Another Night Falls [Tides of Charleston Part III] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Jerri Hines
eBook Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
eBook Description: Sumner Meador walked in a world of wealth and privilege as part of Charles Town's elite, but that was years ago. Now he fights in the Southern backwoods driven by the passion he holds for the Patriot cause, shadowed by his past. Reeling from a devastating defeat at the hands of the British, Sumner seeks haven at his farm, only to find an interloper--an unwelcome and unwanted distraction. He has no time for the young woman or the complications she brings with her, but soon discovers he has no option but to give aid to the stubborn, courageous beauty whether she wants it or not. A widower, Sumner has been haunted by the death of his wife and is consumed with a desire for revenge. Jane Kilmer has been violently thrust into the midst of the civil war ensuing in the backwoods. Hiding from one of the most dangerous vigilantes, Jane trusts no one. Suddenly, she has no choice but to put her life in Sumner's hands. Both desire revenge, but neither wants what happens--to fall completely, undeniably in love with each other--so much so, that both are willing to die for the other. And they might have to.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, Published: 2012
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2012
Backcountry of South Carolina
Sumner Meador wiped his brow with the sleeve of his shirt as he strode into the Hearth n' Stone. Grim satisfaction suffused him. He had returned. After all the battles he endured, he was back home, or at least to the place of his birth, here in the backcountry of South Carolina. For over three years, he had lived the life of an American militiaman.
For over three years he had pushed back the thoughts of his life before. Brief flashes enveloped him: the deadly raid, Mary's lifeless body, his mother's.... Returning brought with it the pain he couldn't deny; along with the ache inside and the knowledge a hope of cold revenge had filled his dreams since that day.
It had been almost as long since he had set foot in this tavern. He was making a huge gamble that no one would acknowledge his presence. The British had laid hold of this territory since he had left to carry intelligence from General Lincoln back to the Continental Army up in Virginia. Not much good it had done. Before he could return, General Benjamin Lincoln had surrendered the whole of the Southern Army to the British General Henry Clinton, giving to the British the port of Charles Town!
Ducking down to avoid a ceiling beam, Sumner leaned his large frame against the bar. He had no desire to call attention to himself, but comprehended it would be hard not to do so. He stood over six foot two, long of bone and muscle. Though now he would admit some would have issue with distinguishing it was he. His once fine garments had been replaced with more practical apparel for the life he now led. His eyes looked much darker than in his youth, flamed with intensity directed upon the mission he had been given and the revenge he sought. A scar now ran across his face, down his strong jaw and stood out whitely against his tan skin while his dark hair had grown, giving to him the look of the Cherokee blood that ran through his veins. No, he looked more like a backwoods man than the Charles Town gentleman he once had been.
"Ya wan' something, Mister?"
Sumner nodded to the old man. Graydon. Sumner recognized the owner of this establishment immediately, but gave no indication of such. Graydon, a tiny-boned man with a pointed chin and skin like old leather, smiled a broad toothless grin.
"Ale," Sumner responded. "And a plate of what you have left over from dinner. I'm famished."
Graydon plopped down a mug of ale. Sumner accepted. Taking a long sip, he turned back around and glanced around the room. Once more he wiped sweat from his brow. The open windows of the tavern had done little to alleviate the sweltering August heat. Light beamed from the open doors and windows. It smelled of old ale and yesterday's stew. Scattered patrons littered the room, far fewer than he remembered from his past, but he hadn't expected it to be crowded, not with the war turning as it had. The war had hit hard in these parts.
Since the foolhardy mistake of handing the Southern campaign to the hero of Saratoga, General Horatio Gates, the battle of supremacy had turned in the favor of the Loyalists. With such, the countryside had been ravaged with Tories enacting revenge upon their Patriot neighbors, repaying their acts during the previous years.
His gaze found eyes upon him while conversations hushed. He bore their scrutiny and turned back to wait for his food. He couldn't remember the last time he had eaten a warm meal. Over the last few months, the whole of his being had focused on the damn war instead of physical comforts. Even now his thoughts lay with his mission and the one he was sent to meet.
A moment later, from the corner of his eye, Sumner caught sight of the man he sought entering the tavern. The man made no movement toward him, which put Sumner on guard. He glanced around the room. In his vision he found three in the back booth who seemed to be quite interested in his movements. For a brief moment, Sumner met their eyes which seemed to skim over his deerskin pants and long barrel rifle by his side. He hoped they took him for another backwoodsman passing through the area. A risk no doubt, but he would face the risk. His mission demanded it.
"Gotta name, Mister?" Graydon asked.
Sumner eyed the old man with understanding. Graydon wouldn't betray him. A sense of ebullience encompassed Sumner at the thought of someone having his back. For the last few years, Sumner had trusted few.
"The name is Farley," Sumner lied.
"Farley, is it?" Warren Parker sidled up beside Sumner. Sumner smiled to himself. He had fought beside Warren at the beginning of hostiles back in '75 when the British first attacked Charles Town. "Have you any news from where you've tarried?"
"None different than most have heard of late, I assume. If you hold to the Patriot cause, most of it isn't good," Sumner said. He didn't lie, not with the devastating loss at Camden less than two days ago. The loss had sent him here.
The attention of the room riveted on him now. Graydon poured down a mug of foaming ale in front of him. "Too bad if your heart beats to the rhythm of the call of freedom, but if you ask me, it's better to claim neutrality if you value your life. It has seemed this war has given clearance for every fool to avenge any offense against his neighbor that he now calls enemy!"
"I have no other interest than resting for the winter, old man," Sumner said. "Planning on spending the winter up at the old Meador place. Told by an acquaintance that it needed a homesteader."
"Yeah, Aaron Beltcher fell over dead last spring. One moment he was talking away to Malcolm Feller. The next he laid dead. Said his heart just gave out. Haven't seen anyone up there since. It's isolated and no one wants that now-a-days."
Sumner frowned. He took the words as a warning. He had expected nothing less, but he had to heal. He had been ordered to do so. He had taken a musket bullet to his shoulder at Camden, a flesh wound. It had been the bayonet wound to his thigh that left him with a slight limp. Fortunate to have even survived the Buford Massacre, he realized the battle would haunt him for the rest of his life, as would the night Mary died.
Sumner had met with Major General Marion Francis before he left. "Rest for the moment," Francis commanded. "Go back and get a feel of the land. See if you can meet up with Shelby at some point. I'll send you a contact. After this disaster, we need to know what we are dealing with before we make another move."
Sumner didn't dare return to Elm Bluff, not yet. He had chosen to return to the home of his birth. The small farm his father had set up for his mother, Laker's Grove. Elm Bluff sat too close to Charles Town, but Laker's Grove lay in the midst of hostilities in the backwoods.
"It is in need of dire work, I should imagine," Sumner acknowledged.
"Then do not tarry. You need to make it known quickly that you feel n'ver one way or the other, then you might have a chance of not being raided. Lost many a friend last spring when Bloody Benny reaped his revenge on any and all in his way calling themselves Patriots or even having ties to the Patriot cause. Laid down twenty-one good men, one entire family," Graydon said in his old crackled voice. His gaze broke from Sumner, shaking his head as if to rid himself of the memory. "N'ver a one had a chance. He swept through as a fire on a hot dry August day."
"I had heard those rumors." Sumner tensed beside Warren. He had to be careful not to mention his own personal loss to raid. Rumors would have been rampant three years past when Elm Bluff was raided and he had lost his beloved mother and wife, brutally murdered--the thought never long from his mind.
Revenge had kept him going these last few years. A desire to plunge a knife in the heart of the man responsible for the atrocity, a man he had once called friend. Now Sumner considered William Peyton a dead man walking.
Sumner motioned to Graydon to give Warren a pint. "Now tell me, friend, do you know much about Laker's Grove?"
"Enough, as any who has lived around these parts," Warren replied. "I own the county's general store, but being tomorrow's Sunday, I could ride you up there in the afternoon."
"I can find it." Sumner smiled. "But if I give you a list could you deliver some supplies up there? I find I only want to lay my head down upon a bed. I suppose it is furnished."
"Sparsely so," Warren said. "It should suit you. He was a bachelor, also. I assume..."
"I have no wife if that is what you ask." Sumner grinned. The thought amused him in an ominous kind of way. A woman? There had been a time when all the beautiful ladies of the region looked his way, but now he didn't give much mind. He hadn't even been with a woman since Mary died.
"It is good. It being so isolated. One wouldn't want to leave a woman up there by herself." Warren looked away for a moment, then back at Sumner. "But I will be able to deliver in the afternoon if it suits you."
Sumner looked behind Warren to the men sitting and listening upon every word. It would give the two much more privacy. "The afternoon will be sufficient."
Graydon motioned to a table where a serving girl set a plate of beefsteak. "You're lucky to have such a fine choice."
"In that I wouldn't argue with you." Sumner laughed and took his drink over to the table. "Can face most of what life throws at you with a full stomach!"
Jane Kilmer stood by the window, looking out over the moonlit landscape. The full moon hung low upon this hot night. Not a breeze to ease the sweltering heat to give her sleep. Shadows from the weeping willow hung over the path that led to the house. She broke her gaze, thankful she wasn't prone to being scared. Her brother, Troy, would have laughed at her if she feigned fear.
"Ain't nothin' I can think of that would scare you, Jane," he taunted her as children. In that he hadn't known her well enough for she did have fear. She had faced her fear several times over the last few months of her life. Now she had nothing left to fear.
Could death become an acquaintance, she wondered? For she had seen it many times, too many times in her twenty years. Jane caught herself. She didn't want to wonder anything. She wanted only to exist, not to think or to feel. They said that time healed everything. What did anyone know of time?
She daubed the perspiration from her body with a wet handkerchief. Even with the translucent gown she wore, the heat seemed oppressive. She looked down upon the gown. She found it within the wardrobe upon her arrival. She had known of Beltcher and knew he had had no wife. Even at the time she thought it strange to have found such.
The nightgown wasn't the only piece of clothing she found within trunks in the back bedroom, there were also garments made of the finest material that felt luxurious to the touch. The thought crossed her mind that the woman who owned these had a man to impress or perhaps it had been the man who wanted to impress the lady with these gifts?
The clothing she supposed mattered little. While she hid from the world, she had no fear of anyone seeing her in such a nightgown. Only at night did she dare wear whether anyone saw or not.
Jane walked away from the window and turned into the room. The house was quaint, not large, but sufficient, especially for her needs. She had made the necessary adjustments over the three months she'd been there. The garden that Beltcher had laid produced enough food for her needs. The horse boarded in the barn grazed in the pasture. Jane had only to decide upon her course for the winter. Soon she would have to make a decision about her fate for this comfort wouldn't last a winter.
Suddenly, her senses alerted to a danger. She raced back to the window with her heart pounding. She heard the horse long before she saw it. In the next moment, the figure of a horse silhouetted the night and loomed in the shadows of the path up to the house. Where have I left the pistol? In the bedroom? Why did I let my guard down after all this time?
To her horror, the horse didn't ride up to the front of the house but headed round for the stables. Was there only one horse? Jane saw only a single rider. Could they have only sent one?. Soon he would learn of her existence with the inevitable discovery of the horse. She hadn't long.
Jane ran to the bedroom and took the pistol which lay upon the table. She looked upon the clothes she had worn during the day. There was no time to change. She eased out the window. She would only have one chance. The intruder wouldn't have time to unsaddle his horse upon finding that someone lived within the deserted house.
She knew the countryside well enough if she had access to a horse. Where she would go she didn't know, but she would live another day. Jane stepped quietly across the yard and slid through the open stable door into the darkness. Her eyes couldn't make out a figure, but she saw well the saddled horse. The animal heard her and sidled away, snorting. Where was the intruder?
Her horse nudged the door to his stall, calling attention to her. She frowned, dropping the pistol to her side. The horse quieted when Jane stilled herself. She glanced around to the side. He had to be within. She slowly turned her glance in the darkness. A noise behind startled her. Jane held her musket out and turned quickly, but he was at her side.
He hit her arm and the pistol fell harmlessly behind the horse. The impact sent her reeling. Oh Mother of all! What will I do now? She crawled to her knees. Regaining her footing, Jane ran, but to no avail. The assailant's quicker feet caught up with her and he had her within his grasp within moments. She struggled with every bit of energy in her. She tried to claw at him, but he held her hands fast. Then she kicked at him. She knew where it would hurt.
Surprised, her assailant cried out, "Good Gawd, woman!"
In the same breath, he let go. Jane ran from the barn and looked frantically around, searching for an escape, but he lunged at her and she fell against the hard ground, a hard rock. Her head hurt. She tried to stand, but lost her balance. Her eyes wouldn't focus. Though, within her vision she saw a face and eyes that showed concern, handsome eyes. She knew nothing else as darkness descended upon her. End excerpt