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She was spoiled, that was the problem. Her dear adoptive
mother and father had given her the best they could afford
from the day they had rescued her. The best included a speedy
trip home to their Park Avenue mansion in New York City while
she still suffered from the aftereffects of theorphanage
fire, medical treatment guided by their personal physician at
the best hospitals the great city could offer, and
recuperation in a large, airy, sun-filled room that she was
able to call her own.
Elizabeth sighed as she recalled those days. She had been
protected against everything with her new parents-everything
but her own, nameless fear. That fear had nagged at her
during endless nights while nightmares of a raging fire
assaulted her; while terrifying images within the flames that
she could neither identify nor completely recall, awakened her
time and again to the palpitating darkness of her room.
The shifting shadows in the darkness had then worked to
accelerate a fear that rose to the point of hysteria in her
mind, only to be controlled at last by a faint echo ringing in
the back of her mind that gave her belated strength:
Fear is an enemy. Don't let it win.
Strangely enough, she had been told time and again as an adult
that she was fearless. There was no task she would not
tackle, no question she would not challenge, no individual too
big or too brash to back her down. She was proud of that
facet of her personality, too, especially due to the animosity
of a particular aunt in her adoptive family who did not share
in her adoptive parents' happiness, and who took every
opportunity to attempt to discredit her in their eyes. Firm
in her rebuff of all Aunt Sylvia's unfair insinuations, she
was always civil to her, but she had long since given up
trying to change the situation. It was a mystery to her how
Aunt Sylvia could possibly have given life to a son as gentle
and kind as Trevor, who often suffered abuse from his mother
in her defense. Although at first concerned by Aunt Sylvia's
concealed animosity, she no longer gave it much thought
because she knew her adoptive parents were proud of her and of
the way she had handled things.
It was her silent humiliation, however, known only to herself
and her dear adoptive mother, Ella, that as fearless as she
was in most aspects of her life, she had not yet totally
conquered a fear of the dark with origins in a youth she could
not remember. Instead, she had learned to control her fear,
and she had told herself that would have to do.
Still standing inside the doorway of her room, Elizabeth
silently berated herself for her reaction to the austere
quarters. She walked a few steps further and scrutinized the
bed linens as she folded them back. They were spotlessly
clean and fresh. She then noted that the oil lamp sparkled
with cleanliness despite its staining, the rug on the floor
had obviously been swept, not a trace of dust marked any
visible surface in the room, and resting on the dresser was a
small glass in which a few wildflowers, obviously freshly
picked, had been artlessly placed.
Elizabeth swallowed hard against the lump that rose
unexpectedly to her throat. Someone had made an obvious
effort to present the room in the best possible manner for
someone who had restored a semblance of past grandeur to the
hotel simply by making a reservation to stay.
It was equally obvious that someone had a long memory for a
time when the Easton Hotel had been more than it presently
was-and she envied that person. Memory was a gift ... a treasure
to hold forever in one's mind. Her own limited memories had
been tenderly cultivated by her adoptive parents-yet she was
haunted by the void in her past where memory had been consumed
by the same fire that had almost taken her life.
A familiar sadness almost overwhelming, Elizabeth sat on the
side of the double bed. She reached into the neckline of her
traveling dress and withdrew a delicate oval pendant
emblazoned with a crest that had become familiar to her. She
had no idea how she had gotten the pendant or what it meant.
It was all that remained of a past buried somewhere in the
shadowed reaches of her mind-yet she was certain it was the
key to the who and why of all she had forgotten.
She studied it, caressing its raised surface with her slender
thumb. It was beautiful. Daintily wrought on a gold base in
subtle shades of blue enamel, it pictured a sailing ship on a
sea of white-crested waves. The image of a hawk in flight
graced the center sail of rigging fully blown against the
outline of a red, rising sun. Below the ship on a banner
garlanded with a vine of orchids were the Latin words Quattuor
mundum do; and on the bow of the ship, in miniscule letters
that had been almost too small for her to identify, was
inscribed the name Sarah Jane.
She had no idea how an orphaned child had come to possess what
appeared to be a meaningful symbol of the past. She only knew
that her adoptive mother told her she was wearing the pendant
underneath her torn and scorched dress when she escaped the
fire; that she had stirred from the pained semi-consciousness
of the few days following the fire only when someone
inadvertently touched the pendant; and that the pendant
was-for a reason Elizabeth could not quite define-her most
After Elizabeth's subsequent recovery from her injuries in New
York, her adoptive mother attempted to discover more about her
origin, but the fire had done its work too well. She had
learned through her adoptive mother's graciousness in having
the Latin translated that Quattuor mundum do meant, "To four I
give the world;" yet her own perspicacity was responsible for
deciphering the miniscule letters that formed the name Sarah
Jane on the bow of the ship. A relentless search of ships'
registries in the time following revealed several ships named
Sarah Jane, but only one registered in Texas-in Galveston-and
her journey to her present location was born.
Tears briefly clouded Elizabeth's vision. Yet years had
passed since that moment of discovery. Her adoptive mother
and she had intended making the journey to discover her past
together, but her adoptive father's unexpected illness and his
struggle to survive that lasted three years had put it on
hold. Her adoptive father finally slipped away, but his
extended illness had already affected her adoptive mother's
health adversely. When Ella Huntington suffered a stroke,
Elizabeth had known she had no choice but to remain by the
side of the dear woman who was the only mother she could
The mystery of her past was never forgotten, however. It
interfered with the progress of her life. Aaron Meese, a
handsome, sincere young man who was heir to his father's
fortune, loved her-but she had been unable to make a
commitment. Another sought-after bachelor, Gerald Connors,
made similar intentions known, but her answer was the same,
that she could not make herself commit to the future while her
past was shrouded in darkness.
Helpless against nightmares that grew in frequency as time
passed, Elizabeth had no choice but to agree when her adoptive
mother insisted that she delay her search no longer. She knew
the concerned woman would be disturbed when Agatha Potter
returned prematurely and she realized Elizabeth was alone in
her search. She suspected Aunt Sylvia would do her best to
place harsh blame on her for Agatha's return, but Elizabeth
also knew she could not allow either thought to hinder her.
She was in Texas, hopefully the place of her birth. This was
her last chance to unearth the mystery of her past and to halt
the nightmares that plagued her. More importantly, she knew
in her heart that she would never feel complete while so much
of her life lay in darkness. She knew-
Elizabeth's pensive moment ended abruptly at the sound of a
knock on her door. Uncertain, she approached it slowly and
asked, "Who is it?"
"It's me, ma'am. I figure you was waiting for me."
Waiting for him ...?
Had someone recognized her? Could her search have ended
successfully and so quickly?
A shaken smile on her lips and her heart pounding, Elizabeth
pulled open the door-then went stock still at the sight of the
bearded, grinning cowpoke swaying in her doorway. She took a
backward step as the rancid smell of whiskey and stale
perspiration reached her nostrils. She said stiffly, "I think
you made an error when you knocked on my door, sir. Perhaps
you should try another room."
"No siree, you're the one I was looking for." The fellow's
grin widened, allowing a broader view of uneven, yellowed
teeth. Elizabeth suppressed a grimace when he reached into
his pocket with hands that were less than clean and pulled out
a wad of greenbacks as he said, "I got the money to pay for a
good time, and you're the one I want to spend it with."
The fellow attempted to enter the room and sudden fear closed
Elizabeth's throat. Reacting spontaneously, she shoved hard
at his chest, knocking him a few steps backwards, but she was
not quick enough to halt the hand that grasped the door as she
attempted to slam it in his face. She was still struggling to
force the door closed when the fellow pushed it open with a
sudden thrust and said harshly, "Think you're too good for me,
huh? Well, you ain't, and it looks like I'm going to have to
prove it to you."
Elizabeth responded in as firm a tone as she could manage,
"You've made a mistake and I'm asking you to leave. If you
don't leave, I'll call the manager of this establishment and
have you thrown out."
"The manager?" The fellow's burst of laughter was halted
abruptly by a deep voice from behind him saying, "You heard
the lady, partner. You made a mistake, so put your money back
in your pocket and go back where you came from."
Elizabeth restrained a gasp when she looked at the big man
standing behind the drunken cowpoke. Bearded, disheveled and
decidedly unclean, he was a much larger version of the same
man he was displacing.
Making contact with the hard, dark-eyed gaze that turned
briefly in her direction from beneath the brim of the big
fellow's dusty hat, Elizabeth swallowed. No, she was wrong.
This man wasn't drunk-and unless she was wrong, he wasn't
someone who would be turned away easily, either.
What had she gotten herself into?
The big man's gaze did not falter as he stared at the shorter
fellow and pressed, "Did you hear what I said?"
The drunk looked up at the fellow standing behind him. His
expression hardened the moment before he appeared to
reconsider, then said abruptly, "All right, I ain't so drunk
that I can't see you're bigger than I am and steadier on your
feet-so you win. She's all yours. As far as I'm concerned,
she ain't worth the trouble she'd cost me, not when I can go
to Miss Sadie's place and get me a woman who's more willing."
"That's good thinking. Miss Sadie's is the right place for
The drunk was staggering back down the hallway when the big
man turned toward Elizabeth and said unexpectedly, "I hope you
learned a lesson here today, lady."
"I beg your pardon!" Insulted by his tone, Elizabeth
continued, "If you're insinuating-"
She took a step backwards as the big man closed the distance
between them, stopping so close that she could feel the brush
of his surprisingly sweet breath against her cheek as he said
softly, "I'm not insinuating anything. I'm telling you.
You're not going to find the kind of protector you're looking
for in this hotel. My advice would be to take yourself down
to the Seamont Hotel where you can find a man with better
manners and a fatter wallet." His dark eyes drilled into hers
as he added, "You're wasting yourself here."
"How dare you insinuate-?"
"I told you, I'm not insinuating. I'm telling you. Galveston
survived a blockade that cost it dearly, and the people here
are celebrating their freedom any way they can. If you don't
want the same kind of fella knocking at your door again, get
yourself out of here so you won't be a temptation to men who
have suffered much and have little resistance to your kind of
allure. There might not be somebody around to help you out
"Help me out? Is that what you think you did?" Elizabeth was
incensed. "I'll have you know that I could've handled that
fellow on my own. I didn't need your interference, and
neither will I ever need it again! And for your information,
my room here has been paid up two weeks in advance, and I
don't expect to lose any part of that sum, your advice
"I will do exactly that!"
Excerpted from Hawk's Passion
by Elaine Barbieri
Copyright © 2006 by Elaine Barbieri.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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