Minutes before being hanged for treason against the British crown, Ian Sutherland is suddenly spared . . . only to end up in chains again, this time in the hold of a ship bound for the colonies. In America, he becomes the indentured servant of a prosperous Maryland farm owner. But the noble freedom fighter vows to one day escape his servitude and sail back across the sea to his clan. Then he meets Fancy Marsh.
John Marsh rescued Fancy and her half sister Fortune from a terrible fate. Now Fancy shares a good life with her husband, their two children, and an ever-increasing menagerie of pets. But when John dies, Fancy is left at the mercy of his cruel, covetous brother. In desperation, she turns to her rugged, enigmatic bond servant to help her protect her name and legacy. Although Ian agrees to her risky plan, Fancy knows that his heart longs for Scotland. But their dangerous charade soon flames into irresistible passion and the one thing they never expected: a love that can prevail over their most treacherous enemies and the winds of fortune.
Starfinder is the 2nd book in the Scottish Star Series, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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By Patricia Potter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Patricia Potter
All rights reserved.
The Eastern Shore, Maryland, 1747
Fancy Marsh carefully fed the fox through the wire pen, watching as it delicately devoured the hunk of venison. The sleek, bushy-tailed animal was nearly full grown, and his wounds were healed. Soon it would be time to let him go.
Noting the frown on her seven-year-old son's brow as they sat side by side on the ground outside the pen, she realized Noel was thinking about it, too. He and Fortune, her younger sister, had found the fox kit when he was only a few weeks old. He had been huddled next to his mother, who lay dead in a trap. The grieving kit was starving and had badly infected wounds on his front paws and legs. Noel had his aunt's—and her own—protectiveness toward wounded and helpless critters. He and Fortune had brought the hapless kit home, and Noel had presented him to Fancy, tears glinting in his eyes. "Save it," he had begged.
She hadn't hesitated. As long as she could remember, Fancy had loved all living things, as had her father, and she had never been able to resist the impulse to help a wounded animal.
Having finished his meal, the now healthy and beautiful red fox lay down and looked at her, his silvery blue eyes trusting after so many weeks of being in her care. Knowing that John, her husband, would not approve—indeed, would glower at her for the risks she took—she reached through the wire fence and scratched the animal's head. The fox responded by licking her hand, then laid his head on his paws and went to sleep.
"It's almost time to let him go, isn't it?" Noel asked anxiously.
Fancy glanced at her son and smiled. "Yes, it is." Seeing his crestfallen expression, she added, "We'll wait another week or two, until we're sure he can take care of himself."
Her son nodded. In the past, he had begged to keep the critters they seemed to collect, but he'd since learned that the animals were better off in the woods, far away from livestock and the rifles of men protecting their own. Besides, his father would not have allowed it.
John tolerated Fancy's mending ways, but he worried about her being bitten and about Noel and their three-year-old daughter, Amy, becoming too attached to animals that were not meant to be domesticated. And the children had become attached, more than once, which was why the household included a fairly large permanent animal population.
John had frequently surrendered to the inevitable, muttering to himself and never seriously chiding Fancy. But a fox? No. He would never agree, and Fancy had to admit that in this case he would be right. She was grateful that he had let her nurse the fox this long; he had even built a pen for it along the back wall of their house.
John Marsh was a good man, and he, too, had protective instincts. She'd known that from the start, when, after their father died, John had saved her and six-year-old Fortune from a terrible fate. She'd been nothing but a fifteen-year-old woodsy, but he hadn't hesitated, even though she had, at first. He was so much older than she, and, at fifteen, she was frankly scared of the whole idea of marriage—especially marriage to a stranger. She had never regretted the decision, though. John was kind, if sometimes impatient, and he had a generous heart, a heart she had recently come to realize was much too soft for the Maryland wilderness.
Between her own mothering tendencies and John's gentle nature, they'd collected quite a brood in their nine years of marriage. In addition to their two children and her sister, Fortune, there was Bandit the raccoon; Posey the squirrel; Unsatisfactory, a motley calico cat who'd been brought to America to hunt rats but who preferred not to; Lucky, a three-legged half dog, half wolf she had rescued from a trap; and Trouble, a crow that Fortune had found as a fledgling with a broken wing.
John was always able to ferret out a newcomer, possibly because of the children's sly, mischievous expressions.
John would shake his head. "What now?" he would ask wearily. "A lion? A tiger? An elephant?"
Noel and Amy would giggle, then slide into his lap, and it wouldn't be until later, when he and Fancy were in bed together, that he would haltingly wonder whether she should try to heal the whole world.
Lately she'd been biting her tongue so that she wouldn't say she'd be happy if she only could heal him. For they both knew that his soft heart was failing.
Sighing, Fancy rose from the ground, shooed Noel off to play, and went inside the house. John had taken one of his prized two-year-old horses to an auction two counties away, and he would be exhausted—and, she guessed, discouraged—when he returned. Before he arrived, she had work to do.
John had been feeling poorly for over a year now, especially so the past few months. And planting would begin as soon as it rained, probably any day now. They had to harvest at least half a hogshead of tobacco and several acres of corn to support themselves and the horses through the winter. There was always so much work to be done on their small farm. John was determined to make a success of his stables, but the work was backbreaking and, along with tending the crops, nearly impossible for one man alone, even a man in fine health.
It seemed they were always one step away from disaster and never more so than now. It galled Fancy to know that John's brother, Robert, was waiting like a vulture to grab their land. He had always frightened her, but these days she cringed at the very thought of him. He had opposed John's marriage to her as unsuitable, but now that he was a widower, he looked at her with what she recognized as the gleam of lust in his eyes.
Brushing away the uncomfortable thought, Fancy took a broom to the floor of the large room that served as both the dining and gathering area. John had added a small room on either side, one for them and one for Fortune and Amy. The house was larger than that of most yeomen, but then, John wasn't exactly a yeoman, just a second son of a small planter. And unlike his brother, Robert, his ambitions had been modest. He'd wanted only a family and a small farm where he could breed and raise horses. He hadn't wanted hundreds of acres, nor had he wanted to own the numerous slaves required to work those acres. He had no stomach for it.
Fancy hoped he had the stomach for the apple pie she was going to bake for him. She had already started a stew bubbling in a huge pot in the fireplace, filling the room with a delicious aroma. Surely the pie and the stew would spike his flagging appetite.
After putting the broom away, Fancy went to a table where she measured out some flour, a small amount of precious butter, some sugar, and dried apples. She would have a feast ready for John when he returned home.
"I'll go to Chestertown tomorrow," John said as he picked at the meal Fancy had worked so hard to provide. "I heard that a ship carrying indentured servants is arriving."
He had arrived home after dusk, long after the children were asleep, and had fallen into a chair with a heavy sigh.
In quick, surreptitious glances, Fancy had noted that his face was gray and his breathing ragged. "I think you should take a couple of days' rest before going off again," she said, worry twisting inside her.
Lines creased his forehead and the skin around his eyes as he replied. "We have to replant the young tobacco, or we won't make it through the winter."
"But a day or two—"
He shook his head. "You know redemptioners are sold fast."
Fancy frowned. John had been talking for a month or more about obtaining a redemptioner—a bond servant—to help him in the fields. To say she had reservations about the idea was a gross understatement. The very word "redemptioner" raised ugly memories.
Fancy herself had tried to help with the farmwork while Fortune looked after Noel and Amy, but that was not a long-term solution. Fortune was without speech and little more than a child herself, a shy sprite who had a tendency to disappear into the woods, preferring solitude or the company of other nonspeaking creatures. Often she slipped off before dawn and did not reappear for hours.
Still, a redemptioner—a man bound by law and not desire ...?
"Are you sure?" she asked, her tone reflecting her thoughts.
"It is the only way, Fancy," John explained with a heavy sigh. "And redemptioners are willing to indenture themselves to get to America. 'Tis nothing like slavery. Regardless, if we don't get a tobacco crop, we won't be able to feed the horses this winter, and I can't do the planting myself. You know how I felt about selling Pretender, but I had no choice. Nor do we have one now."
Pretender, at two, had shown the promise of tremendous speed. But keeping their breeding stock was even more important than owning a winning racehorse, so Pretender had been sold so that they could buy an indentured servant with the money. That John had been driven to such a choice told her how poorly he must be feeling.
She went over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. There was a grayish pallor under his skin. He was forty-four but he looked ten years older.
Affection welled inside her. She could never understand how he and Robert could have come from the same parents. Robert was the opposite of John in every way—greedy, cruel, ambitious. As the elder son, Robert bitterly resented the fact that his father had left a small but prime piece of land on the river, along with the best of the family's horses, to John. Robert had inherited the bulk of his father's estate, but the piece that he didn't get stuck in his craw to this day.
And it could go on sticking, Fancy thought with a surge of anger. He could have helped his brother, if he'd been so inclined. Instead, he'd used his considerable influence to prevent any of the other local planters from offering John aid since he'd become ill. And if Robert knew how ill his brother was ... well, he'd probably be gleefully planning the funeral.
Gritting her teeth so as not to let anger get the better of her, Fancy wished she could provide some magic potion for her husband. She had brewed teas and given him healing herbs for his heart, but she knew of nothing more she could do. A doctor had confirmed that his heart was not as strong as it should have been, but even he could offer no medicine that would help. Perhaps a bondsman was the best thing. It was certainly a better alternative—and perhaps the only alternative—to John working himself to death.
She rubbed his shoulders. "Shouldn't the children and I go with you?"
He shook his head. "You couldn't go to the auction, and I'll be away for several nights. Someone has to take care of the horses, and Fortune ..."
When he trailed off, she understood that he was reluctant to say anything disparaging about Fortune. He looked on the girl as a little sister, with both fondness and exasperation. But Fancy knew that Fortune could not always be relied upon.
Yet anxiety for John's well-being still clawed at her. She didn't like the idea of him traveling all the way to Chestertown alone, and even less did she relish him returning alone with a bond servant of unknown background and morals. But then, surely John wouldn't be foolish enough to purchase a convict.
"Maybe you can find one who can read and write," she said hesitantly, "who can teach ... the children."
"I'll do what I can," he said wearily. "But the most important thing is to find someone strong enough to plant and tend the tobacco and corn."
She had to stifle the impulse to beg him, please, to try very hard. John had never learned to read, though he and his brother had been tutored. All the figures that Robert had learned so easily were only gibberish to John. It was a failure that bothered him deeply.
Fancy knew how he felt. She couldn't read, either, and it was her greatest regret, just as her greatest ambition was that her children learn. Although there was no school and no one to teach them, she had sworn they would learn. Somehow. And she would, too. She already had books sitting on a shelf above the hearth, books she had bought whenever she could, awaiting the day when she would be able to read them. Her dreams, her hopes, lay in those books.
John stopped playing with his food and rose from the table. "I think I'll go to bed."
When Fancy nodded, he started to walk toward their room. Then he turned back to her, catching her hand in his.
"I missed you," he said.
Instead of being pleased by his declaration, Fancy was alarmed. John rarely, if ever, gave her an outward display of affection. Even in the privacy of their bed, he had never said he loved her. He had married her as an act of kindness, and they had not even lain together as husband and wife until a year after their marriage. She was too young, he'd said. And in all the years since they had consummated their marriage, although she knew he cared for her, he had never been demonstrative in his affection or admitted to any tender feelings toward her.
So why now?
The most obvious answer to that question sent shivers up her spine, and her hand tightened around his. She wanted so much to make him well again. He had once been so strong, so sure. She couldn't bear to consider the possibility of losing him.
"I missed you, too," she said, holding his gaze.
He nodded and looked as if he wanted to say something more, but he had never been easy with words. "Good night, wife."
"I'll be to bed soon," she said, trying to keep the worry from her voice.
But she couldn't stop thinking about the as yet unpurchased indentured servant as she took John's nearly full plate outside and set it down for Unsatisfactory, Lucky, and Posey. The pets shoved each other good-naturedly for the most advantageous position, Posey skittering in and out between the others' feet. Fancy smiled at their antics, looking past them toward the barn. The servant could sleep there, she supposed. She would have to clean out a corner, and prepare some kind of mattress.
Slowly, hope began to surface. Fancy had discovered that most things worked out for the best—like her marriage to John. If the redemptioner could take on some of the labor, perhaps John would get better. And maybe he really would find someone who could teach her and the children to read. She'd heard that there were teachers among those seeking new opportunities in this land.
What a fine present that would be.
How many days had he been chained in the hold of the ship? Ian had lost track. Nor did he know how long he'd been in prison before being put aboard. The days had blurred together into one unending nightmare, and he knew only that it had been a long time—a very long time—since he'd last tasted freedom. He was only surviving now, not living. He was surviving for Katy's sake.
The air in the ship's hold was hot, suffocating, stifling. Although there had been moans earlier during the voyage, the convicts with whom he shared his quarters were now too miserable to make any sound. The crossing had been too rough for them to be taken above deck for air or exercise.
One of the sailors who had brought water and bread earlier in the day had said they were only two days from Baltimore, their destination.
As bad as the voyage had been, Ian had no better expectations of its conclusion. He was to be sold at auction to the highest bidder for a term of fourteen years. He had already been informed of the consequences of trying to escape: an extension of the term, whipping, even death. The British soldiers had branded his thumb, marking him as an indentured convict, to prevent his return to Scotland.
It didn't matter, though. He would escape. Ian Sutherland, who had once been marquis of Brinaire, would be no one's slave.
He shifted, trying to change his position. Any was difficult. Each convict was allotted two and a half feet of space. A long chain, threaded through rings on the men's leg irons and locked to the sides of the hold, held them in place. Most of his fellow prisoners had been sentenced to transportation for poaching or theft. Only Ian and two others were Scots taken at Culloden Moor.
Excerpted from Starfinder by Patricia Potter. Copyright © 1998 Patricia Potter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The whole series was very good.