Mercy Cameron carries on her father’s medical practice as best as she can after he leaves to fight in the Civil War. She nurses her second cousin, Philip, back to health, and the two quickly fall in love and marry.
When Philip returns after the hostilities are over, he refuses to live under Reconstruction and insists the couple relocate to Mexico, where Emperor Maximilian has promised free land to settlers. By the time Mercy and Philip complete the journey, however, the Austrian monarch’s last hope is to make a stand in the Yucatán. Disappointed and drinking heavily, Philip bets his wife in a game of cards, losing Mercy to Zane Falconer, owner of a distant hacienda, who needs a woman to educate his motherless daughter.
Reluctantly agreeing to teach Julie Falconer until she turns eighteen—ten years—in exchange for enough money to return to Texas with a sizable bonus, Mercy sets out with the enigmatic and ruggedly handsome Zane on a three-day journey deep into the Yucatán. At the hacienda, Mercy fights to win the respect of the sharp-tongued Julie and dares to dream that Zane’s ironic courtesy may one day turn into deeper feelings. But when Zane leaves the hacienda to help fight off invaders, Mercy first falls into the clutches of a gunrunning Englishman and is then captured by the Cruzob, Mayans who’ve been fighting a long war with the ruling mixed bloods and federal troops. From the brave and attractive Dionisio, Mercy learns Mayan lore and comes to sympathize with their struggle for freedom, all the while praying that she might live to see Zane again.
Rich in adventure and intrigue, Bride of Thunder is a spellbinding work of historical romance from a bestselling and award-winning author heralded by the Denver Post as “a master novelist.”
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Bride of Thunder
By Jeanne Williams
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Jeanne Williams
All rights reserved.
Mercy Cameron waited by the softly lit church of Santa Lucia, growing more anxious by the moment. Twilight was changing to night. No unchaperoned woman should be standing about on street corners at that hour, an impropriety edged with danger, for she and her husband had only that day arrived in Mérida after a jolting carriage ride from the little port of Sisal. To make a foreign city and language even stranger, this capital of Yucatán was celebrating the lifting of a fifty-day siege at a place to the south called Tihosuco. An English-speaking merchant who had shared their carriage from the port thirty miles away had tried to explain the tumultuous relief and joy, but all Mercy was sure of was that rebel Mayas had been repulsed and that a war she had never even heard of had been going on in Yucatán since 1848 and still continued, though the government had officially declared it over in 1855, eleven years ago.
Thunderstruck at the news, Philip had deluged the merchant with indignant questions that had put the portly moustachioed Creole very much on his honor as a Yucatecan.
"I marvel," he said stiffly, "at how those who have lost a war are eager to advise men who have at least protected their home."
Philip's eyes flashed and he leaned forward. "By God, sir ..."
Mercy tugged at his arm. "Philip! Please! Remember, we are guests of the empire."
She invoked that name deliberately. It was their last hope. After the long journey across Texas and Mexico to Vera Cruz, last week they had reached the much-heralded colony of Carlota, named for the empress of Mexico. Since the defeat of the South a year and a half ago, Confederates had made their way to Mexico, some hoping to fight for Maximilian's empire and, with its triumph, reclaim their home country, others simply wishing to start over on lands offered free or at little cost.
Governors, generals, common soldiers, those who had lost everything in the war or who couldn't accept the grinding humiliation of Reconstruction, adventurers, rascals, and honorable men — all flocked south of the Rio Grande, expecting a promised land of ease, sunshine, and lush, effortlessly grown crops where lost fortunes could be recouped and the Confederacy could live again, even in exile.
But during the eleven-day stage trip from Monterrey to Mexico City, the Camerons heard disturbing rumors. Though the crown of Mexico had been offered to Archduke Maximilian of Austria in 1863, along with the assurance that the Mexicans ardently desired a monarch to save them from revolutions and military coups, it was really the French Army that kept the well-meaning but deluded emperor in power.
When the Civil War ended, United States Secretary of State Seward demanded the withdrawal of European troops from Mexico and that the U.S. begin to supply weapons and ammunition to Juárez, the Indian president of Mexico whose followers had been fighting the Imperialists since French intervention.
Napoleon III had hoped to have his puppet firmly in power before the United States would have time or strength to enforce the Monroe Doctrine. In April of that year, 1866, he had announced a gradual withdrawal of French troops. Carlota, Maximilian's darkly beautiful Belgian princess wife, had gone to France to plead with Napoleon to keep his promises and had arrived the first week in August to find that Austria (and her brother-in-law, Emperor Franz Joseph) had just lost a seven-week war to Prussia, and that the trans-Atlantic cable was now in regular service, meaning she could quickly inform Maximilian of her progress with Napoleon.
She had no good news to send her embattled husband. After delays and evasions, Napoleon told her he could not help, and toward the end of August he wrote Maximilian that he would supply neither another franc nor soldier. Carlota went on to Rome to plead for aid from the pope, was again refused, and on October 18, Maximilian had cables telling of his wife's illness. A few days later he started for Orizaba, apparently to abdicate.
That was the last development the Camerons heard of when they reached Vera Cruz late in October, but they had traveled on to Carlota to find mango trees swaying lacy-green above the almost deserted plaza and most of the thatched bamboo huts empty.
Courtly white-haired General Sterling Price invited them to a meal in his large thatched house and told them how the rush of Confederates into this Cordoba valley had led to a brief boom that collapsed as would-be colonizers could find no way of supporting themselves till crops grew, discovered that hard work would be necessary, encountered yellow fever and typhoid, and were frightened at the way Juáristas had raided an outlying settlement and taken its men captive. The men had been released, but Juárez was undoubtedly winning the war. He wouldn't be sympathetic to foreigners who'd accepted land from an Austrian interloper and sworn allegiance to him. Southerners were returning as quickly as they could to the United States.
"All for nothing!" Philip cried. His thin, well-formed lips twitched as he glanced away from the handsome old general.
Mercy stiffened with dread. She knew what would come later, when they were alone: accusations and stormings that if she hadn't tried to persuade him to stay in Texas, they'd have been snugly settled on a Mexican estate by now and able to ride out a change in governments. As if sensing some undercurrents of Philip's despair, General Price sighed.
"Yucatán is as loyal to the empire as that strife-ridden place can ever be. The empress visited both Campeche and Mérida a year ago, awarded many honors, and aroused wild enthusiasm. There's talk of reestablishing the empire in Yucatán with a view of expanding south."
"Then we'll go to Yucatán!" Philip had vowed, brightening. "I'd rather die than go back to Reconstruction!"
The weary old general looked sorrowful but wished them good fortune. Mercy's urgings that they return to Texas only increased Philip's stubborn determination. They spent their remaining money to travel by steamship across the Gulf of Mexico to the port of Sisal, and then on to Mérida.
Their driver brought them to a small, clean inn, but Philip left immediately to scout the city for "prospects." He had promised to meet Mercy at a nearby church so that they could have a stroll before dusk and find a respectable place to eat.
It was more than dusk. Mercy felt tired, hungry, and forlorn. Philip hadn't been able to settle down after the South's defeat. He'd stayed out later and later, drinking and reliving won battles while trying to forget a lost war. Painfully, Mercy thought back to the year before. Lee had surrendered April 9, and on April 14 Lincoln was assassinated. With him went the chance of generous and healing treatment for the conquered secessionists.
Some Confederate leaders had met in Marshall, Texas, about twenty miles from Mercy's home, before their troops were demobilized. General William Preston of Kentucky was there and so was General Jo Shelby of Missouri, who would later bury his unsurrendered flag in the Rio Grande as he crossed into Mexico. They planned, with other generals, colonels, and leaders assembled there, to send troops to Maximilian in the hope that when his empire was secured, he'd help them free the South from Northern dominion.
But the generals offered this command weren't free yet to leave their posts, and while officers debated, their exhausted men decided the war was over and went home without being formally discharged. Philip had ridden in from Marshall, his blue eyes bright with anger and excitement.
"We've lost the big chance. But Jo Shelby's heading south with five hundred men! That many seasoned troops could make the whole difference to Maximilian. We can help him steady his throne and then he can loan armies to free the South!"
Mercy looked up from plucking the tough old rooster Madge Evans had brought her for nursing the frail new Evans baby through a wracking croup. "More fighting? Oh, Philip, no! It'll take years now for the South to heal and be a good place to live. The sooner we start, the better."
"Under Yankees and traitors?"
"If we work and forget about the Yankees, they'll go away in time." Mercy dried her hands, stretching them out to her husband, but he avoided them with a glance of disgust at the scrawny rooster with its scalded feathers, soggy and odorous.
He was so touchy and difficult. Of course, he'd only been home a month. And his knee still pained him from the wound he'd received at Gettysburg, where her father had been killed. Philip had been sent home then to convalesce. She'd often visited her dashing, long-worshipped second cousin, reading to him and, in easing his recovery, finding some surcease from the ache of learning that her father was dead. In normal days it would have been unthinkable to marry at such a time, but no one raised eyebrows when the cousins were married a few days before Philip rejoined his command.
She'd been so thankful when the war ended with him still alive; she had been so overjoyed to look up one day from mixing ointment to see him in the doorway. Now, she'd thought, running to him, embracing him, touching his thin face, they'd put the war, loss, and defeat behind them, start fresh. Together, they could endure anything. She was so tired of being alone, of trying to fill her father's place with the sick.
Wonderful, wonderful, to have the war over. Wonderful to have a man at home!
But in these few weeks, she was having to secretly admit that it had been easier alone. At least she'd had hope — hope that when Philip came back, things would be better, that he'd take much of the load from her. Instead — the thought burst through in spite of her efforts to deny it — he was another burden, the heaviest of all, for he was the man she'd married, to whom her fate was joined. He seemed absolutely unable and unwilling to settle into everyday life, to make the best of what must be in the South for the next years.
Mercy turned back to her task, concealing hurt at the way he'd evaded her gesture of appeal. "Philip, your knee still pains you when you ride or walk a long time. You're not in any condition to ride hundreds of miles with Jo Shelby, much less fight."
His well-shaped mouth curved downward. "You seem to think I'm in condition to plow!"
"I'd help. And you could take as long as you need and rest when you're tired."
"I'm not a field hand, damn it!" She didn't answer, averting her face to hide tears that would only make him angrier. "I'm not cut out to farm," he growled. "There's no use in trying to make me do it!"
"Well, what is it that you intend?"
His eyes narrowed. "Oh, so you're throwing it in my face that we're eating what you grub out of that ugly little garden and what people give you for sitting up with them all night — when they bother to pay at all. That new doctor in town gets cash, jewelry, or something worthwhile for his trouble."
"It's worthwhile if I can help. People give what they can."
"The way they paid your father? If he'd charged the way he should've, he'd have left you pretty well off."
"He did. Remembering the kind of man he was is worth more than lots of money."
Philip groaned. "My God! You're talking about his goodness — honor, wisdom, all that rot?"
Whirling, Mercy trembled. "Talk that way about Father," she said in a shaking voice, "and I'll bar the door to you!"
He stared. This was the first time she'd lost her temper with him. When she met his eyes unflinchingly, he reddened and shrugged. "I'm sorry, honey. Uncle Elkanah was a saint, but it's too bad he didn't look after you a little better."
"We always had enough. And I'm sure he didn't expect to be killed at forty-five."
"It's still a shame" — Philip grinned ruefully, using the charm that could still twist her heart — "especially since you've got a husband who doesn't know how to do anything but soldier."
"You planned once to go into law."
"No money for that now, sugar."
"If it's what you want, we'll manage. I can sell vegetables and ..."
"You'd give them to people who don't eat right," teased Philip, leaning against the side of the house, which needed painting. He started across the garden toward the pastures and the thickly wooded creek. "Darling, I can't just forget we lost a war, go back to where I was when it started. Even if we had the money, I don't think I could endure the grind of studying, hours in a classroom, when I'm used to wondering if each day will be my last."
Coming to where she stood by a plank work table shaded by a big oak, he closed his arms around her from behind, his hands cupping her breasts.
She didn't know why exactly, but she hated that, to be grasped when she felt exposed and helpless, because her hands were busy with the smelly, wet feathers. Philip's moments of affection were few. If she complained of this unwelcome show, he'd sulk for days and would never turn to her in the night, as he did now only occasionally.
When they'd married, Mercy had been startled at the hurried brutal way he'd breached her, but she had believed his wound and nervousness made him rough. It wasn't much better now. When she wanted simple affection, or when she tried to prolong the kissing and caressing, he ignored her unspoken wishes, either moving away or taking her with neither delight nor tenderness.
Mercy had no woman to consult about this problem. Philip's parents had been dead for years, and his brother's wife, though pleasant, lived three days distant. Mercy hadn't seen her or her brother-in-law since the day she'd married Philip. From what she sensed about Madge Evans and the other married women she'd treated, Mercy concluded their lots were equally disappointing, if not worse, but their husbands weren't young and handsome like Philip; and Mercy, though not vain, knew she was infinitely more desirable than most of the women she'd seen partially unclothed.
When she glimpsed her slim figure in the mirror, firmly rounded breasts and thighs, flawless skin, she wondered what it would be like to have Philip watch her, admire her with his hands, tell her she was pretty.
Her father had never talked directly to her about physical love, but once she'd heard him chiding a man for "rolling on and rolling off." "If you'd pleasure your woman in bed, she'd have fewer headaches, backaches, and doctor bills," he'd growled. "You've got the medicine, she needs! Think about her and you'll both be a damned sight happier!"
Mercy came back to the flustering reality of Philip's hands slipping inside her dress. "If I go with Shelby and fight for the emperor, the least he'll do is reward volunteers with magnificent holdings. Native labor's cheap. There are fortunes in coffee, sugar, and cotton." He laughed boyishly, brushing her ear with his lips. "We'd be rich, Mercy! Landed gentry! No truckling to Yankees or scraping to make a start!"
Mercy didn't want to go to Mexico, or farther west or anywhere. It was ridiculous for Philip to act as if he'd lost a great plantation, seen an aristocratic heritage laid to waste. His older brother was ready to share with him the profits — and labor — of several hundred acres of rich black loam, and the huge, old-fashioned farmhouse would accommodate both families.
Or there was Mercy's own small farm. Father, though a doctor, had enjoyed keeping cows, having good horses, and keeping fresh vegetables and fruit on the table. Jeb, a taciturn old steamboat man Father had patched up after a stabbing, tended the cows and garden, but he had gone off to war when her father left to serve as a regimental surgeon. Jeb had died with him, aiding the wounded.
Mercy had kept a garden, but tending the sick made her hours too irregular to take care of the milking. She sold the cows, and soon the carriage horses followed, since she couldn't keep them in grain. But the farm had thirty acres of good bottom land and could support them if Philip would try.
Only it seemed he wouldn't.
"What if Maximilian loses?" she asked him.
"He can't lose!" Philip's fingers bit into the tender, secret flesh of her breasts. "He has France behind him!"
"For how long, now that the United States is pressing for the recall of French troops?"
"That won't matter if enough Confederates replace them!"
"I should think you'd have had enough war. I have." Mercy turned toward him. "Please, Philip! Help your brother, or let's do what we can with this place!"
He jerked his hands from her, tearing the worn cloth, and he stormed out of the yard without a word, striding toward the dainty little blaze-faced mare he'd left by the fence.
Excerpted from Bride of Thunder by Jeanne Williams. Copyright © 1978 Jeanne Williams. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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