Life is about choices.
Really. It is.
Not only small choices, such as what should I wear to work today?
Or bigger ones such as: Should I even go to work today?
Or even bigger ones: Should I tell the boss to shove it, sell everything I own, buy a Harley Davidson, and tour Route 66? Without a GPS?
Okay. Maybe today isn’t the day to make decisions that extreme, so let’s do this instead.
Pick at least one of these romance box sets and live a life that isn’t yours vicariously. You won’t cause any harm. Or go bankrupt. Or get lost. But you're sure to fall in love. At least once.
Would you like to snuggle with a detective who also happens to be a werewolf? Or maybe a reborn Egyptian god? Check out Mystic Lovers.
Did the movie (or old TV show) Wild, Wild West get you itching to share a saddle with secret agent James West? Check out Angel in Aces Wild, part of Rebels, Rogues, and Romantics.
How about suspense, murders, living on the edge, trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, all with some hot romance on the side? If this is for you, check out Dangerous Encounters and Risky Encounters, both box sets with romantic suspense that will keep you gripping the edge of your Kindle.
Are contemporary romances more your speed? From puppies to young brides and…and…well, more themes than I have room for here. Kiss Me, Thrill Me, Sweet & Sassy, and Unforgettable Romances are great (and well-endowed with loads of stories).
Tired of choices?
Heck, why not make time to read them all? After all, the prices are fantastic!
All these box sets are only 99 cents each and also available on Amazon to read for free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.
P.S. If you like to live and love out of this time era, check out my stories in Rebels, Rogues, and Romantics; Mystic Lovers, Sweet and Sassy, and Kiss Me, Thrill Me. I think you'll be glad you did!
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
The Fourth of July is a day of celebration for Americans. Independence Day we call it. In Britain, it's the War of Rebellion. Either way, it's a great excuse to get together and barbecue, eat watermelon, and if it's legal, shoot off fireworks.
It was very different in 1781. I wrote about it in NAKED IN THE WINTER WIND, the first book in The Fairies Saga series.
Amazon NOOK iBooks/Apple Amazon UK Kobo
THE FIFTH FOURTH (A rather lengthy excerpt from Naked in the Winter Wind, a time travel novel, and Kibbles and Bits, the sampler book of the first five books in the series)
It was very different in 1781. I wrote about it in NAKED IN THE WINTER WIND, the first book in The Fairies Saga series.
Amazon NOOK iBooks/Apple Amazon UK Kobo
THE FIFTH FOURTH (A rather lengthy excerpt from Naked in the Winter Wind, a time travel novel, and Kibbles and Bits, the sampler book of the first five books in the series)
July 4, 1781
Today was a day of celebration for many of us, and just another summer day for the Tories and Loyalists. Independence Day number five was an affirmation and show of unity for all of us who had kept the faith and persevered, and who were still striving to win the conflict with England. Tonight, all up and down the eastern seaboard and in all thirteen colonies, American patriots would observe the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with parties, drinking, banners, and bragging. There would be cannons blasting, guns saluting, and rockets painting the night sky with festive fire, acknowledging our gratefulness to God, our soldiers, and the Continental Congress for working together toward our deliverance from English tyranny.
We were still at war, but I knew beyond a hiccup of a doubt that we would win this. My faith was contagious to others, too. Jody was aware of the outcome before I showed up because of Sarah and her knowledge of English and American ‘history,’ but he was absolutely passionate about our new form of government, as if he had discovered it himself.
I felt privileged to be able to observe his finesse in promoting the push for our new country’s independence. He was easily wound up, and preached whenever he saw an opportunity. He knew how to use his size, bearing, and voice to great advantage. He would start low, just a comment or an aside, to someone in town. “Better a free mouse than a slaved cat,” he was fond of saying.
The crowd would grow as people curious about the tall red-haired man would stop, watch him gesticulate with those long arms and broad hands, and listen to his booming voice hawk the merits of self-rule. The crescendo moved into an awesome finale, a passionate speech, sweeping all within earshot of him into a roaring fever of patriotism and hope. Then, to make sure they understood the concept, he would give his short comprehensive summary of what we were fighting for.
“We will make this a great country. We will have the right to say how we govern ourselves; we will elect our own people to enact the laws, interpret the laws, and enforce the laws. This will be the greatest nation on earth: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!”
His powerful speeches and the boldness of Angus and other printers to publish booklets and broadsheets to spread the word even further enabled the masses to understand how great our potential was. There were other great speakers around, and I’m sure glad they were all Americans. The Loyalists evidently didn’t feel as if they had to support or prove their side of the conflict. I guess the fine art of political debate would have to wait a few generations until broader venues were available.
Not all of the well-spoken American patriots made it, or will make it, through this war, though. “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” were powerful words spoken by a very young 21-year-old, Nathan Hale, just before he was executed by the British in 1776. These words helped inspire the fight for a new nation. Jody’s words may not be remembered 230 years into the future, but he didn’t—oh, my God, I hope he doesn’t—die a martyr.
Maybe the pen is mightier than the sword. If Hale’s affirmation and the words of others had never been written down and shared within this fledgling nation, would we have been as brave and fearless? Young America was certainly underpowered as far as weapons, money, and a navy were concerned. Yes, the American spirit, shared in voice and spread in ink, was definitely what won—will win—the war for independence.
I couldn’t—wouldn’t—live in fear for my life or the lives of my family. Our future Constitution and Bill of Rights would be to protect us from fear. But today, right here, right now, lingering Loyalist factions were still pressing their interests, both personal and respective to the Crown, into our lives.
Word came through the usual local news network—paranoid gossip with a smattering of fact thrown in—that a motley crew of disgruntled Loyalists was roaming the area, collecting taxes without regard to who the property owners were or their delinquency status. As far as we knew, the ‘maybe they were, maybe they weren’t British soldiers’ had no valid basis for the tax they were collecting. These bandits were working solely by intimidation. If the landowner couldn’t pay hard cash, they would take anything of value they could put their hands on. If the landowner refused, bloodshed ensued. There was a term for this course of action in my time: extortion.
We had heard the rumors and were cautious, and never left our little homestead unattended. Today Wallace was the sentinel, staying home with me and the babies.
Jody and Sarah had gone into the little big town of Gibsonville for the latest news, salt, and a few other staples. Sarah had insisted on bringing the wagon, hoping that they would be able to bring home some of those flat stones that were down by the creek. I guessed what she wanted were what I called flagstones.
“I want a solid floor, Jody, and one without splinters, one that I can cover with rugs in the winter and have cool to my feet in the summer. Nothing can stay clean with this hard-packed earth as a floor. Pretty soon the babies will be crawling, and we don’t want them scooting around on this, do we?”
She had a good argument, and he knew it. Julian said that José had more rugs than they could use at their house. Evidently his mother, Señora Rojas, had been quite the collector. José, although he probably would have given them to us just to be rid of them, was glad that he could offer them as gifts for the babies. He had only seen the wee’uns once, when he had come to bring Julian back to the ranch the week after they were born, and had fallen in love with them at first sight.
“Tres, um, three? At the same time?” he asked.
José had taken to heart my suggestion and was speaking English as much as possible. He looked at the petite crew, sleeping in one heap on the middle of Sarah and Jody’s bed. I had only made two little baskets for use as bassinets when I was pregnant—not knowing I would need three—but they slept better when snuggled up together and fussed when separated. I guessed they had lived in close quarters for eight months and weren’t quite ready to be apart.
Julian had just about completed their new bed. “Wally, can you finish this for me? I thought I’d be done by now, but I didn’t plan on, ahem, doing other things,” he carped, then grinned. Julian had been roped into doing all of the cooking. Sarah’s hands were still tender, and I was always busy tending to the input or output of the babies.
“I’ll be glad to cook, Julian,” I teased. “You just come over here and whip out your boob and feed these little guys.” He glared at me and went back to cracking eggs for our dinner omelet. His eggs were always good, too. Why did men always make the best omelets? Maybe it was because that was the only dish they ever cooked. Practice makes perfect and all that, you know.
So, Julian was back with José, and Sarah and Jody were out harvesting river rock flooring, possibly until tomorrow. Wallace and I had time to ourselves. Well, sort of—we still had the babies to tend to. I took out the little Bible. “Is it okay if I get a head start on finishing the birth records? I…well, I want to give them their last names now, if it’s okay with you. You see, in my time, a baby can be given any last name, not just the mother’s or father’s surname. You might think I’m a bit twisted, but I think it would be kind of cute if they had your last name before I did.”
“I would be honored to give them my name,” he said proudly. He sighed then added, almost apologetically, “The way the country is now; it’s only the name of Urquhart I can give them. I think I have forfeited my title and the Falls Church estate as a result of changing allegiances. It looks as if we will all be wearing homespun for a long time.”
I looked up to see if I could read anything in his face after his last soft-spoken remark. I could. The love he was radiating was undeniable. He saw the insecure look in my eyes and said, “A small price to pay for a bit of heaven on earth, I say. Even without the babies, you alone are worth it.”
“Wow, um, thank you.” I put down the mini Bible and reached up, clasping my arms around his neck, to give him a smooch worthy of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in ‘From Here to Eternity.’ I composed myself after the kiss, but couldn’t manage—and really didn’t want—to get rid of my huge grin of satisfaction. “I’d better be careful; if I don’t stop smiling so big, my face will freeze like this forever.”
“That would be fine by me. I like seeing you happy. Now let me see that Bible.”
A card fell out as I handed it to him: a business card. I hadn’t seen it when I put the babies’ birth date in the book; it must have been stuck between the pages. He picked it up and glanced at it, then stared at it, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Where did you get this?” he asked coolly.
“I don’t know. It’s new to me, which really isn’t saying much. Here, let me see.”
He let me take it, but didn’t move his hand to offer it to me. He was shocked—at it or something on it.
“It’s just a business card—see,” I said and waved it in the air, showing off how harmless it was. “I guess it was in my backpack and…oh, my,” I looked at the card, “isn’t your uncle Lord Melbourne?”
“Yes, and that’s the family’s coat of arms. But my uncle’s name isn’t James. I’ve never seen a card like this. The paper is so smooth and shiny, the letters are raised, and the printing is so, so perfect. What do all these numbers mean?”
“Those are phone numbers. Remember when I told you about telephones? Phone numbers are how we kept everyone indexed, sorted, and how we accessed them, I mean… Well, there are also faxes, which need numbers, too, and emails, which use letters and/or numbers. And gosh, look at that—he even has his own website.”
I set the card down. This wasn’t working, and it wasn’t because I had overloaded him with my rambling about numbers and modern technology. This 21st century business card was from someone with his family name, actually his kin by the use of the coat of arms and title. And I must have had it in my possession since…well, at least since a minute before I arrived here from the 21st century.
I lifted my suddenly insecure fiancé’s chin and fixed my eyes on his half-closed ones. “Wallace, I think this is from one of your relatives, or rather your relative’s descendants. But I swear I don’t know how I got this. I don’t have any feelings for or about this card, or this ‘James Melbourne’ person, at all!”
I hadn’t started out to be emotional or excited about a silly old slip of thick paper. Good grief, it was just a business card. I received cards like this all the time in my previous life. I think. But this was ‘when’ I was, here and now. It should be no big deal after seeing the smartphone a few weeks ago, but this had something to do with Wallace and Julian’s heritage. Or whatever the opposite of heritage was: descentage?
Wallace’s head was bowed and still. I looked at the card again, then gave it back to him. He rubbed his thumb over the embossed lettering. “Oh, well,” he remarked nonchalantly, then lifted his head to gaze at me with a weak smile, “another mystery.”
“Like bumblebees,” I said with a one-shoulder shrug of agreement.
He raised one eyebrow and looked down his nose, asking me wordlessly, “Explain, please.”
“Aerodynamically, bumblebees aren’t supposed to be able to fly, but they do. You know, fat little bodies and itty-bitty wings? An eagle soaring, that’s easy to see, but those chunky little buggers popping from flower to flower, mathematically and scientifically shouldn’t be able to fly. A mystery, but real; something we accept and don’t try to explain.”
“Okay, a bumblebee,” he said and shoved the card back into the Bible.
“Maybe we can do the names a little later,” I mumbled, suddenly feeling insecure.
He looked over at me and saw that my big happy smile had managed to totally disappear and was now approaching a frown. “We have the first and last names. Why don’t we figure out a few middle names before we enter them in the Bible? After all, we aren’t going anywhere.”
“Okay,” I chirped, popping right out of my funk, “fine by me.”
And it was. Now what were some good middle names, and how many should I give each child? Those were happy posers for me to consider and didn’t even begin to drag me down into curiosity about my unknown past.
Ӂ Ӂ Ӂ
Wallace went to the barn to continue with his woodworking. He was finishing the babies’ playpen/crib that Julian had started. I was hoping to get a few minutes to myself before a baby woke up. I grabbed a clean cloth and filled a small pot with fresh water. I sat on the porch and untied my shirt. I felt icky, covered with baby spit-up and sweat. I wet the cloth and wiped from my forehead down to my neck. I rinsed the cloth and washed the top of my breasts then rinsed again. Ah, now the best part. I lifted one of my heavy breasts, and washed away the perspiration and spilled milk. The babies all nursed well, as in vigorously, but they all seemed to fall asleep with a mouthful of milk. It dribbled out their lips, and down and underneath my breasts. It wasn’t always possible to clean up after each feeding. There was always another one waiting to be fed or changed.
My little sponge bath was just the pick me up I needed. I felt almost as clean as if I’d taken a whole bath. Maybe I’d be able to do that later on tonight.
It was still early, but looked like it was going to be another miserably hot day. There wasn’t a white spot in the sky, which was good. I didn’t mind the heat, but I hated the humidity that came with the clouds and haze. I decided to be brazen and leave my shirt open so I could thoroughly dry out. I knew I’d be able to hear anyone coming before they could see me, so I put my legs up and kicked back on the porch bench, ready to catch some rays and vitamin D.
I looked up at the north end of the porch through squinted eyes and visualized a swing. I’d have to show Wallace how they were made where I came from—or would that be when I came from? It would be nice to have one wide enough for two adults to share. And it shouldn’t take much more effort to hang three little swings from the porch beam.
I was fantasizing about swinging and fresh air when someone threw a cloth over my chest. I looked down and saw it was a diaper off of the clothesline.
“Cover up, quick,” a husky voice ordered.
I did, hurriedly tying together my blouse underneath the cloth—at the same time, looking for my modesty policeman. I didn’t see him, but did see a rider coming in at a fast pace, kicking up a twisty, tan dust cloud, followed by a wagon with three men.
I searched again for the cloth-tosser, but didn’t see anyone. I called for Wallace, but he didn’t answer. Something fishy was going on, and I was starting to get scared.
The rider, a scruffy-looking British soldier, jerked back hard on the reins when he saw me, and came to a gravel-crunching stop. He had kicked his horse hard and repeatedly to get her to the house so quickly. Fresh blood was oozing from the gouges in the long-legged black mare’s flanks. I looked over and saw that, although the man was dressed in a tattered and filthy British officer’s uniform, he was wearing Spanish spurs—mean, ugly, sharp ones that would give the SPCA and PETA fits.
I walked to the edge of the porch to greet the stranger. “Can I help you, sir,” I said in my bravest voice. My knees felt watery, but gratefully, they still held me up. I reached out and held onto the porch post in order to give myself more stability. My courageous demeanor would mean nothing if I passed out from fright right in front of him.
“I’m the new tax collector and I see that,” he pulled out a little booklet that looked like one of those cheap dirty novels that made the circuit, “this household has not paid any taxes this year.”
I leaned in closer to see if I could see the name of his little novella. He quickly pulled it close to his chest, and shoved it back into his jacket pocket.
He was lying, and I wasn’t the least bit subtle with my distrustful leer, letting him know that I knew he did not have a tax-roll book in his jacket.
“I think you’re mistaken, sir,” I said with a newfound confidence, “we are current on our taxes. Someone must have given you the wrong book.” Then I glared at him, daring him to challenge me.
That was probably a bad move. He was not a nice man by the looks of his horse’s bleeding flesh. I quickly backpedaled, “I’m sure it wasn’t your mistake though, sir.” I batted my eyelashes, hoping to cover my tough northern girl persona with a charming young southern belle flirtation. “Good help is so hard to find nowadays,” I added demurely.
I should have continued with the engaging debutante role and asked if he would like a drink of water, but I really wanted him gone. Just as I was wondering what to do next, my decision was made for me. The creepy soldier jumped up onto the porch and literally got in my face.
“What’s a sweet young thing like you doing out here all alone? Did your menfolk go out and get themselves killed by the mean old British soldiers?”
His breath reeked of rum and rotten teeth. I took two steps back to get away from him, but he advanced three.
“If you’re lonely, I can be real friendly,” he cooed.
His hands reached for my hair, but my reflexes were fast, and he didn’t get a chance to touch me. Instead, it was I who reached out. I instinctively slapped him across his stubble-whiskered cheek before I could think.
“Oh, you shouldn’t have done that, little lady. I don’t take to violence. At least I don’t like being hit. I do like to inflict a little pain every now and then, though. I find it—rather, arousing…”
He dragged the last word out in a most perverse manner. I had ducked and drawn away from him with the slap, but he was closing in on me, making sure I didn’t have an escape route. He was between me and the steps now. I could hear his heavy breathing and smell his rummy breath. He reached down and grabbed the front of his pants. “Give the taxman his due, little lady, and maybe he won’t take too much from your little bitty home. The wagon is fairly full already, but what I’d really like…”
“Mama, Mama,” the little boy said as he popped up between the extortionist and me. “I’m back. Did ye miss me?”
I reached down and clutched the unknown dark-haired boy to me, and hugged him hard. “Oh, I did miss you,” I said sincerely, keeping hold of this little person who had just stopped an assault. He was about ten years old and wiry—hard, skinny, and definitely clever.
“Father says that he’ll be right back. He and uncle and cousin and all the men from the…the…the store will be here any minute. He says he loves ye and misses ye.”
The little boy stammered on where the menfolk were, and I hoped the taxman—or whoever he was—had missed his little sign of lying.
“Thank you, dear,” I said as I brushed his wayward hair out of his eyes.
I gasped, glad that my back was toward the soldier. I suddenly realized who this boy must be, and I was sure the look of shock showed on my face. He had to be Ian’s son! His features, that hair that wouldn’t go where it was supposed to, and those soft brown eyes—if he wasn’t Ian’s son, I was a rhinoceros.
My momentary trance was broken by the sound of a baby crying. It was little Danielle. If I didn’t get to her soon, she’d have her brothers awake and screaming with her. “I need to take care of my daughter,” I said as I excused myself, not waiting to see if he had any objections. No one was going to keep me from my babies.
The little boy followed me inside. He literally stood guard at the door as I sat on a kitchen chair and bared a breast to both quiet and feed her.
“Get out of here,” growled the little boy. “This house is for family only.”
There wasn’t any sign of fear in his voice, and I realized why. I think he knew I was feeding his sister; she was his family.
My back was turned away from the opened door—I wanted at least a modicum of privacy in nursing—and I didn’t see it coming.
“Move out of the way, boy. I wanna see what we have here.” I heard the shuffle of bodies in contention, and turned around just in time to see Little Ian fly through the air. The taxman had lifted him bodily and tossed him into the corner like a dirty shirt.
I stood up and backed away from the man as he neared me with a lusty smirk. “Ooh, a little one, but she’s too little right now. Give her a couple of years, and she’ll be just right.”
“Keep away, you bastard,” I hissed, controlling the urge to scream—I didn’t want to startle the baby. I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Little Ian had come to his wits, and was inching our way.
“Now lookie there; she is a fresh one, isn’t she? I’ll bet you and your husband—if there even is a husband—haven’t had relations since she was born.”
He reached up to brush my breasts with his huge, filthy hand, but I feigned right and dodged him. Now I was on the other side of him, and could easily run outside. But I couldn’t leave him in the house with my other two babies. One of them was sure to awaken soon.
He glared at me, angry at my clever escape. It was a stare-down, and I won. Sort of. His eyes changed focus and peered down, leering at the opening of my blouse. Then he looked up to my gold nugget necklace, and another kind of lust appeared.
“Aarrgghh!” I caught sight of the tanned buckskinned-clad boy just as he tackled the taxman behind the legs, effectively knocking the much bigger man flat on his back…and evidently the wind out of his lungs. The man’s mouth was moving, but his chest was still. He couldn’t draw a breath
“Hmph,” I snorted. I didn’t care if he ever breathed again.
Little Ian stood above his prey, a dirk in his hand, his foot ready to stomp on the man’s windpipe if he should try to rise. “Shall I cut him?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered angrily in emotional reflex. “Cut him? Oh, no,” I said as I suddenly realized what he meant.
“Too late,” he said.
I was afraid that he had meant kill him, but he hadn’t. Nevertheless, he really had cut him. The taxman had a ‘Y’ cut into his cheek. He still couldn’t breathe, though, and was beginning to turn blue. Little Ian stepped back and kicked him hard under the ribcage. The man gasped, and his color started to return with the intake of air.
I heard a noise in the doorway, saw that it was Wallace, and was relieved.
And then it was terror time all over again.
I noticed the look in Wallace’s eyes and the knife at his neck—he was being held hostage. Three men were standing behind him, grinning like cats at an overstocked fishpond. The taxman’s reinforcements had arrived.
Judah and Leo chose that moment to wake up and call for their lunch. I let them scream. I knew an infant’s cry was irritating to a human male’s eardrum. The high pitch actually caused men physical pain…or so I recalled reading or hearing…somewhere. If I could irritate the intruders in an unobtrusive manner, maybe they wouldn’t be able to think clearly. Then Wallace, the boy, and I could find a way out of this mess.
The boy! If Ian’s son was here—and how in the hell did he have a son that he didn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me about?—then Ian was around here somewhere. That made me feel better—I had an invisible ally.
Surely Ian would want his prey out in the open where he could see them. Now I felt like I was part of a rescue team, and my partner was out there somewhere, just waiting for me to flush out his quarry.
“How about if we go outside where it isn’t so noisy,” I suggested as I put Danielle down into the nest of quilts on the bed. I picked up Leo—he was protesting the loudest—turned my back on the men, and let the baby start nursing. There was no reason for him to be deprived of lunch. And right now, I needed him as much as he needed me.
Leo and I followed the gruesome foursome outside. I hoped Wallace, the boy, the babies, and I had someone—my modesty policeman maybe?—to help us.
The taxman was a bit loopy from his assault, but managed to grasp onto one of his cronies, and made it to the porch bench. Little Ian—or should that be Wee Ian?—had picked up little Judah, and brought him outside to be with me. He was cooing and cuddling the baby; actually doing a great job of distracting the little two-week-old—oh my, Judah was his little brother!
I took a deep breath to compose myself. Too much had just happened, and I couldn’t handle it, even with the aid of my little dark-haired champion. “Lord, help us,” I prayed softly to the man upstairs.
“Who you talkin’ to,” asked the skinny man who still had a knife to Wallace’s neck.
“God,” I answered with self-assurance. I suddenly felt braver because I knew He would help us. “You know, the man who gave us ‘thou shalt not kill’ and ‘thou shalt not steal’ and about eight other good ‘thou shalt nots’ to live by.”
“Hmph,” was the monosyllabic reply from the man who looked like he had a single digit IQ.
Okay, maybe I could work this in my favor. The taxman was evidently the head honcho in this little extortion ring. Right now, he was pretty much out of commission. His three apes were apparently trying to keep up the intimidation and theft gambit, and weren’t quite sure about what to do next.
“Would you believe that you have a knife to the neck of General William Howe’s son?” I asked. “You do know who General Howe is, don’t you?”
Skinny looked at the other two, and they all shrugged their shoulders.
Gee, maybe these guys were too dumb to fool. “General Howe is a big time British general, and his brother is ‘Admiral’ Richard Howe. You know him, of course. Everybody knows him,” I said dramatically.
Skinny started bobbing his head, then the others did, too. “Yeah, we know ‘em; everybody knows him,” the bald one said enthusiastically. He was lying and I knew it.
Of course, I wasn’t lying. I hadn’t said that Wallace was the general’s son. I had said ‘Would you believe?’ and they did.
“Now,” I continued with great sincerity, “if the Howe family found out that you hurt one of their own kin... My, my, there would be, pardon the vulgarity, hell to pay.”
The boys were getting nervous now. “But we can’t leave without takin’ somethin’,” the bald one—evidently the new leader—said.
“Now, how are you going to get your—captain, is he?—home with all of this ‘stuff’ in the back of your wagon?”
I walked over to the wagon and lifted one edge of the canvas tarp covering it. I couldn’t see what was in the little barrels, but I could smell it. They had gunpowder. Kegs and kegs of gunpowder. I wasn’t a betting person, but still I’d bet those long boxes under the seat had rifles or muskets in them.
“I’ll tell you what, why don’t you just unload this wagon here, and then your captain can ride in the b…”
“Shut up, bitch,” boomed an angry voice from the porch. Taxman had regained his senses, and was reclaiming control. “I’m going to take you for everything you’ve got. Including that little boy of yours, the bastard,” he said as he reached up to feel the wound on his cheek.
I needed to think of what to do next, so I stalled. Leo had finished nursing, so I moved him off the breast and covered myself in one smooth move. As I walked back up the porch steps to be near Danielle, I put him over my shoulder to burp him. Five seconds passed, and I still hadn’t had a brainstorm.
Taxman had moved from the bench to the porch post, and was trying to stand up straight by himself, testing his balance without using his cronies as crutches. They were mumbling amongst themselves, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.
I was scared, staring off into space, not knowing what to do next, when I felt the tugging at my elbow, a small hand trying to get my attention.
“Here, Mama, I’ll take him,” Wee Ian said as he handed me Judah who, although not screaming, was making faces and shaking his fists in frustration. I swapped out babies, and saw the boy’s eyes shift to the barn.
“Thank you, dear,” I said. “You’re such a good big brother.” I got Judah started on lunch, then turned to face Taxman. He was able to stand alone now, only touching the porch post for security.
I cleared my throat to get the captain’s attention. He looked down at me with disgust, but I didn’t mind. I’d rather have him look at me like that than with his earlier ogles and leers. “Sir, I don’t think you have the situation under control like you think you do.”
My confidence level was Rocky Mountain high, and I was letting it shine. I tossed my hair back, and stuck out my chin. “You see, right now you are being targeted by a very angry man. He doesn’t take too kindly to his kin being threatened. So, I suggest that you let his cousin go…right now!” I dipped my head down to accentuate my guttural threat, and glared into his eyes, an angry bull daring the toreador to approach.
Skinny let his knife fall away from Wallace’s neck, but Taxman interceded. “Not so quick there, mate,” he said. Skinny brought the knife up again, straightened his back, and froze, as if he were at attention.
“There’s still the matter of the taxes, you see,” Taxman said as he worked his way toward me.
I sidled around him, keeping eye contact. He had changed his demeanor back to letch mode. With it came that ugly, lustful sneer. His eyes moved from my one covered breast, ignoring the baby actively nursing, to the other side, and then back up my throat to the gold nugget necklace.
“Oh, and I know that you’re lying about a marksman in the barn,” he said. “My men looked in there, and all they found was this wee little patriot,” then he poked Wallace in the ribs with his silver-barreled pistol.
I looked toward the barn. I multitasked, holding the suckling baby with my right arm, lifting my left hand straight up to the porch beam to point to a spot two feet above my head. “Right here, Ian,” I yelled.
An arrow hit the spot I had pointed to. I looked over at our extortionist and grinned. “Now, let’s talk terms, shall we?”
The captain glared at me, obviously thinking of his options. He didn’t want to back down to anyone—especially a woman—in front of his men, and didn’t want to leave empty-handed, either. He would have to let Wallace go, or get himself shot; that was obvious. And I was far enough away now that he couldn’t grab me. I wasn’t going to let him have two hostages.
Wee Ian had disappeared during all of this, and had put Leo on the bed with his sister. He was back now—his knife in hand and a squint in his eye—just daring the captain to make a move.
The tension was smothering. Taxman turned toward Wee Ian and spat on the ground, aiming for the boy’s feet. The boy jumped out of the way and stabbed him in the thigh at the same time.
“Do ye really want me to cut ye some more? Jest keep it up, and we willna have to waste an arrow. I’ll bleed ye right here and now.” Wee Ian snarled with grim satisfaction. “Willna bother me none.”
“Goddamn bastard,” Taxman swore as he clutched his fresh leg wound. I could tell it was a deep cut, but because of where it was, the blood was only dribbling, not gushing. I was sure he hurt plenty, but the injury couldn’t be as painful as the humiliation of being attacked by a child in front of his minions.
I glanced toward the barn and realized that Ian, my first husband, the man who just two weeks earlier I had been wishing was by my side to share in the pain and joy—in that order—of the birth of my children, was less than a hundred feet away. The man who had abandoned me, the one who I had longed for once upon a time, was just across the yard. Flashbacks of the beaten and burned man I had rescued, the weakened man who with his first flush of strength made love to me after promising to never leave me, the man whose seed had spawned my three babies…
Focus, woman, focus! He’s just a tool in the woods, a weapon to help resolve this conflict.
I stopped staring and started glaring. Taxman was still grumbling about his leg and tying a handkerchief around his thigh, eyes down on his first aid ministrations. I glanced over and saw that Skinny still had the knife to Wallace’s throat. Wallace’s eyes were on me, but were vacant. He wasn’t letting anyone know—including me—what he was thinking.
“Wee Ian, take the baby back to the bed, please. And don’t stab anyone unless I say so, okay?” I covered myself up, put my finger in between my son’s mouth and my nipple to break the bond, and then offered the bundle of baby to his big brother.
Wee Ian sheathed his knife and walked over to me, but kept his eye on Taxman, his stare somewhere between mocking and sheer hatred. “Asshole,” he said, as he looked the bigger man in the eye.
I had to stifle my laugh—it was such an appropriate name for the brigand. Wee Ian took the baby from me and walked backwards into the house, throwing a quick glance in my direction, making sure I was still safe. I nodded that I was okay, and then he passed through the doorway, disappearing into the shadows.
As soon as the two boys were safely inside, I squared my shoulders and growled, “Take that effin’ knife away from his throat.” Skinny dropped his knife—from either shock or obedience—and Wallace stepped away, to stand at my side.
Taxman looked up, one eyebrow raised in satisfaction. He had finished bandaging his leg and figured out his next strategy: humiliation. His acne-scarred face screwed up into a complete sneer as he asked Wallace, “Do you always let the woman do the talking?”
“She seems to be doing all right. If she needs help, she’ll ask.” Wallace nodded to me to dismiss himself, then moved past the Taxman, intentionally bumping into the man’s wounded leg on his way into the house.
“Good job, lad,” he said to Wee Ian as he walked inside to check on the boy and the babies. Wallace knew he wasn’t leaving me alone—the master archer was still watching over me—and, as he said, I’d ask for help if I needed it.
“Okay, Captain Asshole, is it?” I asked, not really wanting an answer.
He glared at me. He had no intention of replying and I knew it. I’m sure he didn’t want me to know who he was. I was definitely the type who had no qualms about spreading the name of the crooked British officer who illegally collected taxes. And I’d also let everyone know that the dirtbag had been overtaken and marked by a boy not even old enough to have a whisker.
“So you want to collect some ‘taxes’ from us, even though we’re current?” I asked sarcastically.
His reply was to stare at me, to try to intimidate me with his clenched jaws and barely audible growl.
It wasn’t working. I grinned in response, just to make sure he knew it.
“Well, what I want is for you to be gone, and never to return again.” I paused for effect—and for the muscle strength to return to my shaky legs. I shook my head at him with disgust, “And since you are wearing a British uniform, you should be under some sort of code of ethics.”
A snarl escaped his raised lip at my remark, but I ignored it and continued. “So, I’ll let you go with a bargain. You see, if you take anything from us, it would be considered stealing since your ‘tax record’ is, shall we say, out of date. If I voluntarily give you the taxes for the next ten years in advance, you’ll never come back. Sound like a deal?”
Wallace was standing in the doorway now, pale at my words, but quiet out of respect for my negotiating. Captain Asshole, the taxman, nodded.
I continued, letting a slight grin of superiority escape. “But you have something I want, and if I am to pay with this,” I fingered my gold nugget necklace, and his eyes widened, “I want a full measure of compensation.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. His threw his shoulders back and straightened his spine. His whole attitude had changed with the promise of the nugget necklace without a fight. He was now respectful and at full attention. He was looking at my upper body again, but not even glancing at my bosom—his eyes were fixed on the gold.
“So, I’ll take that wagon, all of its contents, and your horse. You can have the necklace, but I want your word as an officer and a subject of the Crown that you will never tax or bother this property, or its residents, ever again…or suggest to or order anyone else to do the same.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, his tongue literally licking his lips in anticipation of getting the gold, his eyes still fixed on the necklace.
“Oh, and one other thing I’ll be wanting. You can consider this compensation for the harassment and duress you have inflicted on members of this household.”
His face froze—the transaction wasn’t going as smoothly as he had hoped.
“I want those spurs,” I said. “You can ride the wagon horse back to whatever privy-hole you came out of, but you have to do it without spurs. Deal?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said and stuck out his hand.
I didn’t know if the hand was to seal the transaction or to claim the necklace, but I didn’t want to touch it either way. “Wallace,” I said as I looked over to the doorway. My betrothed walked up to me and waited while I took the necklace off my neck with a jerk. It was a tricky clasp, and I hoped I had broken it. I put it in Wallace’s hand and looked toward the captain.
Wallace held the necklace in his left hand and stuck out his right. The captain was gazing at the gold, and then realized that Wallace was waiting for him to shake his hand. Wallace took the hand offered him and squeezed hard, barely shaking it at all, until the man winced and squeaked from the pain. He let Asshole’s hand go at the squeal, then dropped the necklace into the waiting, throbbing palm.
Skinny and Baldy were standing by, fidgeting, not knowing what to do. The captain saw Wallace walking over to the wagon and extended a bit of unexpected courtesy. “Curly, help him with the gear. I’m riding the bay out. I got the tax payment. We’ll be leaving the wagon here. We can make good time getting back to New Bern now,” he said with a voice of authority.
The bald man—ironically, he must be Curly—walked up to the horse and started removing the harness and reins, throwing them onto the wagon seat. He grabbed a little bag from the back, and was going to take it with him, when I hollered, “The wagon, and all that’s in it, stays here. All you get is the horse,” I said.
I was taking a liberty here. It was probably just their rations, but I didn’t care. I made a point of catching the captain’s eye, and then looked to the barn, a subtle reminder that my marksman was still watching them.
The Taxman saw my gesture and ordered his men, “Leave it there.” I think he started to say, ‘Do as she says,’ but bit off the words, his pride stopping him. He looked over to me and asked, “I do get my saddle, don’t I?”
“Sure,” I said, and turned to sit down on the porch bench. I was getting weak all over now, and wanted to conserve enough energy to at least keep my voice strong.
“Put my saddle on the bay,” he told the third man. I noticed he had a limp, but still managed to get the job done.
It took a long five minutes, but they were finally ready to leave. “Good day, ma’am,” the captain said as he sat tall on the swaybacked wagon horse.
“Not so fast,” I said, “You’re forgetting something.” I looked down at his boot.
“Pardon me,” he said sarcastically, and bent down to remove one, then the other, of his spurs. “You’ll need these,” he said as he waved the shiny metal and leather devices. “The horse may look fine,” he grinned like he knew how the deck of cards was marked, “but she won’t break a run; she won’t get past a trot.” He tossed the spurs to the ground in front of me and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here, boys,” and was gone with a gallop, his three stooges obediently following behind him.
Wallace reached down to get the spurs. “It was just gold,” I said, “and it never had any sentimental value for me. I don’t even know where it came from.”
“You know I don’t care about material goods—were you harmed? I couldn’t tell what was going on from the barn,” he said.
I wasn’t sure if it was embarrassment or an apology, but he definitely felt inadequate about not protecting me.
“Not a scratch on me or the babies, but Wee Ian,” I asked my little protector, “are you okay?”
The young man was standing in the doorway, watching the bandits as they disappeared into a trail of dust. “Aye, I’m fine, but why do ye call me Wee Ian?”
“Well, because you look like your father and his name is Ian. Actually, when he was young, he was called Wee Ian because his father’s name was Ian, too.”
All of a sudden, I remembered that Ian was in the barn or in the woods or somewhere where he had a good shot at the house and its enemies. I looked up and saw that Wallace was already walking toward the barn. I patted the boy’s hand, put it down, and followed after Wallace. Wee Ian ran after me, reached out, and retook my hand, escorting me as if the two of us walked hand in hand every day.
Wee Ian and I caught up, the three of us undoubtedly a very intimidating triad. Wallace called out coolly, “Cousin, you can come out now.”
Ian jumped down from the rafter of the barn, but neither Wallace nor I got a chance to speak. Wee Ian strutted up to him purposefully and stopped three feet in front of him, his hand on the dirk in its sheath. Wallace and I looked at each other, then back to the confrontation.
“She says yer my father; is that right?” the young man demanded. After what he had just been through, it was easier to think of him as a young man rather than as a prepubescent boy who was not much more than four feet tall.
Ian closed his eyes and brought his hand up in front of his brow. He squeezed his forehead with long, knobby fingers, thinking about his answer. He dropped his hand to his chin and brought his forehead down in a gesture of shame. His hand remained at his chin momentarily. He sighed, lifted his head, and then dropped his hand to his side—limp—no fight or resistance left in the sentinel.
“Aye, I suppose I am yer father,” he said. “At least that’s what yer grandmother said, and I was marrit to yer mother when…weel, I dinna ken ye were even born until three moons ago!”
“When were ye gonna tell me?” the boy demanded, his fists on his hips, making Ian look the child who had just been caught shaving the cat.
Wallace walked up to Wee Ian and put his hand on his shoulder. “It’s a funny thing about this family. Some of the men are a bit slow to admit that they’re a father. It happened to me, too. But, at least we did find out. I’m sure it’s just that Ian didn’t want you to care less about your other father. You mother, uh, remarried, right?”
Wee Ian had been glaring at Ian during Wallace’s little chat, but let his shoulders slump at the last remark. “Aye, she did, and I have two wee sisters. They’re with her now. But my other father, their father, is deid. That’s why I went with Star Walker.” Wee Ian stopped and squinted at Ian. “So, what am I supposed to call ye now?” he asked.
Ian chewed on his lower lip a couple of times, then said, “Ye can call me Da, if ye like. I mean, I’d like it if ye did.”
I could see Ian’s eyes getting moist, as if he wanted to cry. All of a sudden, I had bucket loads of compassion for him. His father was probably dead, and now he was waiting to find out if this ‘surprise’ son—the boy he had known of for only three months—could, or would, acknowledge him. And I had named this bright and brave young man Wee Ian after him.
Wee Ian thought about it for a moment. “Okay—Da,” he said in a stilted manner, as if this was the first time the name had crossed his lips. He looked up from Wallace to me, and then said to his father, “I think they want to talk to ye, too.”
Wallace nodded at the boy, and then fixed his eyes on Ian. He said, “Thank you,” and turned away to escort me back to the house.
And that was that.
Apparently, Wallace felt that he didn’t need to say anything else.
We were half way to the house when we heard Ian yell after us. “The bairns: there were two of ‘em. Did ye have twins?”
Wallace stopped. He looked at me, his back still turned away from the man who he had only recently found out was his cousin. “I can’t do this to him,” he told me. He took a deep breath and turned halfway around.
“No, we did not have twins,” he said.
I could hear the smile in his tone and was concerned. Was he being cruel? I looked at him and saw that he was not being mean, but was teasing.
“But there were two! Do they belong to someone else? Evie, I saw ye feedin’ ‘em…”
Ian, the tough mountain man who had lived for years as an Indian, was distraught—his voice squeaking with his plea, anxious to find out about the babies.
I was still mad at him for leaving me, but I would get over it. I had Wallace and was happy, happier, the happiest that I could ever be because of him. There really wasn’t a reason to punish Ian for the rest of his life, or for even the next five minutes.
I grinned at him and shook my head. “Oh, you saw two of them, all right, but they’re not twins, not really. You saw two of them, but there’s one more. Wallace and I had triplets! Come on in and see.”
I grabbed Wee Ian with one hand and kept hold of Wallace with the other. Ian ran to catch up with us, but stayed six feet away, off to the side of us. I guessed any closer than that would have made him uncomfortable.
The babies were still asleep in the clutter of quilts. They hadn’t suffered through the day’s ordeal, and I was grateful for that. Actually, the only wounded one, besides Wee Ian’s possible bruising from being tossed across the room, was Captain Asshole. And nobody cared about him.
Ian stayed outside, just beyond the porch steps. I remembered how it felt to have a roof over my head after being in the open for so long. He probably didn’t have claustrophobia, but I didn’t want him to feel uneasy either. I picked up Leonardo and brought him out to the porch.
“Here’s Leonardo, he was the first one born,” I said.
Ian took slow deliberate steps up to the bench and sat down. He held his breath as I handed him the bundle of sleeping baby boy. “He’s got red hair!” he exclaimed in a soft whisper.
“They all do,” I replied, “just like their Grandpa Jody.”
His eyebrows crowded together in a frown as he realized that I hadn’t said great-uncle Jody. Then he looked up at Wallace. Wallace cocked his head and shrugged his shoulder as in, ‘Yeah, I found out your Uncle Jody is my father,’ and then brought Judah to him for inspection.
Ian now had a baby tucked into the crook of each elbow. He looked from one to the other. “These two look jest alike! How do ye tell them apart?”
Wallace pointed to the cowlicks on their foreheads, mirrored images of each other, and said, “They’ll be a handful, but I think they’re worth it.”
I came up with the last swaddled infant. “It’s easy to tell this one apart from the others,” I said as I pulled back the clout, “She’s a girl. Our little bonus baby was a big surprise. I thought I was finished, and then boom! There she was.”
Ian handed off the boys to Wallace, and I gave him Danielle. “Weel, thank ye fer lettin’ me see ‘em. I woulda understood if ye dinna ever want to see me again, here or anywhere else.” Ian’s head was bowed down, his long finger stroking Danielle’s fine pink hair, ashamed of his previous actions, but fascinated with the baby girl, the first living daughter he had ever seen.
Wallace said to his cousin, “Thank you for them,” he nodded to each of the babies, “and for Evie. She and I will be married in front of a preacher next month. I just thought you should hear it from me.” Wallace said it sincerely, without a trace of malice, and by the blinking of Ian’s eyes as he looked at him, he could tell.
“Aye, thank ye fer tellin’ me. I wish ye both well,” Ian said sincerely, almost embarrassed at his admission. He swallowed, closed his eyes in deep thought, then opened them again, looking at Wallace as if to ask a favor. “So does this mean I can come see ‘em every once in a while, since they’re my cousin’s children?” he asked.
Wallace looked at me to see if I had any objection to having Ian back in my life, even if only on a very limited basis. I shrugged my shoulders. It was okay with me. Now that I had seen Ian in the flesh, my flesh was neither craving him nor hating him. That was a relief, and a reaction I hadn’t expected.
“There’s one more thing,” Wallace said, “If it’s all right with you, Evie. We were talking of middle names earlier today. Wow, it was only today, wasn’t it? Anyway, if it’s all right with you,” he nodded to me, “could we use Kincaid as a middle name for the boys? I mean, he was their protector, and the protector of their parents, too.”
“Sounds like a good idea to me, a very good way to say thank you forever. As long as it isn’t Danielle’s middle name,” I said, giving Wallace an exaggerated scowl wrapped around a grin.
“How about Wren?” asked Wee Ian. “She has a pretty cry, like a wren, not a crow.”
Wallace and I looked at each other. “Well, it’s better than Magpie,” he said. “Okay, then her name’s Danielle Wren Urquhart, unless we find another name to throw in with those three.”
I looked over at Ian and smiled. “Oh, and since we’re saying our thank you’s—thank you for being the sperm donor, Ian.”
“Sperm donor? What’s a sperm donor?” asked Wee Ian.
Wallace and I couldn’t help but laugh. “Welcome to fatherhood, Ian. You get to explain that one to him, not me,” said Wallace.
Now, if you read this loong excerpt, you can surely handle the entire novel. The links for the entire novel version of NAKED IN THE WINTER WIND are below: