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About the Author
Jo Ann Ferguson is a lifelong storyteller and the author of numerous romantic novels. She also writes as Jo Ann Brown and Mary Jo Kim. A former US Army officer, she has served as the president of the national board of the Romance Writers of America and taught creative writing at Brown University. She currently lives in Nevada with her family, which includes one very spoiled cat.
Read an Excerpt
By Jo Ann Ferguson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2000 Jo Ann Ferguson
All rights reserved.
His hands were everywhere.
She tried to escape, but he caught her, pushing her back against the wall. Raising her fists, she fought to force him away. His hands were everywhere.
She screamed. He laughed, pinning her to the wall so tightly that the buttons on his uniform cut into her bodice. His breath, fouled with her father's ale, scraped past his tongue, which lolled on his lower lip. His hands were everywhere.
Again she struggled to flee. Something caught the back of her dress. Something, or his hands? They were everywhere!
"Why be so coy, lass?" His accent belonged to a class far above hers and to an elegant city on the other side of the Atlantic. "Let me show you what we've both been wanting."
Words seared her throat as his finger hooked into the top of her bodice. It ripped with a shriek that rang in her ears. Why did no one come to help her? Where were her parents? Where were his comrades, who had vowed to serve the king by protecting those who were loyal to him in America? Why didn't they help her?
She shuddered as he tore the front of her gown away. His hands were everywhere. She must stop him. She must. When he reached for the straps of her chemise, his eyes glittering like two wet stones, she stretched her fingers out toward him.
"That be the way, lass," he mumbled, wetting her neck with his sickening mouth. "Give me what you should be giving me."
His hands were everywhere, but one of hers was on the knife in his belt. Her fingers closed around its haft. He looked past her, all color draining from his face. Did he see death coming for him? Her teeth clenched as she drew the knife with a cry. Raising it, she—
Faith Cromwell sat up in bed, choking back her scream. Staring at the darkness that hid the ceiling angling sharply into the corner, she shivered. She lifted her hand. No knife was in it, but she could feel the carved handle as if it had been etched into her skin. And his disgusting touch. She shuddered as she drew up her knees and leaned her forehead on them. Terror rippled across her like the waves through a shallow stream.
How many more times would this nightmare haunt her?
She knew the answer. As long as her father welcomed those bestial British officers into their house in Goshen, a township west of Philadelphia. Tonight's nightmare must have been triggered by the way that lascivious captain had brushed up against her on every possible occasion last week—never when Mother or Father might see, so she had tried to stay close to them throughout his visit, which was extended day after day. The lust in his eyes matched the eyes of the man in her dream. She clasped her hands, praying he would soon be recalled by his superiors. Otherwise, she feared he would not leave the farm until he cornered her alone. If he did, her appalling nightmare might be brought to life.
With a sigh, she raised her head and touched a spot at her temple that ached with the dull pulse of an ax against a log. She swung her feet over the side of the bed and tiptoed to the window, taking care not to wake her younger sisters.
The moon hung low over the horizon, its color such a brilliant orange it looked ready to burst. She leaned her forehead against the cold glass. Nobody moved across the night fields, which had been stripped of their harvest weeks ago and would now lie fallow until spring planting began again in Chester County.
An ember crackled behind her. She did not look back at the fireplace that gave the room its comforting warmth. Somewhere, not so many miles from here, the remnants of the American army did not have the solace of a hearth to fight back the thickening cold that would only grow more merciless as the days became shorter, then crueler still as the days lengthened into the new year.
The war was all around, beyond these walls and in her head. She wanted it to end.
Turning, she knelt on the rough plank floor, her nightshift puddling around her feet as she put her hands on her younger sister's shoulders. "Molly, what are you doing up in the middle of the night?"
Rubbing her eyes, which were as green as Faith's although her hair was a wilder shade of red, Molly yawned. "You woke me up, Faith. You were mumbling something. What is amiss?"
"Nothing." She kissed Molly's soft cheek. "Go back to bed."
Molly nodded and lurched back toward the trundle bed where she slept with her twin, Nancy. Faith followed to tuck her little sister into the feather bed.
How she wished she could be eight years old again! Then she could dream of sweets and summer afternoons when there was nothing more important than jumping into the creek and letting the current float her away as she imagined distant lands unknown.
She shivered as she went back to her bed. Her hands clenched on the unadorned footboard, and she did not get in even though cold edged up from the floor to curl around her ankles. If she let sleep take her again, would she find pleasant dreams or the terror?
But she must sleep. If she did not, her steps would be slow on the morrow, and she might not be fleet enough to evade the hands of those British officers who accepted her father's hospitality even as they treated her as if she were no better than a harlot.
Sitting, she tried to straighten the tangled, sweaty sheets. She leaned back against pillows that were damp with the tears she must have shed. Gazing up at the ceiling, she wondered how long the war would continue and how long it would be that Father played host to these intolerable boors who called themselves gentlemen.
A pox on the head of every British officer who entered this house!
Her mother was singing a lighthearted song when Faith entered the kitchen. That must mean that the bread was rising well. Its pungent aroma filled the room as one of the maids added wood to the fire on the hearth. The ovens had to be just the right temperature when the bread was ready to be baked, or it would be charred on the outside and sticky in the center.
Mother always sang while she cooked. She sang while she cleaned the house or oversaw the laundry. When she put her children to bed at night, she sang to them or told them stories. Faith often sat with her sisters while Mother entertained them with silly songs and with fairy tales in which Mother gave voice to all the characters, from a crumpled old man to a fairy princess.
"Off for a visit with one of your friends?" Mother asked, giving Faith a smile.
Bess Cromwell had grown round through the years, but her cheerful expression gave her face a youthful glow. Silver wove through her hair, which had once been as red as Molly's. Her summer batch of freckles had faded with the coming of cool weather.
Faith wished she could smile back. At least, that boorish captain had taken his leave at dawn. She touched the quilt on top of the basket she had packed up in her rooms after shooing her sisters out. When she set the basket on the bench by the door, her fingers trembled.
She jumped back as the door slammed open and her brothers rushed in. Ezekial and Emery were never seen without each other. Although nearly a year had separated their births, there was a bond that connected them more closely than the twins. Ezekial was a hand's breadth taller than his twelve-year-old brother, who seemed to be slower to grow. Emery was the only one with blond hair like their father's.
"Make haste slowly," Mother called, without looking up. She tapped Emery's hand with the wooden mixing spoon as he tried to grab some bread dough. "Be off with the two of you. Your father was looking for you a short while back."
Ezekial grinned. "Why do you think we are running, Mother?"
"It must be time to clean out the barn again," Faith said, glad she could smile.
"'Tis a horrible mess." Emery's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Father's last guests left the stalls filled with filthy hay."
"Go on and help your father," Mother said, handing them each a slice of warm bread. Holding out another one, she added, "Give this to him. Don't dally. You know he likes it fresh from the oven." As they rushed back out the door, the day's chilly wind causing the fire to flicker on the hearth, she cut another piece of bread. "Something to warm you on your way, Faith?"
She shook her head. If she ate something now, her stomach might embarrass her. Even after two months, she could not accustom herself to sneaking about the fields where she had once raced with childish delight. She hated the pattern of lies that she had created for herself at the same time she had knit the socks in the basket.
Taking her green cloak from the hook by the door, she swung it over her shoulders. She tied it in place and picked up the basket. "I shan't be long. Mistress Hurley asked if I might bring some socks and gloves to her this afternoon."
"More?" Mother bent to check the fire, then called to a servant, "Another log, Irma." Straightening, she wiped her hands on the apron that she always wore over her gray gown on baking days. "I thought you took her some last month."
"There are so many who have lost their husbands and fathers this year." Tears came too readily to her eyes whenever she spoke of this. "It is the very least we can do to help our neighbors."
Mother put her hand on Faith's shoulder and squeezed gently through the thick wool. "And it gives you comfort to know you are helping, doesn't it?"
"Mistress Mertz told me that you have visited her son's grave several times."
Faith nodded. Wade Mertz had been her friend since they first met at church—when they were younger than Molly and Nancy were now. He had teased her as much as her own brothers did. Now he was dead. His life had been taken by a British ball during the debacle near the Brandywine River.
He was not the only one who had been cut down. So many had died there, and then in the battle at Germantown, where the colonial army under General Washington's command was roundly defeated again. There were whispers that the war would be over within days, that the British would decimate the rest of the rebel army as soon as they had secured Philadelphia.
The members of the Continental Congress had fled to York, hoping to keep their necks out of nooses. Father had laughed at their cowardice while he delighted in repeating stories of the welcome the British had received in Philadelphia, the rebellion's onetime capital. Not once, not even when his neighbors had enthusiastically discussed independence from the Crown, had Father wavered in his devotion to England.
As Faith opened the back door and went out into the brisk breeze that swirled her cloak around her skirt and sent the last of the once brilliant leaves swirling down from the trees, she wished she could be as certain of who was right and who was wrong. Of one thing she was sure. The dying was wrong. Wade should have spent many more years jesting with her as they watched each other get married and raise families and shared the occasional chat as the seasons revolved around them.
She tucked the toe of a sock into the broad basket as she stepped out onto the road that wove between the hills leading south toward the village. The motion had become a habit, one she had learned since she began knitting extra gloves and socks and making these deliveries. If the rebels commanded by General Washington eluded the British until spring, they would need food and supplies to help them stave off the winter's cold.
Too many were like Father, who refused to support the rebels he called traitors. Others simply would not share what they had gleaned from their fields, fearing retribution from the British. And more, the biggest number of all, simply did not care, too busy in their struggle to make a living for themselves and their families to see that history might be unfolding around them.
When she had heard whispers of how to offer help to George Washington's men, she had not hesitated. She would help these men, neighbors or strangers, as she would have helped Wade.
Yet, this life of half truths gnawed at her like a rat on a rope. Father's fury would be unimaginable if he were to discover what she was doing. That was yet another lie, for she could very easily imagine Father's fury at what he would see as treason. How could it be treason to keep a neighbor from freezing to death?
Hoofbeats on the hard road broke into Faith's thoughts. Her hand raised to wave a greeting, but she lowered it when she saw half a score of men riding toward her. Their red coats flapped behind them, and their brightly polished buttons gleamed like false stars upon their chests.
Her fingers tightened on the basket handle. There is nothing within it to betray you. She knew that. Nothing suggested she was doing other than as she had told Mother, delivering a gift of warmth and comfort to a grieving neighbor.
The horses slowed as they approached her. Ride on! Something urgent must have brought them out from Philadelphia. Ride on! A splinter from the wooden handle cut into her palm, but she did not pause to pull it. Stopping now might suggest to these men that she wanted to speak to them. Ride on! She pulled her hood up over her cap and hunched her shoulders. Maybe they had not seen her clearly, and she could pass them by pretending to be a bent, aged woman.
"Good day, mistress," shouted the lead rider.
She kept silent. Maybe they would take her for daft and continue on without pausing.
When a horse pawed the ground in front of her, Faith froze. Was the rider daft himself?
"I said, good day, mistress." He nodded toward her as he drew back his horse, but did not dismount.
She did not expect him to. British soldiers in their glorious uniforms treated the residents of Chester County—and, she suspected, the rest of the rebellious colonies—like servants, ready to do their bidding. Father had their respect, but only because he helped them.
She stared at the road as she continued walking. The soldiers' gazes pricked her like the tip of a bayonet, but she did not dare to show her dismay at being surrounded by these men who had left their manners on the other side of the ocean.
Her arm was seized. As she was spun about, sickness threatened to burst out of her stomach. This soldier did not resemble the man who filled her dreams with terror, save for his glistening eyes, but his gaze raised gooseflesh on her.
The lead rider drew even with her again. "I said, good day, mistress."
Looking from him to the man who released her arm when she twisted away, she realized the man on the horse wore officer's insignia. A lieutenant, he must be patrolling this area for some reason. She wondered why. All the rebel troops had left here after the horrible defeats they had suffered.
"Good day, Lieutenant." She knew he would not leave until he had won himself the satisfaction of making her reply. Now he could take his triumph and be on his way. This ruse had worked before. Once the local residents acknowledged the British officers as their betters, they were left alone.
She started to edge away, but the lieutenant said, "That is a full basket that you have there, mistress."
"Yes." She took another step.
He nudged his horse forward to block her way. "What else are you carrying, mistress?"
"Clothing and food to share with a neighbor who has recently been bereaved."
"That is very kind of you, mistress."
"Thank you." She drew her hood back up over her cap. "Good day, Lieutenant."
The hand on her arm halted her before she could move. She stiffened, remaining silent. She had not seen the lieutenant give an order to his men. Were they stopping her for any reason other than to entertain themselves with their superiority and her dismay?
"What truly is in your basket, mistress?" the lieutenant asked, all humor gone from his voice.
The soldier beside her gave her no chance to answer. He yanked the basket out of her hands. She gasped and tried to snatch it back. She would not let these fiends steal from her. They did not need these supplies, and her neighbors did.
His broad hand covered hers, and she winced as the motion drove the splinter more deeply under her skin. Pulling her closer, he licked his lips. "Is there something tasty in here, lass?"
Horror ached through her. His voice was too much like the brute in her nightmare. "Give me back my basket!"
"You," growled the lieutenant, "do not give orders here."
"But I do," came a deeper voice. "Stop this immediately!"
The man released the basket as if it had burned him. It fell to the ground, the clothing and boxes of salt and flour beneath them scattering across the road.
When Faith knelt to gather up the boxes, the order came again. "Stop!" Before she could retort, the deep voice said, "Dawson, collect this young lady's possessions and put them back into her basket. All of them."
With a grumble, the man who had pulled her basket away said, "Aye, sir."
"I want nothing to be missing."
"Aye, sir," he repeated, even more reluctantly.
"Are you unhurt, mistress?"
Faith's eyes grew wide when a man she had not seen before dismounted. He was of average height—both Dawson and the lieutenant were taller—but there was nothing commonplace about his eyes, which were almost as dark as last night's sky. A hint of ebony whiskers emphasized the taut angles of his face. They could not ease his jaw's stern, sculptured line.
The scarlet uniform might have been designed with him in mind. Its shoulder straps accented the breadth of his shoulders, while the black lapels drew her eyes along his muscular form to his white waistcoat and breeches. Beneath his black gaiters, which reached halfway to his knees, his boots were shaggy with dust. These men must have ridden far. She hoped their destination was just as far from Goshen.
Excerpted from Faithfully Yours by Jo Ann Ferguson. Copyright © 2000 Jo Ann Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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