Authors: Aaron McCarver
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042000, #FIC026000
“Rhoda, you're going to stand up with me,” she said, reaching out to grab the woman's arm. “If I faint, you'll have to hold me up.”
Rhoda Harper was, in one sense, completely different from any of the other women in the room. She was now thirty-six and had led a very difficult life, but her years as a tavern woman had not hardened her. She was very attractive with her dark brown hair and striking dark eyes, and now she reached over and hugged Elizabeth, saying, “You won't faint. You'll be just fine.”
“What about your wedding, Rhoda?” Deborah Stevens asked. She was a shorter woman with thick sandy brown hair and greenish eyes. She and her husband, George, were leaders in the settlement, and Deborah had grown to love Elizabeth MacNeal and her children deeply. She had also learned to accept Rhoda, although the young woman's background had been a shock to her at first.
Rhoda turned to Mrs. Stevens and said quietly, “I wish you could all be there. I'll be a little bit lonely.”
“Don't say that,” Elizabeth warned, “or we'll all go back to Williamsburg with you.” She knew this was impossible, of course, for the journey was long and arduous. “I wish we
go, Rhoda, but you'll soon be back with a brand-new husband.” She giggled and put her hand over her lips, whispering, “We'll have to break them in together.”
A knock at the door caught their attention. Rhoda was glad for the interruption. She had done her best to take part in the happy festivities, but despite her cheerful demeanor, she was not happy. She had been filled with joy when Paul Anderson had asked her to be his wife, but now it seemed all wrong. He had always been a good man and now was a minister, while her own life had been dark and stained with the evils that come of a young woman growing up in a tavern, subject to the lust of brutal men. She was unsure about marrying Paul and felt completely unworthy but knew that she loved him and could only hope she would make him the best wife possible. Moving to the door, she opened it and smiled at once. “Why, Iris and Amanda, please come in.”
Elizabeth hurried over to embrace the two. “How nice you both look,” she said. “I'm so glad you could come.”
“Did Zeke come with you?” Lydia Bean asked, her eyes sharp. She knew everything about everyone in the Watauga settlement, this Lydia Bean, and now she saw with one glance at Amanda Taylor's face that there had been trouble.
“No, heÂ .Â .Â . he couldn't come,” Iris said with a slight hesitation.
Elizabeth, seeing her pain, said quickly, “Well, I'm sorry about that, but I'm glad that you and Amanda could come. Don't you look nice, Amanda!”
Sarah MacNeal and Abigail Stevens had done their best to be good friends to Amanda. They were all close to the same age, and now the three of them drew together in a huddle. Amanda was shy, and it was Sarah MacNeal who said, “Come on. Let's go pick some flowers.”
“Flowers in the winter?” Abigail said. “There aren't any.”
“Oh, that's right. I forgot,” Sarah said. “Well, we'll just have to have a wedding without flowers.”
The three went outside while the women were helping Elizabeth, and Abigail, at once, began talking about weddings.
“I want a big wedding,” Sarah said. Her fiery red hair had been tamed, and her pale green eyes glistened with excitement. “I want there to be songs and music and bridesmaids.”
Abigail Stevens was the oldest of the three at the age of fourteen, and stunningly beautiful. She had thick honey-brown hair that fell in waves down her back, gray-green eyes, and a creamy complexion. “I want to wear a gorgeous dress when I get married, and I want a handsome man in a nice suit of clothes.”
Sarah's eyes were full of mischief. “You'll only be happy if that's my brother, Andrew.”
Abigail gave her a startled look, then flushed. “You shouldn't say that, Sarah!”
“Why not? You know you're sweet on him.”
“I am not!”
Amanda stood back from the other two, smiling slightly, enjoying their fun and wishing she could enter into it. Finally Sarah turned and said, “What kind of wedding do you want, Amanda?”
For a moment Amanda was silent, and then she said very quietly, “It doesn't matter as long as he loves me and treats me nice.”
The silence deepened, and Sarah exchanged a quick glance with Abigail. Both girls knew that Amanda had been abused by her father, for they had seen the bruises on her face before Hawk had put a stop to it. Sarah said quickly, “Well, I'm sure you'll get a nice husband.” The girls entered the cabin together and for the next fifteen minutes watched as the older women fussed over Elizabeth. Finally there was a knock at the door and they all turned as Rhoda went to open it. Andrew stood outside, his hair pasted down with water.
“I think everyone's ready if you are, Ma,” he said, looking at his mother.
At once Deborah Stevens said, “Come. Let's pray for Elizabeth.” She said a quick prayer as the women gathered around, and then Elizabeth lifted her head and her eyes met those of her son.
“Give me just a minute with Andrew and Sarah, please.”
Deborah Stevens hustled the women out of the room, and when the door closed, Elizabeth went to her children, who stood before her watching her carefully. She reached down and took each of their hands. “This is your last chance, Andrew, and you, Sarah. We must be one on this. I won't marry unless you are sure that you want to have Hawk for a father. Are you sure?”
“Of course I'm sure!” Sarah said. She hesitated, and then a worried look came into her eyes. “But will it be all right if we talk about our pa? I mean our real pa?”
“Of course,” Elizabeth said instantly. “Hawk loved your father very much.”
“It'll be all right, Sarah,” Andrew said, patting his sister's shoulder. He looked at his mother and smiled. “It'll be great to have a pa againâand I know you've been lonesome, Ma.”
Elizabeth suddenly leaned forward and kissed his cheek, and then did the same for Sarah. “Come now,” she said. “It's time.”
Stepping outside the door, they joined the women. They made a procession to the stream that Sequatchie and some of the men had cleaned out. It was free of brush, and now the brook murmured softly as the men and the women and the young people all met. Elizabeth looked up to see Hawk's eyes on her. She smiled as she met his gaze, and Andrew led her to him. He handed his mother to Hawk and whispered, “I love you, Mother.” He looked at Hawk and said, “I love you, too.”
Hawk looked away from Elizabeth long enough to smile at Andrew and then reached over and nodded toward Sarah, who was watching with large eyes.
Overhead the sky was a canopy of blue. Patches of clouds drifted along like white galleons on an azure sea. The day had turned warmer. The smell of the trees, the earth, and the babbling of the brook made it an idyllic setting.
Hawk held Elizabeth's hand. It seemed very small, but it was warm and strong, and as the two faced each other, he saw in her all that he had ever wanted from a woman. He knew there was a fire in her that made her lovely and brought out the rich and strong qualities of a spirit that sometimes remained hidden behind the cool reserve of her lips. She was his idea of a complete woman, and now as he stood there he felt the strange things a man feels when he looks upon beauty and knows it will be his.
As for Elizabeth, she felt secure. The tall man beside her represented safety and security and love, all of which she longed for. His face fell into sharp planes, and the strength that lay there drew her to him like a magnet. Her reverie was broken as Paul Anderson began to speak the words of the marriage ceremony. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of God to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.Â .Â .Â .”
There under the open sky, Elizabeth MacNeal pledged her life to Hawk Spencer and knew the joy that comes to a woman who not only loves a man but is loved by him.
The walnut bed made out of trees from Elizabeth's own land dominated the small bedroom, its four posters nearly touching the low ceiling. Hawk had made it for her for a wedding present. He had polished the dark, rich wood until it glowed with a warmth, almost as if it were alive. He had fastened it together to the side rails with ironwood pegs and had strung rawhides across the lower section of the rails so that they were as tense as a bowstring. On top of this lay a mattress made of light canvas and stuffed with corn shucks.
Elizabeth now lay snugly under the heavy blanket and the quilt she had brought with her all the way from Boston. Light crept in through the single window in the room, its feeble rays illuminating Hawk's face as he lay on his back beside her. Impulsively she reached out to touch his cheek but decided,
No, I mustn't wake him up
Even though the room was cold, she was deliciously warm under the bedcovers and intensely aware of the strength of Hawk's arm as it pressed against her. He had thrown it over her in his sleep, and now she reached up and held on to it with a light touch. Suddenly he turned his head toward her, and even in the early-morning darkness, Elizabeth could see the gleam in his dark blue eyes.
“You just can't keep away from me, can you?”
Elizabeth flushed and shoved at his arm, but he rolled over and pinioned her easily. His hair was ruffled, and a slight smile turned up the corners of his lips. He reached out and stroked the side of her cheek, then let his hand run down her neck and then down her arm. “You know what?” he whispered.
“I've decided to keep you on. You prove to be a very satisfactory wife, thus far.”
“Oh, Hawk!” Elizabeth turned to face him and put her hand on his neck. She felt the strength in the corded muscles and the skin toughened by countless days in the sun. A warm sense of possession came over her, and she reached up and pulled his head over and lifted her own so that her soft lips met his. She felt his arms go around her and reveled in the love and sense of protection. She felt almost like a child in his strong embrace, and her lips had a pressure of their own as she returned his kiss.
Suddenly she pulled back and shoved at his chest. “That's enough of that!”
“That's your opinion. It's not mine,” Hawk murmured. He pulled at her again, but she shoved him over as she pulled away. “It's getting late.”
Hawk turned over and glanced out the window at the sunrise that was beginning to touch the mountaintops with fire. “I don't think it's all that late.”
Elizabeth caught the look in his face and said suddenly, “I like being married to you.”
“So do I.”
“Of course, it's only been a week.” She smiled and added, “Say something sweet to me.”
Hawk thought hard for a moment and then said, “Sugar candy.”
Elizabeth laughed and slapped at him. “You are ridiculous!”
“A man in love is apt to be foolish.”
“Are you really in love?”
“Why, I told you so, didn't I, when we got married? I thought that settled it.”
Elizabeth stared at him. “Settled what?” she demanded.
“That I loved you. I didn't figure you'd ever want to hear it again. I figured that would do for at least forty or fifty years.”
“Oh, you're impossible!” Elizabeth pouted. As a matter of fact, her demure way of pouting made her even more irresistible, and she surrendered as he kissed her and ran his hand down the back of her hair, then down the small of her back.
They lay there for a while, and then Hawk said, “You know what?”
“The Bible says that when a man marries he's not supposed to do any work for a year. He's just supposed to stay home and keep his wife happy.”
Elizabeth stared at him. “You made that up!”
“I did not! It's in the book of Leviticus or Exodus somewhere. I got it marked. I'll show it to you after breakfast.”
“Well, if you don't let me up we won't have any breakfast.”
Hawk reluctantly rose and got out of bed. He reached for the hunting shirt, pulled it over his head, and then stopped. “I should have shaved before I put this shirt on.”
Elizabeth had slipped out of bed and was sitting before the small mirror brushing her hair. “Well, take it off again.”
“Too much trouble,” Hawk shrugged. “Nobody will be seeing us on the road anyhow except bears and wolves, maybe a hostile Indian.”
Elizabeth looked up, anxiety on her face. “Are you really expecting trouble from the Indians?”
“Not really. Especially with Sequatchie along.” He ran his fingers through his hair and began to pace the room anxiously. There was not much room, and his big form seemed to make it even smaller.
Elizabeth had already grown very conscious of Hawk's moods in the short time since they had been married. She had always been a sensitive woman, and now she looked up and saw that his face was tense. “What's wrong, Hawk?”
“Wrong? Why, nothing's wrong.”
Elizabeth rose and went over to him. She put her hands on his chest and said, “Tell me.”
Hawk covered her hands with his own and chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully. “I guess I'm worried about Jacob.”
“I thought that might be it.”
“It's almost his birthday. He'll be sixteenâno longer a boy.” He stroked her hands and seemed to find comfort in them, but his eyes were troubled. “I don't know what to say to him, Elizabeth. I've treated him shamefully. If he never speaks to me, it will be just what I deserve.”
“You mustn't think like that. You were wrong, and you confessed it to God, and now you need to make it right with Jacob.”
“I know God's forgiven me,” Hawk shrugged, “but I'm not sure that Jacob has. It's asking a lot of a sixteen-year-old to accept a father who abandoned him.”