
Livingston: “It’s your future husband, not a car from a production line.” Livingston: “You truly think you can find her a husband by September?”
Serene: “I’m confident I can.”
Rainey: “Why can’t she?”
Rainey chimes in. I face her.
Livingston: “For starters, you’re an uncivilized hellion.”
Rainey: “I am not!”
Crossing my arms, I smirk at her.
Livingston: “Okay. Define civilized then.”
Mimicking my actions, Serene steps forward.
Rainey: “Civilized is the opposite of how I feel when I’m around you.”
Rainey finishes her words with a bright smile. I look her up and down.
Livingston: “Should we all expect to see this charm that will lure in the man of your dreams?”
Rainey: “Oh, this charm is only for you.” I give the men a closer inspection to figure out what my brother is referring to. Sure enough, each bachelor has a tag with a number around their neck as though they’re livestock at an auction.
Livingston: “Wait … why do they have those?”
Rainey clears her throat and walks toward the three of us.
Rainey: “If I may explain?”
Livingston: “Please do,"
Rainey: “Upon entering the ballroom, Serene made the bachelors put on tags. The numbers are linked to a certain bachelor to keep track of him.”
Etienne: “I made the suggestion,”
Étienne cut in. I turn to him as though he’s gone mad. He has been spending far too much time with his wife.
Serene: “I fashioned the tags with Alex’s nanny late into the night,”
Serene chimes in excitedly.
Serene: “And in fine print, beneath the numbers, you’ll find the bachelor’s name, likes, dislikes, location, and current employment status.”
Etienne: “I did not tell her to do that,”
Étienne heavily emphasizes. Serene turns to him.
Serene: “I know, but I really felt we were playing off each other, you know?” Etienne: “Whether you had stayed or left, I had every intention of findin’ my way back here to watch this process,”
my brother says in a hushed whisper. He flings his hand toward his wife and grins.
Etienne: “Serene callin’ out orders is where she truly shines.”
Livingston: “I feel as though I’ve become privy to what goes on in your bedroom.” Livingston: "I’ve heard the bettin’ books around town have made a game of your bachelors. A lot of people have become highly invested in your future husband.”
Eyes wide, I turn toward Livingston.
Rainey: “You cannot be serious.”
Livingston: “When have I lied about a bet?”
Rainey: “When you’re losin’,” Livingston: “Why would I want to settle with one woman?”
Serene: “Because we’re made of sugar and spice and everything nice. So kiss my ass.”
Étienne and I turn in time to see Serene walk into the ballroom. I gesture to my sister-in-law.
Livingston: “Here walks Exhibit A. Livingston: “Resentful?”
Rainey: “Yes, resentful. Resentful that maybe your le savauge isn’t so savage after all, and other men notice.”
Rainey leans closer, her deep brown eyes staring into mine.
Rainey: “Maybe they find me desirable.”
She doesn’t realize it, but she paints an alluring picture. Smartly, she grins because she thinks she’s about to win this round. My lips curl upward because the point goes to me. Le savauge isn’t an insult. Never has been. I like her savage and wild. It is her title, and what sets her apart from every other woman. I read the names that aren’t crossed out, but there’s one that catches my eye and causes me to burst into laughter. I laugh so hard my sides hurt. Rainey lowers the list to her side and straightens her shoulders.
Rainey: “What is it?”
I take a deep breath long enough to say,
Rainey: “What about him?”
I wipe the tears from the corner of my eyes as the last of my chuckles escape.
Livingston: “For starters his last name is Hiscock. Do you want to be Mrs. Hiscock?”
I grab the paper from her, lift it in the air, and peer closely.
Livingston: “This has to be a typo.”
Moments later, I lower the paper and grin.
Livingston: “No. He’s still Mr. Hiscock and you’re still Mrs. Hiscock.”
Rainey: “Stop callin’ me that,”
Livingston: “Rainey, no respectable woman would be Mrs. Hiscock.” On cue, the corners of her lips curl upward. She fights it. She always does. But she loses and then she laughs. It’s a sound that always strikes me in the gut. A sound I can hear no matter where I’m at. A sound to pull me out of any darkness. If that isn’t the very definition of pure laughter, my God, I don’t know what is. Rainey: “How can I thank you, Livingston, for everythin’ you’re doin’ for me?”
Livingston: “Dieu aide moi,” (God help me)
I mutter, once I catch my breath. She taps me on the nose as though I’m a little boy.
Rainey: “And that is how you properly flirt.” Serene: “Oh, Rainey. I know that look.”
Jutting my chin, I step back. I brush a hand across my skirt and clear my throat.
Rainey: “Everythin’ is fine.”
Serene: “Of course it is. You just gave your heart to a Lacroix man.” Livingston: “I wanted to speak with you about the picnic.”
Rainey: “What about it? Do you take issue with the final five bachelors?”
Livingston: “I’ve taken issue with all of the bachelors,”
Livingston says without missing a beat.
Livingston: “No, I wanted to talk about your conversation with Taylor. I believe in positive affirmations?”
he says, doing his best imitation of my voice.
Rainey: “What is wrong with positive affirmations?”
Livingston: “Nothin’. But you wouldn’t recognize positive if it was directly in front of you. Now negative is a different conversation.”
Rainey: “Good. Because I’m about to give you a handful of them.”
Livingston: “There she is,”
Livingston murmurs and takes a step closer. Livingston: “T’es la mienne. Mon beau sauvage.” (You are mine. My beautiful savage.| Livingston: “Allez-vous crier mon nom quand vous viendrez?” (Will you shout my name when you come?) Livingston: “I’ll agree. Under one stipulation.”
My eyes narrow. I should’ve known there would be a stipulation.
Rainey: “And that would be?”
Livingston faces me.
Livingston: “As much as you may want to, you can’t fall in love with me.”
I can’t help the unladylike snort that slips from my mouth.
Rainey: “There’s no problem of that happenin’.”
It almost happened once before. I can fight it a second time.
Livingston: “You seem confident.”
Rainey: “I’ve never been more sure of anythin’ in my entire life,”
I reply, using his own words. Playfully, Livingston taps me underneath my chin.
Livingston: “You sure ’bout that, darlin’?”
Rainey: “Lacroix, you climbed through my window. It seems to me that you’re in danger of fallin’ in love with me.” Rainey: “Well, last night we agreed you should teach me more about affection. Correct?”
Livingston: “Correct. Is it called affection, though?”
Rainey: “What would you call it?”
He moves in, and my heart races. I know this man. He can read a nursery rhyme and make it sound wicked.
Livingston: “From last night, I would describe it as your devotion to me.”
Rainey: “Try again.”
Rainey: “A frenzy for what’s to come.” Livingston: “Puis-je te garder pour toujours?” (Can I keep you forever?) Je te veux plus que tout. (I want you more than anything) How many women has he spoken those words to? My heart knew the answer to the question. To the wrong women? Far too many to count. But to the right one? Just once. And she was me. Livingston: “Dieu me pardonne ce que je m’apprête à faire,” (God forgive me what I'm about to do,)
Livingston murmurs against my lips before he embeds himself fully into me. Serene: “Listen, I know you’ve had a proverbial skank train in your life since you realized Livingston Jr. could rise all on his own—”
Etienne: “Lovely, Serene,” Etienne: “If this gets out, it could cause a scandal. You need to do the right thing and marry her.”
A harsh laugh escapes me.
Livingston: “In my life, Rainey has shot at me twice for embarrassin’ her. Imagine what she’ll do if I propose to her out of duty.” Livingston: “Je vais te baiser si fort que tout le monde saura que tu es à moi,” (I'm gonna fuck you so hard everyone will know you're mine)
Rainey: “It was noble,”
Livingston: “Perhaps at first. In war, there are battle lines, but in the end, all men bleed the same.” Rainey: “You wanted so badly to save the people around you that you forgot to save yourself,” I waited several minutes until I heard her steady breathing. Even then, I was hesitant as I whispered the words into her hair,
Livingston: “Vous êtes la seule chose pure à laquelle je puisse m’accrocher.” (You are the only pure thing I can cling to.) Sighing heavily, Nat looks me over with blank eyes.
Nat: “Vous pouvez vous mentir, mais vous ne pouvez pas me mentir.” (You can lie to yourself, but you can't lie to me.)
Livingston: “C’est la vérité.” (It's the truth.)
Nat looks unconvinced.
Nat: “Les gens peuvent mentir avec des mots, mais pas avec leurs yeux.” (People can lie with words, but not with their eyes.) Nat: “Only a fool allows fear and pride to get in the way of love.”
Past: “Livingston: "I met you at the same time like everybody else, but I see you differently …”
His brows furrow as he continues to look me over.
Livingston: “I could love you.”
I can’t tell whether that’s a statement or an offer.
Rainey: “Is that so?”
I reply, trying to keep my reply light. My chest tightens at his words. He’s not himself. He doesn’t know what he’s saying. Livingston lifts a shoulder, but he boldly keeps his eyes on mine.
Livingston: “You drive me mad. And you don’t behave how a woman should.”
Rainey: “You flatter me,”
Livingston: “You didn’t let me finish. I think that’s different and original.”
Rainey: “Different and original. Those are two words no one has ever used to describe me.”
Livingston: “Think you could love me?”
He’s not himself, he’s not himself, he’s not himself. But I was. I had my memories in order and my mind in place. There was no explanation for how I was reacting, which was flustered and almost delighted by his words. We’ve always had an intense repartee between one another that never gave us time to consider one another as anything else but word-sparring partners. Right then, the light on Livingston shifts. I see past the teasing, his womanizing ways and the charm I’ve watched him reserve for the world. I know he’s not giving me that charm now. He stares at me with a naked vulnerability, and a hunger that takes my breath away. He leans in so our faces are inches apart.
Livingston: “Could you love me?” The longer he remains silent, the further my heart breaks. It’s an interesting thing. The breaking of a heart is never heard by another soul, except for the person it belongs to and the one doing the breaking. Livingston: “You’re gonna leave?”
I don’t reply, but my heart wants me to. So badly.
Livingston: “Fine. I don’t need you! I never did!”
Don’t respond. Don’t respond. I pause on the first step. My eyes briefly close. If Livingston’s intentions are to take a knife and drive it as deep into my chest as possible, then he’s succeeded. Don’t respond. Abruptly, I turn around. Because I’m headstrong and impetuous. The need to find the last word and capture it as my own is far greater than my rationale. I rush toward him in a fury and don’t stop until we’re a hair’s breadth away.
Rainey: “Of course you need me, you foolish man. I was born for you. What is a king without his queen?” Nat: “You love my brother, don’t you?”
It seems extraordinarily wrong to place my burdens on someone whose pain is greater than mine. That’s why me, Momma and Livingston are here to begin with. To let Nathalie know we love her.
Rainey: “Who Étienne?”
I ask, feigning indifference.
Rainey: “I love him as a brother. He’s a stern man but has always been kind to me.”
I finish my words with a smile. Nat doesn’t smile back.
Nat: “You know which brother.”
My smile fades, and my heart begins to pick up speed. Averting my gaze, I look at the floor.
Rainey: “I’ve loved Livingston before I knew what the word meant.” Mrs. Pleasonton: “People have always said you and Raina have a brother and sister bond, but I never agreed.”
She stares straight ahead, a faraway look in her eyes.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “When she was born you were not impressed with her.”
She smiles softly.
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Of course you weren’t. You were only a child yourself. But when Miles left the room you reached out and wrapped your hand around her small one. I don’t think either of you have let go ever since, have you?”
Her words cause a shiver to rock through me. I hold Leonore’s gaze, reminding myself to appear indifferent. I smile at her.
Livingston: “I suppose one might consider us close when we’re not bringin’ one another agony.”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “That may be true, but I think we show the best and worst parts of ourselves to the people who love us the most.” Serene: “A smarter man would have showed up with support. You know … witnesses.”
Livingston: “Well, I never claimed to be smart.” I realize then that this obsession will never fade. She could dance with every eligible bachelor she desires and have dinner with them all until she could eat no more. She could even decide to marry one of the many men at her disposal. But I would destroy this Earth looking for her. I would rip every house from The Battery to Ashley River inside out trying to find a way to be with her. Just to have a moment with her. She is the phantom echo of the heart I once had before everything changed. The amount of love she has for me is irrelevant because every part of me beats for her. Mrs. Pleasonton: “Rainey, you need to go to him.”
I shake my head.
Rainey: “I can’t.”
Mrs. Pleasonton: “Why not?”
Rainey: “All my life, I’ve watched women cave. Cave to society, cave for families, and cave for love. I thought I would never be like that but look at me.”
I spread my arms.
Rainey: “Look at me. All I do is cave. I’ve had more dates over the past sixty days than I’ve had in six years just to protect my family from public ridicule.”
I take a deep breath.
Rainey: “If I seem stubborn, it’s because I am. If I appear hurt, it’s because I am, because I know my worth, and it’s more than this.” Livingston: “I’m still stubborn, and I’ll drive you mad.”
At that, Étienne snorts.
Rainey: “I know that. I’ll continue to drive you mad.”
Livingston: “God, I hope so.”