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Meet three couples who witness historic changes in 1800s Georgia. Nathanial and Abigail journey between forts, dogged by gossip that tarnished his good name. Colton and Auralie share an attraction but the lives of a sheepherder and a plantation belle are worlds apart. Dale and Charity both nurture the remnants of war, searching for a path to forgiveness. Can each couple find common ground on which to build a future of love?
About the Author
CONNIE STEVENS lives with her husband of forty-plus years in north Georgia, within sight of her beloved mountains. She and her husband are both active in a variety of ministries at their church. A lifelong reader, Connie began creating stories by the time she was ten. Her office manager and writing muse is a cat, but she’s never more than a phone call or email away from her critique partners. She enjoys gardening and quilting, but one of her favorite pastimes is browsing antique shops where story ideas often take root in her imagination. Connie has been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2000.
Read an Excerpt
Brides of Georgia
3-in-1 Historical Romance Collection
By Connie Stevens
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2012 Connie Stevens
All rights reserved.
Fort New Echota, Georgia May 1837
Abigail, the matter is settled."
Abby Locke drew in a defiant breath at her father's tone and lifted her chin. The soldiers under Colonel Ephraim Locke's command jumped when he spoke, but Abby wasn't one of his troops. Did he think her fragile and defenseless merely because she wore skirts and petticoats instead of a uniform? She was a capable, grown woman, nineteen years of age.
"I still don't understand your reasoning, Father. Why must I leave the fort? You know I despise living in the city. The first thing Aunt Charlotte will do is plan a cotillion to parade me in front of every eligible bachelor she can find within the rolls of Raleigh society." Abby didn't even try to suppress the peevishness in her voice. "She'll drag me to her garden parties and teas so her friends can match me with their sons or nephews."
Her father turned to face her, displeasure forcing his thick eyebrows into a V. "Your aunt has done a great deal for you. You wouldn't have had the opportunity to attend Salem Female Academy were it not for the benefit of her connections. You should be grateful." He clasped his hands behind him and glowered at her.
She bit her lip. Admittedly, she'd resisted going to Salem at first. Some of the friendships she formed there carried her through the lonely times when she longed to be at the fort with her father and couldn't understand his insistence in sending her away. Had he known her best friend at Salem Female Academy had been Jane Ross, daughter of Cherokee chief, John Ross, he wouldn't have been pleased.
His gruff lecture interrupted her reminiscing. "My sister has tried her best to mold you into a proper young lady." He shook his head and took a few steps away from her, reducing his voice to mutter, as though his private thoughts took control of his tongue. "Heaven knows I didn't know what to do with you after your mother died."
Her father's comment, whether meant for her ears or not, seared her heart. Despite longing for his approval and affection, circumstances continually created differing opinions to divide them. Between her disagreement with him over the government's orders to remove the Cherokee from their land and her resistance to travel all the way from Fort New Echota to Raleigh to live with her aunt, she and her father found little common ground on which to agree. Just once, couldn't circumstances offer her a way to make her father love her?
"Why can't I stay here with you?" The words slipped out before she could stop them, but once they were out, she had no desire to snatch them back.
Her father plucked his hat from the rack and straightened the cock's feather on the side. "You know perfectly well why. Couldn't you for once in your life comply with my wishes without an argument? There is no point to this discussion. You know as well as I that tensions between the government and the Cherokee are becoming dangerously strained. I don't feel it's safe for you to stay here. I've made my decision, and I'll not tolerate this debate."
Father placed the hat atop his head and twisted the end of his mustache. He stood with his polished boots spread apart and one hand tucked behind his back. His typical posture gave the appearance of a fortified stone wall. "I've already received a letter from your aunt, and she is expecting you by the middle of June."
Abby itched to stamp her feet in frustration but such action would only strengthen her father's argument. What if she simply refused to go? Surely Father wouldn't bind her and forcibly toss her on the wagon. Would he? No, he'd never do anything so undignified, and the embarrassment she'd cause him with her refusal would only add to the long list of criticisms he kept in his head. She'd exhausted every plea. Nothing would change his mind.
The mantel clock chimed seven times. "Now then, your childish petulance has caused us to be late. Mrs. Cobb was told to expect you at seven sharp." Father hoisted her stuffed satchel and stalked to the door.
Abby snorted, certain Mrs. Cobb knew the colonel's headstrong daughter was digging her heels in, resisting the inevitable. It wasn't as if she wanted to be contrary. If things had been different, if her mother hadn't died, perhaps her father wouldn't have found it necessary to send her to her aunt. Her exasperation melted on a sigh of regret. She draped her light shawl around her shoulders and fussed with the ties of her bonnet.
Father's only response to her sigh was a frown, and he didn't meet her gaze before pushing the door open. His eyes shifted to the empty boardwalk beside the door where Abby's trunks had been sitting. "I see the man came and picked up the rest of your luggage already." He scowled. "I wanted to meet him and speak with him."
A retort made its way to Abby's throat, but she swallowed hard and denied it voice. Father didn't fool her for a minute. What he really wanted was to interrogate the man Mrs. Cobb had hired to guide them on their journey.
"Father, you know Florrie Cobb as well as I do. She wouldn't hire someone if she didn't believe he was capable and trustworthy. And besides, he will no doubt be waiting in front of the sutler's store with the wagon. You'll have ample opportunity to put him through your inquisition."
Father's harrumph rumbled back to her ears as he descended the stairs and lengthened his stride. Abby scurried to catch up with him. They crossed the compound and soldiers snapped to attention, cutting their right hands up to their temples in a stiff salute as her father passed. How could Father consider their situation unsafe when they were surrounded by soldiers who jumped at his very presence? Despite his claim of danger, Abby felt his real reason for sending her away was that he considered her a burden, especially when she dared to defy him.
Panting in her effort to keep up with her father, Abby followed on his heels until they came to the sutler's store. A wagon with a brand-new canvas stretched over the bows sat in front of the store waiting to take her where she didn't want to go. The early morning mist created an eerie shroud that encircled a tight cluster of army wives who took turns hugging Florrie Cobb, a gray-haired woman with crinkled lines around her eyes that deepened when she smiled.
One woman dabbed her eyes with the corner of her apron. "Florrie, we're going to miss you so. What if the new sutler doesn't want to carry yard goods or some of the other items you and Dewey always tried to get for us?"
At the mention of her late husband's name, Florrie's eyes glistened. "Now, Mabel, you know I can't run the store by myself. I'm sure the new man will order whatever you request. Besides, my niece in Raleigh is expecting me to come and live with her family." Florrie turned and her face brightened when she caught sight of Abby. She held her hand out and mischief gleamed in her eyes. "Here you are, my dear. I was beginning to think you'd won the argument."
Heat crept into Abby's face. Almost everyone at Fort New Echota knew of her penchant for disagreeing with her father. Florrie's quip, however, hinted the widow's sense of humor hadn't been affected by her recent bereavement. She'd be a pleasant traveling companion.
Father cleared his throat. "Mrs. Cobb, where is this man you've hired? I must satisfy myself that my daughter will be in good hands."
Abby bit her lip to restrain the grin that was tugging the corners of her mouth. "If he doesn't meet with your satisfaction, does that mean I can stay, Father?"
As expected, his jaw muscles twitched and his chin jutted out. Father turned a stern glare in her direction and with a purposeful shove, maneuvered her satchel into the back of the wagon. His lips, pressed into a tight, thin line, almost disappeared under his mustache.
At that moment, a tall, slender young man stepped out the door of the sutler's store, carrying a large crate filled with supplies and foodstuffs. Abby's breath caught. Mesmerizing hazel eyes glanced her way and held her captive for a split second. His sandy brown hair curled over his collar, and the breeze blew one lock in his eye. He stepped around her, carrying the box toward the tailgate.
"Excuse me, Miss."
The intonation of his voice rippled through Abby as she watched him heft the load with ease. Staring was impolite; Aunt Charlotte would cluck her tongue. Abby mentally reprimanded herself, but her gaze refused to listen. The young man stepped to the side of the wagon and checked the lashings securing the water barrel. It wasn't his muscular build that she studied. Abby couldn't take her eyes off his uniform. Darkened areas of material on his shoulders and arms traced the places where epaulets and rank insignias had been removed. Even the brass buttons bearing the army crest were missing, replaced with wooden pegs inserted through the buttonholes to keep his shirt closed. Raised on a dozen different army posts, nobody had to explain to Abby why his shirt was devoid of military displays.
The young man tugged the brim of his hat at Abby. "Miss Locke?" Before Abby could reply, Father stepped between her and the man. "What is the meaning of this? Mrs. Cobb, do you know who, or should I say what, this man is?"
Florrie lifted her skirt as she stepped down from the boardwalk. "Well, of course, I do, Colonel. This is —"
"I know who he is." Father's voice lost its usual bellow. Instead, he lowered it to an ominous cross between a hiss and a growl that raised the hairs on the back of Abby's neck. "His name is Nathaniel Danfield. I had business at Fort Reed the day he was stripped of his commission and dishonorably discharged." Father's back was as rigid as a flagpole. "Mrs. Cobb, surely this isn't the man you've hired to act as an escort for my daughter and yourself all the way to Raleigh."
* * *
Nathaniel questioned his choice of wearing the unadorned uniform blouse. He'd purchased two shirts that bore no evidence of his dismissal from the army, but the tenacity in his gut refused to retreat from the truth. Until he could clear his name, he'd encounter many more people like Colonel Locke. He lifted his chin and looked the colonel squarely in the eye. A reflex in the muscles of his right arm twitched with the instinct to salute, but he held his hand stiffly at his side.
"Colonel, I don't believe we've met, but since you seem to know me, we can dispense with the introductions. I'm not going to try to change your opinion of me. All I can offer is my word as a gentleman that I am committed to see the ladies safely to their destination."
An explosion of air burst from Colonel Locke's lips. "Pfft. Your word? This is unacceptable. Do you expect me to take the word of a man who defied orders and acted in contempt of the United States Army?"
Nathaniel cut his eyes to the group assembled near the wagon. Several appeared aghast at Locke's announcement, and one of the ladies fanned herself with her apron. Some soldiers crossing the compound stopped and stared. The cool of the morning couldn't prevent the heat that rose up his neck from his gut.
Mrs. Cobb stepped forward. The petite woman with her graying hair wound in a bun at the back of her head planted her fists on her ample hips and frowned at the colonel.
"Colonel Locke, I will ask you to remember that I am entrusting my own well-being to this young man as well as that of your daughter. Lieutenant Danfield and I —"
"He relinquished the privilege of being an officer in the federal army when he acted contrary to orders. Don't refer to him as lieutenant," Colonel Locke blustered.
Nathaniel ground his teeth and refused to recoil in the wake of Locke's bellowing. What was the worst the man could do to him other than public humiliation?
Apparently Mrs. Cobb wasn't intimidated by the colonel. The feisty older woman shook her finger at the pompous man. "Now you wait one minute, Ephraim Locke. I've had a long discussion with Nathaniel, and he has been completely honest with me. As is my practice, I talked over the matter with God. I'd never set out on such a venture without consulting Him first."
"Now, Mrs. Cobb, I didn't —"
"The good Lord has given me peace about hiring this young man to guide me to Raleigh. And furthermore, my niece and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Barton, have been informed of our traveling schedule as well as Nathaniel's name and background." She turned to look at Nathaniel, and he could have sworn he saw her wink.
His heart smiled to know he had an ally in this spunky widow woman. "Ma'am, all the supplies are loaded. Is there anything else?"
"No, that's everything." Mrs. Cobb cast a glance to the sky. "The fog is lifting, and there is more than enough daylight to get under way. We should be able to leave within a few minutes." She peered into the back of the wagon. "Nathaniel, you'd best remove Miss Locke's belongings from the wagon since she won't be accompanying us."
The colonel's daughter ducked her head, slipping one hand up to cover her mouth before stepping over to the wagon and reaching for her satchel. She gripped the bag and dragged it toward the tailgate. Colonel Locke's face turned purple, and the veins in his neck stood out. The temptation to grin almost got the best of Nathaniel, but he maintained a stoic military bearing as the situation unfolded.
"Now, see here, Mrs. Cobb." The man scowled and reached to take the bag from his daughter's grasp. Miss Locke sent her father a withering look and stepped away from the wagon. "It's imperative that my daughter make this journey to Raleigh, and with the present situation regarding the Cherokee, I can't take the chance on the immediate availability of an escort." He pushed Miss Locke's satchel back into the wagon. Tossing a glare in Nathaniel's direction, he delivered an unmistakable warning, every bit as meticulous as issuing an order to a subordinate.
"I'll expect that my daughter will be delivered safely to her aunt in Raleigh, and I'll hold responsible anyone who impedes her journey in any way."
Nathaniel gave a short nod. "Since you are unwilling to take my word as my bond, sir, I can only state in the presence of these witnesses that I will do everything in my power to ensure the safety of both these women and see them transported to Raleigh as expeditiously as possible."
Colonel Locke took a step closer and lowered his voice to a menacing growl. "You'd better pray that to be the case, because I will hunt you relentlessly if any harm comes to my daughter."CHAPTER 2
If the first day of their journey was any indication, Nathaniel didn't hold out much hope for a pleasant passage through the north Georgia mountains. A soft late-spring breeze stirred the trees, the sun bathed his shoulders in warmth, and the vistas provided a feast for the eyes. But Miss Locke's complaining tongue cast a shadow of gloom over what might otherwise be an enjoyable trip.
"Mr. Danfield, are you aware that you've loaded this wagon incorrectly? The heavy trunks should be over the wheels instead of against the back of the seat."
Nathaniel pressed his lips together. He didn't bother to explain that he'd spent extra time balancing the load for stability. In addition, he'd arranged the cargo with the ladies' comfort in mind, stacking blankets and quilts behind the trunks to provide space for them to sit and read or do needlework. The colonel's daughter made no mention of his efforts.
He turned his head to call over his shoulder. "Are you ladies comfortable back there?"
Mrs. Cobb replied first. "Yes, Nathaniel, we're fine."
Miss Locke's snort of disagreement followed on the heels of the widow's words. "I don't see how you can expect us to be comfortable when you've hit every rock and rut between here and Fort New Echota."
Nathaniel started to offer her the reins but refrained from doing so, afraid she might take him up on it. He tightened his grip.
Mrs. Cobb clucked her tongue. "'He that refraineth his lips is wise. The tongue of the just is as choice silver.' Abby honey, it's a long way to Raleigh. Criticism will only make the road bumpier."
A grin tipped Nathaniel's lips upward as he snapped the reins to encourage the horses to step up their pace a bit. Stopping the wagon to kiss Mrs. Cobb would likely earn him further scorn from Miss Locke, so he satisfied himself with basking in the silence that resulted from the widow's gentle rebuke.
Growing up in the preacher's house, he was accustomed to hearing scriptures used as a ready answer for any of life's questions. But Nathaniel hadn't bothered to look for a verse that instructed a man who'd been branded with dishonor. Reverend Danfield would be disappointed, more so than he already was. Nathaniel's insistence on joining the army instead of becoming a minister hadn't been well received by the man who raised him. How could he write to the kindly preacher and tell him about the dishonorable discharge? Nathaniel shook off the thought.
Excerpted from Brides of Georgia by Connie Stevens. Copyright © 2012 Connie Stevens. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsHeart of Honor,
Harvest of Hope,
Harbinger of Healing,