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Rapture in His Arms
By Lynette Vinet
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Lynette Vinet
All rights reserved.
Island of Bermuda
A hot breeze ruffled stray locks of Jillian Cameron's chestnut brown hair that, until moments ago, had been hidden beneath the large sunbonnet that protected her face from the startlingly bright sunshine. She fiddled with the loose curls beneath the yellow brim, and finally in exasperation, she threw off the offending bonnet and tossed it in her lap. She hated wearing bonnets, preferring the feel of the sea air, mixed with the morning's heat, wafting through her hair. But as she removed her bonnet, her hair loosened, and a thick, brown braid fell across her shoulder.
Her impetuous action caused her husband, Edwin, who sat beside her in the wooden cart, to turn his attention from the slaves in the cane fields to her. The many lines in his furrowed brow deepened in concern. "You'll burn without your bonnet, child. Your skin is much too fair for such heat." He chided her as if he were her father and not her husband.
Jillian wrinkled her nose and smoothed the bodice of her green calico gown with her fingertips. "It's much too hot for a bonnet. You know how I dislike them."
"I do, but 'tis for your own good. Now be a good poppet and do as I say. I don't want you becoming feverish. I know what's best for you, my dear."
Jillian couldn't argue with him. In fact, she wouldn't argue. Edwin was always right, always concerned for her welfare, just as her dear father had been. Edwin had taken on the role not only of husband, but of protector and father when they married. Though marriage to the widowed Edwin Cameron, owner of Cameron's Hundred plantation in Virginia, had been her father's idea, Jillian felt incredibly lucky to be married to such a considerate, kindly, God-fearing man. Edwin and her father had been lifelong friends, and her father had made certain that after his death she was taken care of by someone he'd trusted. She hadn't minded marrying Edwin when she was sixteen. She'd known him all her life and had been close to Edwin, to his late wife, and to their son, Jacob. Such an arrangement seemed suitable and necessary for a young girl who would soon lose her father, her last surviving parent. She'd never questioned her father's authority when he was alive, and she never questioned Edwin either. For the last seven years, she'd been mistress of Cameron's Hundred, dutifully obeying her husband in all things. Perfectly contented, Jillian had not foreseen making any changes in her life. But something unexpected had happened, only six months past. Jacob, who was Edwin's heir and much-beloved son, had died at the age of twenty-four.
As Jillian replaced the bonnet on her head and retied the yellow ribbons beneath her chin, she wondered if this trip to Bermuda had been a mistake. Though Edwin had insisted on the trip, since he was eager to renew his friendship with Sir Horatio Mortimer and his young wife, Priscilla, Edwin wasn't used to traveling — the greatest distance he'd gone the last few years had been to Jamestown for supplies. She noted her husband's pale, line-etched face with alarm. The harsh daylight cruelly emphasized each wrinkle. His once-merry blue eyes no longer gleamed brightly but were now dull. He'd lost weight, too, for his brown jacket hung loosely on his thin frame.
Edwin looked much older than his sixty-two years. Jillian had nursed her father through his last illness, and she worried that Edwin would sicken and die just like her father, leaving her all alone. The thought of losing Edwin caused her to tremble, and she tightly clasped his hand.
"Are you feeling well?" she asked him, her greenish-blue eyes expressing her loving concern. "Choosing slaves can be left to another time, if you'd like to rest. I'm certain Sir Horatio will understand."
Edwin smiled and gently squeezed her fingers. "I'm fine, my dear. You mustn't fret over me."
"'Tis so hot outside. I worry that you're not taking care of yourself. You haven't looked well since —" She broke off, very nearly saying he hadn't looked well since Jacob's death. She stopped herself, for the very mention of Jacob always caused a pained expression to flit across Edwin's face; she continued, "Since before last summer."
Edwin apparently knew very well what she really meant to say. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat and hid his pain behind a stoic facade. "Nothing's wrong with me, I assure you," he countered with forced heartiness before he riveted his attention on the cane field, surveying the slaves at their work.
Jillian realized that Edwin had closed the subject of his health, and she knew not to probe further. He could be such an exasperating man sometimes.
In silence, they watched the slaves in the field as they swung their scythes, splitting the cane in two. The merciless sun beat down upon the bare backs of the dark-skinned men as they quietly went about their toil. At this time of day, as the sun rose ever higher in the heavens, Jillian wondered at the folly of their host, Sir Horatio Mortimer. At home, on Cameron's Hundred, Edwin always allowed the slaves to leave the tobacco fields at midday when the weather was unbearably warm. He felt, and rightly so, that human beings couldn't work and produce well in such ungodly heat. Edwin possessed a reputation among the James River planters for being too soft with his slaves, too indulgent. Tyler Addison, their nearest neighbor, openly criticized Edwin for not allowing his female slaves to work in the fields when carrying a child. But Jillian approved of how her husband ran Cameron's Hundred. His kindness extended not only to her but to everyone he knew.
Just then they noticed Sir Horatio Mortimer riding toward them on horseback. His corpulent figure, encased in purple satin, bowed down the small mare. When he stopped beside them, he wiped his florid, sweaty face with a lace handkerchief and puffed heavily. The bald spot atop his head gleamed like white marble. It took some seconds for him to regain his breath. "Priscilla has cool cider and a light luncheon at the house," he nasally intoned and puffed some more. "I trust you've chosen the slaves you'd like to purchase, Edwin, for it's damnably hot out here."
"I'm considering a number of them. I should like to see them at close view, if I may," Edwin said.
"There's one I'm particularly interested in, and I think you know which one."
Horatio made a snorting sound. "The last time you visited, you asked about him. You are a persistent man, though I remember telling you that he wasn't for sale."
"True, but that was almost eight years ago. Are you willing to sell him to me now? I'll pay you a fair price, more than fair. Think about it, Horatio."
"The bastard isn't worth the money," proclaimed Horatio, but a greedy gleam glistened within the man's eyes.
Jillian didn't know who her husband and Horatio Mortimer were discussing, but from the eager expression on Edwin's face, she discerned that he intended to have his way and buy this particular slave.
Wiping the perspiration from her brow with the back of her hand, Jillian watched the slaves who trudged ever onward through the line of sugar cane. She marveled at how these men could work in such searing heat and not complain. Probably they knew better than to utter a sound, in fear of retribution from the overseer, who even now trailed after them with a bullwhip clasped firmly in his thick hand. A large, burly white man whose face was a mass of pockmarks, the overseer had small, squinting eyes that seemed able to take in everything and everyone with a single glance. And at the moment, he seemed very out of sorts with someone.
The thunderous crack of the whip as it contacted with someone's flesh, broke the day's stillness. Jillian started at the sound, her mouth gone dry with dread. Beatings were prohibited on Cameron's Hundred, and she was unused to such abuse. She stifled the urge to cry out and tell Mortimer to order the overseer to cease cracking the whip. She realized they were no longer at home, though she glanced at Edwin to see his reaction. Her husband remained warily silent, but a muscle twitched in his jaw. Mortimer, however, rose anxiously upwards on his horse. "What's the trouble, Phipps?" he shouted to the overseer.
"Same as always, my lord!" Phipps called back.
"You'd think the bloody bastard would know better by now than to cause trouble," Mortimer hissed under his breath. He waved to Phipps. "Bring him forward!"
The beefy overseer yanked a man from the line of workers. The object of Phipps's retribution was a large, well-built man who wore only a pair of ragged tan breeches. Even from a distance Jillian saw that his flesh was a golden brown hue; his back, though criss-crossed with two fresh red stripes, was powerfully muscled, as were his arms that lifted to grab Phipps's whip. His vain attempt was thwarted by Phipps with the help of a large slave. The two men took hold of his upper arms and dragged the defiant man through the cane field toward the wrathful Mortimer.
As they drew closer, Jillian thought the sun must be playing tricks with her eyes for this slave's hair wasn't dark like the others but was a deep blondish-gold in color. Never having seen a slave with light-colored hair, she didn't know what to make of such an aberration. Phipps roughly pushed the man to his knees only a few feet from where she sat and ordered him to look at Mortimer. Jillian got a good view of his features as he did so. She noted that he possessed the aquiline nose of an aristocrat, a finely drawn and sensuous mouth, and light brown eyes. She gasped involuntarily, amazement written on her face. This defiant slave was a white man.
The man evidently heard her for he looked right at her. His amber gaze flickered insolently over her, raking her from head to toe before his lips turned upwards in a sensuous sneer, Jillian drew closer to Edwin, unnerved by this man's contemptuous perusal.
Sir Horatio bent low from his horse. The very air vibrated with his potent hatred for the white slave. His mouth contorted into a vicious scowl. "Look at me and not the lady," he ordered. The slave took his time withdrawing his gaze from Jillian before he focused upon Mortimer, and this calculated disobedience only increased Mortimer's rage. "My God, but you're forever trying my patience, you Irish whelp of Satan! You've suffered the lash enough times over the years to kill a lesser man. I've come to think you enjoy punishment as much as I enjoy doling it out to you."
The slave said nothing, but he didn't need to speak. The rigid set of his jaw, and his eyes, burning brightly with defiance, spoke for him. Clearly, these two men detested each other with equal intensity. It was quite evident to Jillian that this white slave wasn't about to be cowed by anyone, least of all the paunchy Horatio Mortimer. The man's very silence and arrogance in the face of authority finally undid Mortimer.
Mortimer slid laboriously from his horse with a puff and a huff, his attention on the slave and not about to be removed. "I'll teach you to arrogantly eyeball your betters," shrieked the out-of-breath man as he raised his riding crop to the man at his feet.
"I forbid you to strike him!" Jillian cried, startling everyone, but especially herself.
Mortimer stood like a purple pillar; his riding crop fell to his side. Bafflement and anger contorted his face. "What did you say, madam?"
Jillian flushed, aware she'd overstepped the boundary of male authority. A man like Mortimer didn't take orders from women, especially not the wife of a guest. She knew from visiting with the Mortimers that her host was a blustering man who expected his wife to be docile and subservient to his every whim. She also knew that a man like Sir Horatio didn't want a woman interfering in plantation business, especially not in the punishment of recalcitrant slaves. She glanced at Edwin, who appeared just as surprised by her reaction as Sir Horatio, but he regarded her in contemplative silence. The arrogant slave coolly assessed her from his spot upon the ground, and it was his very chilling stare that caused her palms to perspire. She wondered what had gotten into her to defend this man, who from all appearances needed to be corrected. But she didn't like Horatio Mortimer or the way he treated his slaves, and she wouldn't take back what she'd said. "I — I don't want you — to hit him," she stammered and wiped her wet palms on her skirt. "Slaves are never beaten at Cameron's Hundred. How can you expect loyalty from your slaves if you mistreat them?"
Sir Horatio leveled a heated gaze upon Jillian, though his attitude was politely formal. "I don't expect loyalty from them, madam, nor do I care to receive their devotion. I do expect them to obey me and my overseer. I also expect a woman to know her place and not embarrass her host or her husband."
Jillian paled; her mouth trembled. Indeed, she'd gone too far. Edwin must be horribly humiliated by her outburst. More than anything, she didn't wish to add to Edwin's pain. Turning to her husband, she whispered, "I apologize if I've embarrassed you."
Edwin surprised her by smiling reassuringly. He patted her hand before addressing Horatio. "My wife isn't used to brutality. Really, you should think twice before you punish a slave in front of a lady, Horatio. We shall now return to the house for luncheon. I'm certain Lady Priscilla is awaiting us." Edwin grabbed the reins of the small donkey that was hitched to the cart, but his voice held a warning tone. "And, Horatio, I think it might be a good idea if you don't overdo your punishment of that slave for I'd like to speak to you about him later this evening."
Without waiting for a response from Horatio, Edwin clucked to the donkey, and the cart began to roll down the dirt road toward the pink-tinged house in the distance. "I shouldn't have interfered," Jillian said contritely as she glanced over her shoulder to find that the slave still watched her.
"Aye, you should have remained quiet, my dear, but I admit I'm embarrassed that I didn't say something. Horatio isn't a very fair man sometimes, but he helped me out of debt years ago, and I'm grateful. Now tell me, what do you think of Donovan?"
Jillian looked at her husband. "Who?"
"Donovan Shay — the man whom you defended."
"He's a white man," was all she could think of to say.
"Aye, he is that, and Irish to boot. That's why Horatio detests him and treats him so badly."
"Why is he a slave? How can this be?"
"'Tis a sad tale, but the short of it is that Horatio has never liked the Irish. He served with me in the Irish campaign at Drogheda —" Edwin stopped speaking. His gaze suddenly was far away and filled with pain. It took some seconds before he grew aware of his surroundings and cleared his throat. His voice sounded strained. "I've regretted my part in Cromwell's annihilation of the Irish ever since. The senseless cruelty and brutality perpetrated against those people by our own English troops will haunt me until the day I die. Many Irish died, but the survivors were rounded up and shipped to Bermuda and the islands as slaves. Donovan was one of them, a young lad of six at the time. As luck or ill fortune would have it, he ended up here as slave to Horatio. Over the years during my infrequent visits, I've seen him grow from a scared child to the defiant man he's become."
"How long has he been here?"
Edwin thought a moment. "Approximately twenty-seven years."
"Is there a chance that Sir Horatio will free him?"
"Nay. Horatio would rather die than free Donovan, He'd as soon free every slave but him. I've made offers for Donovan before and been refused."
Jillian wondered why Edwin would confide this information to her, unless he meant to buy Donovan. "I gather you plan to offer for him again."
"Do you think I should?" He asked this question with eager anticipation shining in his eyes.
Jillian thought it very strange for Edwin to ask her opinion about a slave at all. At first, she was hesitant to reply, not wishing to sway Edwin one way or the other in a business matter. But she remembered the contemptuous way this Donovan person had looked at her, almost as if he were the master and she an unworthy slave. Yet there was something else in that look, something which caused her flesh to warm and her cheeks to stain even now. Somehow she felt as if the arrogant man had stripped away her gown with his amber gaze — and found her lacking. Why this should bother her, she didn't know and didn't care to dwell upon. She just knew that she didn't want her husband to buy the Irish slave. "That's up to you, but he won't be docile," she said at last. "If he's a troublemaker here, he'll cause trouble at Cameron's Hundred, and I don't want you upset unnecessarily. There are other slaves, more biddable ones you can purchase. Most probably they'd be very grateful to leave Sir Horatio and his malicious overseer. Besides, if Sir Horatio refused your offer in the past, I doubt he'd accept it now."
Excerpted from Rapture in His Arms by Lynette Vinet. Copyright © 2013 Lynette Vinet. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellant love story. Read it and you won't be disapointed. I have read many books by Lynette VInet who is one great writer and have loved them all. Give her books a try and you will fall in love with them and want more....D
Cant. Moving. Gtgtb