Hannah Thomas believes she’s escaped Galen Wright’s evil intentions by marrying an older lighthouse keeper. Seemingly safe in faraway Massachusetts, her world is upended when John is killed in one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. Hannah is allowed to continue the difficult task of tending the twin lighthouses in John’s place, though she faces daily disapproval from John’s family. She thinks her loneliness will subside when her younger sister arrives, but she finds Lydia’s obsession with Galen only escalates the dangerous tides swirling around her.
A stormy night brings a shipwrecked sea captain to Hannah’s door, and though he is a Tory, her heart is as traitorous as the dark-eyed captain. Even though she discovers Birch Meredith isn’t the enemy he seemed at first, Hannah isn’t sure their love will ever see the light of freedom.
- USA TODAY bestselling author
- Stand-alone historical romance with an intriguing mystery
- Other historical fiction by Colleen Coble: Butterfly Palace, Blue Moon Promise, Safe in His Arms
- Contemporary romantic suspense from Colleen Coble: One Little Lie, Two Reasons to Run, Stands of Truth, Tidewater Inn
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
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August 2, 1776
I forbid you to go, Hannah."
Hannah Thomas curled her nails into her palms, slick with perspiration. Her husband couldn't leave her here on this rocky Massachusetts coast. He just couldn't. Other wives followed the Continental Army troops. Why couldn't she?
John smiled down at her, but the strain in his eyes signaled that he was tired of her womanly vapors. He shifted his bulk and his shoulders strained the seams of his makeshift uniform, just breeches and an oversize navy coat topped by his battered cocked hat. She'd wanted to let out the seams, but he told her one good thing about war was he'd likely shed some of his corpulence. She couldn't imagine him suffering deprivation.
He put his large, calloused hand on her shoulder. "I'd not have you in harm's way, Hannah. You are needed here. Keeping the light for the sailors will be your contribution to the War of Independence. The colonials must have supplies, but the British would like nothing better than to see our ships crash on the rocky shores. Ease my mind, Wife, and accept my provision for you. Promise me."
Her words of protest died on her lips. She was used to speaking her mind to her husband, though he was twenty years her senior, but today she could tell it would do no good. Hannah bit her lip in a vain attempt to keep the tears at bay. "I promise."
"General Washington has asked for all able-bodied men to agree to serve one year in the Continental Army. I must answer the call. I should have gone last year. I know you understand this and support it."
The second Continental Congress had appointed George Washington as general over the newly formed army, and he needed men.
She nodded. "Of course. I would serve myself I could." Hannah had heard Paul Revere's cry, "The regulars are coming. The regulars are coming," with her own ears the night of April 18 last year and had seen the two lanterns shining from the bell tower of the Old North Church. She'd thrilled to have witnessed that event in the struggle for independence.
The colonists could no longer endure the endless taxation from Britain. War had come, and with it, so had many deaths. Good men, friends in Charles Town and others all across the colonies, had gone off to fight and had never returned. John had been part of the Sons of Liberty ever since she'd known him.
Much as she favored the struggle, she didn't want to lose him.
Through the open window, she could see the glow from the four lamps in the twin-towered lighthouse. She had hated this lonely outcropping of land ever since John had brought her here a year ago after they were wed — the crash of the waves never left her ears and it sounded as if a storm was brewing today. Come night, she would be hard-pressed to keep the lamps lit in the lighthouse. The thought brought her no joy.
From that first night, the lighthouse had beckoned from the carriage window. At times she hated the light and the attention it received from John. He'd wanted a son, something his first wife had failed to accomplish before she died of smallpox twelve years ago, one of nearly twenty thousand. So far Hannah had also failed to conceive a child.
With John gone, she'd be alone without the comfort of a child to hold. She didn't know how she would bear the isolation. His mother and sister lived over the crest of the hill, but they disapproved of everything about her. How would they treat her with John no longer around to defend her? She reached out and grasped his hand in a tight grip.
"Send me not with tears, Hannah," John whispered as he thumbed a tear from her cheek. "Bid me go with a smile and a kiss. As our fellow patriot Thomas Paine said in Common Sense, 'It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies; yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the world.' I believe him, and I shall return, my Hannah."
She attempted a watery smile. "When will you return?"
She knew the answer before she asked it. John didn't know how long he would be away, or even where the battles would lead. Though Washington had asked for a year, her husband would not abandon his duty any more than she would. The British would not relinquish their colonies easily, and this war could go on for years.
He draped his scarlet cloak over his shoulders. "God alone knows that answer, Hannah. But know that I hold you in prayer. Be strong and vigilant. When you trim our wicks, remember the ships you save bring food to our troops. Kiss me, I must be off. Harlis waits."
Hannah could see her brother-in-law's shadowy figure waiting by the gate but was still reluctant to let John go. What if he never returned to her? She suppressed the foreboding and raised her face for a final kiss, clinging to his stalwart form as she inhaled the scent of him. His masculine aroma was always overlaid with the scent of sharp brine. She breathed it in deep until he pulled away. He was eager to go, and it stung a bit.
She gave him a playful push. "Go you, then. I shall await your return."
John took his musket from its place under the kitchen window and strode toward the door. He cast one last glance her way, then he took his leave. Hannah ran to the window and watched him mount Reliance, his bay gelding, then follow his brother down the rocky trail toward Plymouth.
Tears trailed down her cheeks, and she lifted her chin. She'd faced worse than this and survived. Hannah strained to see through the mist one last time, but he was gone. Though they did not share an overwhelming passion, but one of gentleness and comfort, Hannah missed him already.
Several long moments hence she wiped the wetness from her cheeks and forced herself to go about her duties for the coming night. The Thomas family had served the light for many years, and she could do this for him.
Hannah pulled on her cloak and tugged the hood over her head. The light mist still hung in the air, coating the view with a milky veil. She paused for a moment outside the door and listened. The only sound the wind carried back to her ears was the roar of the waves. She sighed and picked her way along the rocks and the sand to the lighthouse.
Opening the door to the nearest tower, she flinched at the stinging smoke. Her eyes smarting, she climbed the steps to the light tower. She extinguished all four wicks on the first bucket lamp and picked up her rag to clean the glass. She hated the monotony of the job. She'd had to do very little of the actual work with John here, but now the entire dreary burden would fall on her shoulders.
Rubbing the glass briskly, she let her attention drift. She hadn't thought her life would be tending a light on a lonely coastline in Massachusetts. She s till missed the hustle and bustle of Charles Town — parties and soirees with her sisters, Lydia and Abigail.
Her hand paused at her duties, and her heart gave a sudden thump in her chest. She could ask Lydia to join her! Her parents would never spare their baby, Abigail, but surely they would allow Lydia to come to her. Her younger sister would keep her from loneliness and bring a bit of the southern ways Hannah so missed. She rushed through her cleaning and hurried back to the house with a smile on her face.
Once the letter was composed, she resigned herself to making a duty call on her in-laws.
Roses bloomed at the front of the stately two-story home, and Hannah breathed in the sweet aroma. She caressed a soft bloom but didn't dare pick one. Beatrice would never stand for it. Her roses were her pride and joy.
Hannah lowered her hand. Enough dallying. Straightening her shoulders, she pushed open the heavy wooden door. She could hear the murmur of voices from the parlor, and her heart sank when she recognized the deep tones of Arthur Goodman, the minister at the Congregational church.
"Your daughter-in-law has fallen asleep in worship the past three Sundays, Mistress Thomas. The church must act on this."
"I am aware of this problem, Reverend Goodman. What my son ever saw in her, I will never understand. I suppose it was her pretty face, but I had hoped I had raised my son to know the difference between fluff and substance."
"You know, I am sure, mistress, the holy Scriptures command that an overseer must have his wife and children under control. I fear the church must act to remove your son from his duties as deacon until he is more able to control his wife."
Hannah clenched her jaw at the condemning tone of the man's voice, and her temper flared. John was always warning her how her temper needed bridling, but she longed to rush into the parlor and berate them both for gossip. She'd endured the disdain of her in-laws and the community for a year now. But the minister's harsh words tore at her heart. In her church in Charles Town, faith was real and vital, not this strict adherence to law. The entire town of Gurnet, Massachusetts, was governed by their narrow moral code. Their ancestors had fled England to seek freedom of worship. Why could they not accord that same courtesy to others?
Breathing deeply, she leaned against the wall as they went on about her shortcomings. She supposed she should have bowed to the stern faith this community held, but it quenched the life from her.
The inhabitants of the pristine parlor were still unaware of her presence as she stood in the doorway. Reverend Goodman's fleshy form looked ludicrous perched on the delicate imported sofa, his large feet firmly planted on the lustrous red tones of the Oriental rug. The teacup looked tiny in his massive hands.
Her mother-in-law, Beatrice Thomas, sat in the lady's chair opposite him by the fireplace. Her face flushed when she finally caught sight of Hannah standing by the door. She rose with a soft whisper of silk and gave Hannah a brittle smile. "My dear Hannah, there you are. We were just discussing you. Would you care for some tea?"
Hannah struggled against the hot words that threatened to spill from her tongue. For John's sake, she would be respectful. "I would not, Mother Thomas. I can see you are busy, and I have duties to attend to. I will return at a more convenient time." To her chagrin, tears spilled down her cheeks, and she turned and fled from the room. Now they would know she had heard their hurtful words.
Humiliation and anger choked her, and she stumbled along the path up the cliff toward home. She rushed into the saltbox house. She put her palms against her hot face, then dropped her hands to her sides and paced the rug. She wanted to march right back over there and give them both a piece of her mind. She'd tried her best to be a good wife to John, but it was never enough for Mother Thomas. Was it her youth or her failure to conceive? Both were beyond her control.
Hannah dearly longed for a baby — a child she could nurture and raise. She'd never mistreat or ignore her child, but the good Lord had not yet seen fit to bring life to her womb. She'd not yet given up hope yet.
Gradually her agitation eased as she thought of the verse she'd read this morning in Proverbs 15. "A soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger." That had always been her trouble. It was hard to answer softly when her anger burned so brightly at injustice. At least she'd managed to bridle her tongue today.
Hannah's trembling finally ceased, and she was left with a deep sense of loneliness. The house echoed with silence. She had to get out of here, just for a little while. She hitched her eight-year-old mare Sally to the gig and set out for Gurnet.
The breeze washed the heat and humidity from her skin. Ominous black clouds gathered to the north, and the wind snatched at her mobcap and teased tendrils of black curls loose from the ribbon, so she finally took her cap off and pulled the ribbon from her hair.
Suppressing an irreverent grin, she pulled the gig to a stop outside the general store. She knew she looked like a fishwife, so she hastily dragged her fingers through her hair and plaited it. She climbed down and took her basket from the back.
Ephraim Baxter looked up from behind the counter when she stepped inside the store. He gave her a toothless smile, but Hannah could see his wife, Edna, assessing her appearance. She obviously found it wanting — her wrinkled mouth scrunched even tighter.
"Mistress Thomas." Ephraim wiped his wrinkled hands on his stained apron. "How may we help you today?"
Hannah smiled at both of them, in spite of Edna's disapproving look. Any company was better than her own. After giving Ephraim her order, she wandered along the battered wooden floor and looked at the notions. Everything from pots, birdcages, and baskets hung from the ceiling, while the floor space was crammed with barrels of pickles and displays of spices and sewing needs. The scent of cinnamon mingled with that of leather and mint.
She paused in front of the boiled hard-candy display. Why not indulge, just this once? The Thomas household usually frowned on such waste, but John wasn't here to scold her, and she felt a bit reckless and defiant after her confrontation with Beatrice.
"I shall take a bit of candy," she told Edna.
Edna's pinched expression became even more pronounced, but she didn't argue. She handed the candy to Hannah silently.
"Where be Mr. Thomas this morning, mistress?" Ephraim handed her full basket back to her.
"He and Harlis are off to join the Continental Army." Hannah took the basket and checked to see if anything had been forgotten.
Ephraim's face brightened. "Aye, they be good men. Soon the British will be running back to England with their tails tucked between their legs."
"Some call it treason." Hannah loved nothing more than a good discussion about something more interesting than tea and gardening.
"Ha!" Ephraim shook his grizzled head. " 'Twas worse than treason what King George has done. The paper said he has hired Hessians to help him win this war. He'll soon find that no mercenaries can overcome Yankee fortitude."
"Hush, Ephraim. Mrs. Thomas has errands to run." Edna looked at Hannah as if daring her to contradict her.
Hannah knew when she wasn't wanted, and she gave a reluctant nod. She'd been eager to hear what else Ephraim had to say. With a smile of thanks she hurried back out into the sunshine. The clouds had billowed higher and more ominous. She'd best get home or she would get caught in the storm.
The wind was whipping the water into whitecaps by the time she stopped outside her saltbox home. Weathered to a soft gray, the house looked the way she felt — soft and worn with cares and griefs. Some days she felt eighty instead of eighteen.
She curried the horse, then took her basket of goods and went inside. Thunder rolled out over the ocean, and flickers of lightning illuminated the sky. The storm was almost here. Perhaps she should get the lamps ready now. She sighed and hurried down the path to the rocky coastline.
Hannah entered the first tower and started up. The stairs were steep, and she was out of breath by the time she reached the top. She stood for a moment and looked out over the roiling sea. A longing as sharp as a cramp gripped her. Oh, to be able to travel the world over instead of being stuck in a remote place like Gurnet Point. Far in the distance, a ship sailed south. If she could have changed into a bird and flown off to meet it, she would have done so. Pushing away the fanciful musings, she began her tasks.
She carefully filled the pots as John had shown her, trimmed the wicks, and made sure the glass was clean and smudge-free. After descending the steep spiral steps, she walked to the other tower and repeated the preparations.
By the time night fell, wind-driven rain lashed the house, and thunder shook the windows. Hannah watched anxiously from the window to make sure the lamps were still lit, but both towers beamed with a reassuring glow. At midnight she went out through the gale and refilled the oil, cleaned the glass, and trimmed the wicks again.
The night stretched before her like the black Atlantic Ocean she could only hear, endless and vast. It would be the first of many such nights.CHAPTER 2
Lydia Huddleston leaned out the window of her coach and waved to the scarlet-clad British soldiers marching in formation beside the road.
"Mercy sakes, child, get back in here!" The older woman beside her tugged on Lydia's arm until she pulled her head back in with reluctance.
"I just love soldiers." Lydia sighed. "They look so dashing in their uniforms. Did you see the blond one blow me a kiss?"
Martha Nelson, Lydia's chaperone, gave a scandalized sniff. "Why I ever agreed to see you to Boston, I shall never know! You had best keep such sentiments to yourself once you reach Yankee soil. You shall find yourself tarred and feathered and run out of town."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Freedom's Light"
Copyright © 2018 Colleen Coble.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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