About the Author
Cathy Marie Hake is a Southern California native. She met her two loves at church: Jesus and her husband, Christopher. An RN, she loved working in oncology as well as teaching Lamaze. Health issues forced her to retire, but God opened new possibilities with writing. Since their children have moved out and are married, Cathy and Chris dote on dogs they rescue from a local shelter. A sentimental pack rat, Cathy enjoys scrapbooking and collecting antiques. “I’m easily distracted during prayer, so I devote certain tasks and chores to specific requests or persons so I can keep faithful in my prayer life.” Since her first book in 2000, she’s been on multiple bestseller and readers’ favorite lists.
Read an Excerpt
Brides of Virginia
3-in-1 Historical Romance Collection
By Cathy Marie Hake
Barbour Publishing, IncCopyright © 2002 Cathy Marie Hake
All rights reserved.
God sends meat; the devil brings cookies." Emily O'Brien injected a lighthearted tone into her voice, even though she truly wished she could afford an occasional treat for her six-year-old brother. She turned away so he couldn't see her sadness, grabbed the nearly empty bottle, and poured a cup of watered- down milk for him.
"Emily," Duncan asked plaintively, "do you suppose it would be terrible bad if we invited the devil in just long enough to get a few cookies?"
"Ach! Now what kind of talk is that?" She turned back around in the cramped space between the food shelf and the table, set the tin mug down before him, and ruffled his red curls. "You're a good lad, Duncan. You'd never want to do business with that pitchfork-carryin' demon."
"Aye, right you are."
A tiny bleat of sound distracted Duncan's attention. He glanced over at the bed where their sister and her newborn lay, then lowered his voice to a bare whisper. "Our Em, what are you going to do?"
His innocent question nearly broke her heart. His childlike belief that she could handle this made her breath hitch. Emily forced a smile. "I'll go check on things today."
Emily pulled the thin curtains over the window, then smoothed the skirt of her mud-brown serge dress and tugged her shawl tighter. "You know what to do, Duncan-mine. I'll be back quick as I can."
Emily left the one-room shack and waited until she heard the latch slide home before she started toward the docks. Hopefully, when she returned, she'd not be alone. They'd been faithful to pray for Anna's husband each and every day of his voyage. Mayhap the Cormorant had docked while Anna labored, and news just hadn't come yet. As the captain, Edward would be busy when he docked his fine vessel.
He has to be home. What am I to do if he's not? Duncan and Anna are starving, and the babe won't stay healthy if we've no coal. The midwife's still wanting her money, and rent is due. If he's not here yet, maybe I can at least get word on when the ship is due in.
Another blast of cold air swept by, causing Emily to cease her musing. Huddled beneath her shawl, she scurried to get out of the harsh wind. "Dear Lord in heaven," she prayed under her breath, "if You could see clear to helpin' Edward be home with enough jingling in his pocket to keep us from being so cold and hungry, I'd count it as a real blessing."
* * *
I'm looking for Edward Newcomb." Emily shivered as much from fear as cold while she stood at the bayside and made her inquiries. A more dangerous place didn't exist. Rough sailors passed by and treated her like a brazen hussy for asking about a man. No woman of decency came down here, but she had no choice. Desperation drove her. The men leered at her. One made comments saltier than the ocean air and grabbed for her. She hastily stepped backward, tripped, and fell over a coil of thick hemp ropes. A small cry curled in her throat as a haze of red engulfed her.
"Hey! Enough of that!" A tall, beautifully dressed gentleman strode up a narrow gangplank, along the sea-splashed dock, and crossed over toward her. The riffraff scuttled away like bilge rats in a storm. "Here now, miss. This isn't a safe place. You'd best get along home."
"Thank you," Emily said as he lifted her from the damp ground. The moment he set her back on her feet, she compressed her lips against the fiery pain that shot up from her left ankle.
He made no move to leave. Since he stood with his back to the sun, she couldn't see his shadowed face, but a kind tone urged, "You'd best go now, miss. This is no place for you."
For the first time since she'd set foot here, she felt safe. This man radiated authority and strength. Of all people, he could probably give her the best information. "Sir, I need help. I'm looking for someone."
He stared at her for a long moment, assessing her. Gulls cried, sails luffed, and the ropes mooring ships to the docks creaked. All around them, the bustle of dock life continued; but everything seemed motionless right here, and Emily fought not to squirm under this strange man's silent scrutiny. The fact that she couldn't clearly see his features made the whole situation feel even more awkward. She blurted out, "My sister's husband has been at sea for almost eight months, and I need news of his ship."
His voice softened with sympathy. "Well, then, let's get you some answers. Franklin!" The gentleman must have noticed her squinting into the rising sun. He stepped to the side so she could pivot. Finally she saw more of him than a mere silhouette. Dark brown, waving hair, heavy brows over deep-set, tea-colored eyes, and a strong, square chin. For a moment Emily almost gasped at how familiar he looked — but, no, that was merely a trick of the morning light. He was taller, broader, and far more handsome than Edward. She chided herself for being so fanciful when she needed to locate her sister's husband at once.
A portly man bustled up. "Aye sir?"
"Franklin, this lady needs our assistance," the gentleman said. "Her brother-in-law's ship, the —" He turned and looked at her.
"The Cormorant," she supplied.
The men exchanged a telling look. Emily's heart skipped a beat. The gentleman discreetly leaned a little closer and lowered his voice confidentially. "Miss, the Cormorant came home and set voyage the last week in May." Pity stole over his face as he added, "And she just set sail again yesterday."
Emily felt the blood drain from her face. She stared at him and shook her head. "No." She swallowed hard and tried to mind her manners while grasping for one last hope. "Mayhap that was another Cormorant, sir. He wed my sister. Right and tight he did. Anna had the babe two nights ago. She's ailing bad."
The gentleman shifted his weight so the sun now struck features that carried a reassuring mixture of compassion and concern. "I'll see to it the sailor meets his obligations," he promised in a voice as reliable as iron. "What is his name?"
"His name is Edward, sir. Edward Newcomb."
The gentleman's eyes narrowed, and his face grew unrelenting and harsh as a blizzard. "Begone, wench. I'll not be taken in by such a tale."
"'Tis the honest truth!"
"You wouldn't know the truth if it were served to you on a china supper plate." His voice went cold as sleet. "Edward Newcomb is my brother. I, of all people, would know if he were married. Now leave."
Emily stared at him in disbelief.
"Away with you. I'll not stand by and allow anyone to slander my brother's reputation or dishonor our family name with such an outrageous fabrication."
A wave of anger overtook her horror. "Fabrication? He's married, he is! He's a father now, too. You tell him Anna gave him a son." Pride aching, she straightened her shoulders. "You tell your brother that while he's been larking around, his wife's dinner plate was empty. That, Mr. Newcomb, is the truth — and you can just choke on your fancy china and lies!"
Back straight as a rod, Emily turned to walk off. She bit her lower lip against the throbbing in her ankle and hobbled faster. Each step hurt worse than the last. She wasn't going to show it though. She managed to get clear past the docks and to the street before she couldn't bear to go farther. There she leaned against the trunk of a wind-twisted tree and closed her eyes in anguish.
What am I going to tell Anna?
* * *
John Newcomb watched the dignified woman limp off. Even dressed in what looked like a prim nanny's ragged castoffs, she'd stood regal as a queen. Now, straight-backed as could be, she walked away as if she were picking her way past rotted jetsam instead of a wealth of imports. He shook his head and heaved a deep sigh. "Where do they come from?"
"That was quite some yarn she spun," Franklin said.
"The woman's probably desperate to attempt such a ploy. Lame, thin, and wan as can be, she probably can't find either a job or a husband." John took a gold piece from his pocket and absently ran his thumb across the surface. 'Twas more money than she'd likely seen in several months, but he'd not even feel its loss. She didn't deserve anything for her scam, yet she must be in dire straits to have conjured up such a plan — unless there really was a hungry babe. Christ taught compassion instead of judgment. "Go give this to her."
* * *
Later, when Franklin returned, he trundled over and shoved his hands in his pockets. "The woman gave me a message for you. She promises to pay back every last cent."
John scoffed. "That promise is about as honest as her woeful tale."
Franklin rubbed the furrows in his forehead. "I almost believed her. She clutched your coin tight in her fist and said, 'The O'Briens hold honor dear. They don't take charity.'"
John dismissed her words and set to work. Newcomb Shipping demanded his full attention. Fine Virginia cotton, wool, and hemp awaited loading into the hulls of the Peregrine. The Allegiant, now full of wheat, Indian corn, tobacco, and oats, required one last inspection ere she set sail. In a nearby berth, dockhands scurried to offload the coffee the Gallant had imported from Rio. The stench of tar and turpentine wafted past as the wind shifted — a reminder that he needed an update on the Osprey's repairs. John strode down the dock and set out his priorities for the day.
* * *
The very next morning, Franklin handed John a note. "A lad brought this for you."
Intrigued, John unfolded the smudged paper and caught a penny as it slid out.
Dear Mr. Newcomb,
I'll be faithful to pay you back.
O'Briens don't take charity.
The brave little woman's words echoed in John's mind. She hadn't behaved as he'd expected her to. He'd thought she'd taken him for a soft touch, but she'd sent back this penny — a mere pittance. Was she hoping to reel him in for more?
As the day crawled on, her words kept haunting him. "Anna gave him a son ... married ... while he's been larking around, his wife's dinner plate was empty...." What if he'd misjudged the poor girl? Maybe she hadn't been trying to make fraudulent accusations in hopes of getting money. Was it possible one of the Cormorant's crewmen actually misrepresented his identity and she believed her cause to be just? The sincerity in her tone and the look in her expressive green eyes certainly rang true.
The Cormorant had set sail on a prolonged voyage, so John couldn't even pose questions of Edward for several months. If the woman's plight was as dire as she'd implied, she couldn't wait for assistance. John determined to gather some facts. He sent for a discreet fellow he'd used to investigate sensitive matters in the past and engaged his services.
* * *
Though he normally didn't personally oversee ships' departures, two days later John stood at the dock and watched the Resolute leave her moorings. He'd brought down a small case of heirloom jewelry. The bequest was to reach a young woman, and he'd not wanted any chance of its disappearing, so he'd specifically handed the treasures to the captain. The 4:00 a.m. turn of the tide made for an all-too-early awakening, but John shrugged it off. 'Twas part of his responsibility, and if ever he had a daughter, he'd want others to handle her cherished possessions with as much care.
Rather than going back home, he went into the shipping office. The register containing the contents of his warehouse lay open on his desk, but the figures of cotton bales, bushels of Indian corn, and bags of coffee beans could wait. Instead, John dragged his chair over by the stove. He'd barely started to nod off when the door opened.
"Sir, I found her — that woman you were looking for." The agent handed him a scrap of paper and slipped out the door as soon as John paid him.
Anna O'Brien, No. 6, Larkspur. Larkspur lay on the very outskirts of town, along the farthest edges of the docks — shantytown. John quickly drew on his warm greatcoat and set out. Instead of riding his horse, he took a wagon and ordered the driver to let him off about a half mile away from the address. This way he'd not have to worry his mount would be stolen. He hadn't been to shantytown since he was a callow youth. Back then it had looked dreary and sordid; time had only worsened its condition. A silvery half-moon illuminated the frost that sparkled on everything — reminding him of an iced deck. He'd rather be on such a deck than here —'twas less chancy than wandering this district.
"Wretched" described Larkspur perfectly. The dwellings were nothing more than shanties knocked together out of salvaged scraps of wood. Bitterly cold, tangy ocean air whistled between them; and ramshackle as they looked, John marveled, as he did every time he saw them, that they didn't blow over. One stood like a polished pebble amidst the rubble. Number Six. He stared at the gray, weathered boards. Not a weed grew around them. In fact, a few flowers and tangled squash vines struggled to endure against the late autumn wind. He made a fist, then reconsidered. The wooden door was rough. No use getting splinters in his knuckles. Instead he used his boot to kick lightly on the widest plank.CHAPTER 2
Just a minute," a sleepy voice bade.
Seconds passed while John impatiently flicked his gloves against his thigh. Each of his exhalations fogged on the cold, cold air. Even wrapped in the folds of his thick greatcoat, the air's icy bite penetrated to the skin. Across the way, the eyes of rats gleamed red like ingots fresh from Hades. Steps sounded, and a high-pitched voice asked, "Who is it?"
"'Tis John Newcomb, Anna. Do I let him in?"
Lamplight shone through small cracks in the house, so it came as no surprise that each word could be heard through the rattletrap boards. Thin wails of a babe wavered in the air. Anna must have nodded, because a latch slid free moments later, and a lanky boy with a sleep-tousled, red mop of hair peered out from behind a mere crack in the door.
"Thank you." John pushed his way in. As soon as he determined no danger existed inside the abode, he shut and secured the door. Slowly he looked about and took measure of the tiny, one-room shack. Shock rippled through him before he disciplined his features.
Such meager contents: a bed, two rickety chairs, a battered table, and a pathetic excuse for a stove. In the corner, behind a tattered bit of sailcloth that had been pushed back, a rumpled pallet lay directly on the sand-gritted flooring planks. He focused back on the bed and wondered how old the tiny woman in it might be. How could she, the lame woman, and this little lad — let alone a babe — possibly survive in circumstances this grave?
"John Newcomb," a faint voice said from the bed. "I didn't know Edward had a brother. How kind you are to come see your nephew!"
It took but three steps to reach the bedstead. The woman in it looked pitifully thin and weary, but even with those marks against her, John immediately recognized her similarity to the woman he'd met at the shipyard. Red hair and big green eyes attested that they were sisters, but her ashen skin warned that she'd been ill a long while. Just above the edge of a time-battered blanket, he spied a downy head.
The sickly woman smiled at John, then followed his gaze to look back down at her infant. "I've not named him yet. I hoped Edward would be here to help me decide on what his son is to be called." She painstakingly drew the covers back a tad. Her fourth finger, John noticed, bore no wedding band.
Was she fighting modesty or just too weak to do the minuscule task? He leaned forward and looked intently at the tiny, swaddled bundle. In no way did the babe resemble Edward. In point of fact, the babe didn't take after anyone John knew. He looked like a wizened old man as he screwed up his face and let out a tiny bleat.
"Oh, now," Anna crooned softly.
John tried not to show his surprise when a shred of paper drifted out of the pillow slip. Knowing poverty existed was one thing, but seeing this timid little woman eke by with a paper-stuffed pillow defied belief. She reminded him of a tiny mouse, nesting in shreds of paper.
"Duncan, come be a dear and check his nappy for me. The puir, wee man- child is likely wet and hungry again."
For being on the young side, little Duncan handled the task with fair grace. The lad's arms were bony, and the baby's limbs looked like nothing more than matchsticks. From what he saw, John knew no one in this household had benefited from a decent meal in a long while.
Excerpted from Brides of Virginia by Cathy Marie Hake. Copyright © 2002 Cathy Marie Hake. 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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