In September 1865 Eli Calhoon, Lieutenant Colonel, Confederate States Army, returns to his war-ravaged plantation, Camellia Creek, outside Port Gibson in Claiborne County, Mississippi, resolved to begin again. But Mississippi, like the rest of the South, lies prostrate in the wake of a devastating conflict that wasted its population and destroyed what had been, only four years earlier, the third strongest economy in the world. More troubling, the South’s recovery is now overseen by a victorious enemy determined that the Southern economy, as well as the South’s influence within the Union, will never be revived. For Southerners, getting a spring crop in the field is as far out of reach as is the payment of five years’ back taxes Congress demands from the states in Rebellion to pay for the war it waged against them.
Orphaned Alice Shelton, late of Ohio by way of Chicago, has come to Mississippi with her aunt and uncle, Betty and Peter Franklin. Peter is a speculator in search of investment. A veteran of the war, he knows opportunity exists in the defeated South. His preference for a home for his wife, daughter, and niece is the lovely Camellia Creek. In company with the Franklins are Peter’s widowed sister-in-law Eustacia and her son, Jonathan, who Peter believes is the perfect match for Alice, heiress to a fortune.
Alice’s widowed father, Jacob Shelton, and his two sons were killed in action during the war, fighting for the Union. The losses have left Alice in despair so deep her aunt fears Alice might take her own life.
Seth Parker, Major, United States Marine Corps, has come to Mississippi on orders at the request of a friend and military senior to investigate the murder of a U.S. Treasury agent, which may tie in to cotton thefts rampant among the white Army officers stationed in Mississippi. The powers that be prefer he find a Southerner to blame, but the senior officer is not so sure. To investigate the death, Seth is given a troop of nine men, all Negro members of Mississippi’s Native Guard, for the most part ex-slaves recruited into the Union Army during the war.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and in a lawless South, desperate measures are gambles that sometimes pay off. When an indiscretion not of her own making lands the lovely Alice into the hands of a determined Eli Calhoon, he blackmails her into marriage and brings her to Camellia Creek, where she is haunted by Jocelyn LeBlanc, an ill-fated beauty who died under mysterious circumstances decades earlier. In addition to Jocelyn’s ghostly presence, war’s aftermath, murder, and jealous greed vex Alice, threatening her new-found desire to live, a desire ignited by the very man who could be plotting to snuff it out.