Authors: Jerri Hines
A look of trepidation swept across her face, which he had no trouble reading. If he had a conscience about the position he placed her in, he didn't show it. “I see in your eyes he is pressing you. You're afraid he is trying to bed you?”
Shocked at his frankness, Hannah couldn't respond, but her silence gave her answer.
“Again, I have to stress upon you the importance of remaining in control, no matter the situation. The British are arrogant in their ways. They play down society's rules to suit themselves. You have to consider him an obstacle within your way. To obtain our objective, you need to concentrate only on our purpose. I have no doubt you think me cruel. Your fiancé left you here. In part due to my interference. You, in a sense, have no one to lean upon, but there isn't time for pity. I assure you, you aren't the only one with a sad tale, but you're in a position to help your country. Don't lose sight of our cause,” he said emphatically. ”Now, let's go over how to deliver messages.”
Her concentration remained on his instructions, but
her skepticism remained about her ability. Guilt plagued her conscience with Lieutenant Fletcher, but she pushed it aside. A smile, a dance seemed to appease him and he seemed so ready to please her. Colonel Durham was a different matter. She only hoped he stayed away until it was deemed she could safely leave.
* * * *
Music carried out on the veranda. Hannah breathed in the cold night air. The crowded ballroom hadn't allowed her time to think and she felt the need to do so. The air felt like snow in the February night, but the cold didn't bother her. Much had occurred over the last few months. The impact of the Rebel victories at Trenton and Princeton were fairly minimal according to the British within New York. In truth Hannah realized that General Howe didn't seem overly concerned with much. His opinion clear upon anyone he came into contact with.
“The only disagreeable occurrence that has happened in this campaign has been due only to Rall's incompetence,” Howe stated openly at their last encounter, which occurred frequently. Howe liked to be entertained. Parties and dances had become the mainstay within New York since his arrival. “But a minor setback. The generality continues dispirited. Their Congress has fled. They have forced their people into their army. Their jails are overflowing. The back of the snake is broken. She can never recover to hurt, but may hiss a little before she gets to her hole and dies.”
Hannah watched and listened for the most part the attitude from the British she had encountered had been comparable. And it was that same attitude that would be the British's downfall. Up until now Howe hadn't considered Washington's army a threat. Now though, Howe had decided Washington's army would have to be destroyed. He had had an opportunity upon his invasion of New York, but Howe had decided the city more important than the army.
Hannah had seen, too, Howe's mistress, Mrs. Loring, a blond beauty whose husband, a Boston Tory, seemed content and not the least bit jealous with the arrangement. Perhaps because he was getting rich off the arrangement. The man had been appointed Commissary-General in charge of American battle prisoners.
She drew her shawl closer around her. The night had been fruitful and Tepper would be pleased. He often was. She had much to write and the need to go home filled her, but a fear ran through her since her last dance, the one that had sent seeking solace on the veranda.
Lieutenant Fletcher, an accomplished dancer, swept her over the dance floor, until a tap on his shoulder. A rather distinguished older gentleman interrupted the two of them. Not unattractive, with gray streaks within his dark hair, he gave a smile to Hannah that gave her a shiver.
“I hope you don’t mind, young man, if I interrupt your dance,” the man said simply. “But I find this young lady is the only family I have within the boundaries of New York.”
Panic seized her when comprehension of the identity of the man dawned upon her. She gripped tightly the Lieutenant’s arm in a pleading manner, but etiquette demanded his release of his partner. Her eyes beseeched the Lieutenant’s, whom in an apologetic manner bowed out.
“Why Hannah Corbett, if I didn’t know better I would say you weren’t happy to see me.” Joseph Gannon said sensing her panic. He placed his hand about her waist, swirling her around to the music. “I don’t need to introduce myself— Joseph Gannon, your brother’s father-in-law.”
With everything within her, she fought the urge to withdraw back from the man. She hadn’t expected nor knew how to deal with him. Her mind raced. She breathed deeply, “I didn’t realize you were here in New York.”
“Alive, you mean?” he spoke in a whisper, but Hannah heard the words clearly.
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand your meaning?” she questioned him.
“No, it’s I who’s sorry, Hannah. You don’t mind if I call you such. We’re family. Are we not?” he smiled at her and once more, making her uncomfortable. “No one told me how beautiful you are, my dear.”
She stared at him, making no effort to hide her contempt for the man who had hold of her. “I’m sure I would welcome news about my family, Mr. Gannon. I haven’t heard from another in ages. How did you leave them? Breathing, I hope,” she shot back at him.
He laughed. “I’m so going to enjoy our time together, Hannah, for I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of each other now.”
“I can only hope, Mr. Gannon,” she said, thankful the music had come to an end. She took a step back, but he leaned down for her ears only.
“You didn’t ask about Gabriel, my dear. Aren’t you interested in his behavior without you by his side?” he stared into her eyes.
“Pray, what do you mean by that?” she heard herself uttered. He took her by the arm and led her off the dance floor.
“Now, you want to talk,” he tilted head in such a manner to see within her eyes. She hadn’t even noticed Lieutenant Fletcher return to her side. “Ah, young man, you may be interested to hear this bit of information. I don’t suppose she told you about her fiancé.”
Hannah stood frozen in her spot, not looking at the Lieutenant, but could feel his eyes upon her. Gannon shrugged, enjoying the moment. “No, from your response, I can tell that maybe Miss Corbett hasn’t been totally honest with you. What a shame, but don’t concern yourself, because the news I have for Hannah will free her. But maybe she already was aware of it, since when I left Philadelphia he was betrothed to another, a fine young lady from the Reynolds family. Said you had broken the engagement. Is that true, Hannah?”
Hannah remained speechless, staring through him with hatred. Gannon maneuvered around her. “Catherine felt you would be most upset. She seemed to think that you had the most passionate views of the patriotic cause. Do you, Hannah?” He turned to the Lieutenant. “She did tell you that her father and brother were hung as spies.”
Calm yourself. Deny. Do not let him better you.
“Mr. Gannon,” she replied rigidly. “I don’t understand your resentment about me and why you feel the need to embarrass me. I moved to New York to put the past behind me. I haven’t taken to any political ties. I find better things to do with my time. I have tried to begin a new life. As for Gabriel, I’m happy he has found the ability to move on. He was correct in revealing I broke it off with him, finding a new life here.”
“I believe it best if you leave the lady alone,” Lieutenant Fletcher stepped between the two.
“Ah, you have a defender, Hannah,” Gannon took a step back. “I’ll take my leave, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing much of each other. I have only advice for you, son. Take care because if you trust her, she’ll be the death of you.”
The Lieutenant took hold of Hannah’s arm. She jerked back. “I’m sorry, Simon. I can’t talk at the moment.”
“I don’t believe a word he said, Hannah,” he said moving closer to her.
She held her hand up. “Don’t. I need air.” She left him standing. With no chance upon leaving, she took refuge upon the veranda, grabbing only her shawl to protect her from the elements.
Her mind raced. How could Tepper not have known that Gannon resided now in New York? Why had no one felt the necessity to inform her? The ground beneath her became as sand. Hadn’t Tepper assured her they would arrest Gannon and he would receive the fate he deserved? Now he stood calmly within her world.
She bit her bottom lip. His revelations would do no damage in her eyes as she had time to think. Her actions could be well explained. Why would she want the knowledge of her father and brother’s death to become common? She had fended the need of a new beginning from the start. She hadn’t proclaimed her fervor for the cause, although she hadn’t denounced it either. But women’s opinions held little weight.
No, she could recover from his outburst. She wasn’t certain about his revelation about Gabriel. Although she wanted to cry he lied, within her she knew he spoke the truth. Something about the last time Gabriel held her. No, Gabriel had said good-bye, leaving her to fend for herself without a thought to his promise or their proclamation of love.
Engrossed within her thoughts, she didn’t hear the footsteps that came behind her. Arms wrapped around her. Startled, she jumped and whirled around, only to come face to face with
Marcus. He had returned.
“Are you not happy to see me?” he asked.
She backed away. Of all people this night, she didn’t need his appearance. Panic surged within her. She said nothing. Ignoring Marcus, she turned and rushed back into the house. Frantically, she glanced around for her escort. She had no knowledge of where Lieutenant Fletcher had gone to, but she knew she needed to leave. She well sensed the danger now upon her.
Luck shone down on Hannah when she entered the foyer. Immediately, she caught sight of Aunt Leona staggering down the corridor.
“I tell you, Richard, I do not feel the urge to leave. I am fine!” Aunt Leona declared, stumbling into a table, sending a vase crashing onto the floor. Her aunt fell to her knees and began to pick up the pieces. “Ssh. I will fix this. I will.”
Hannah watched her uncle direct a footman to clean up his wife’s mess. Then he took hold of his wife’s shoulders and pulled her back to her feet. Aunt Leona’s overindulgence seemed to have her uncle out of sorts. To Hannah it seemed quite
evident the whole of the scene wore on his nerves.
Recognizing her uncle had no desire to be distracted by his wife further, Hannah used it to her advantage.
She felt certain her uncle held only contempt for his wife, but hid it well because of his father-in-law. Although at the moment he seemed at wit’s end. Hannah could have cared less. It allowed her the opportunity to leave. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she stepped forward.
“Uncle,” Hannah expeditiously offered. “Would you like for me to withdraw with Aunt Leona. I will look after her. I myself feel under the weather.”
“It would be greatly appreciated.” Relief flooded his face. Richard wasted no time in relinquishing his wife’s care to his niece. “I will call for a carriage.”
Walking out of the entrance, a burst of cold wind hit Hannah hard. She twisted back, clinging to her cloak. Without warning, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. A wintry storm ensued. Snow began to descend rapidly making the steps slippery. Hannah found it difficult to direct her aunt. Her uncle gave no thought to the change in the weather. His intent lay solely upon his wife’s departure. He stood at the foot of the stairs, holding the carriage door open.
Her aunt stumbled and grabbed at Hannah, almost sending both of them spiraling down the stairs. Strong hands caught her. Hannah looked up none too surprised to find Marcus held them both. Regaining her footing, she surrendered her aunt to Marcus and followed him down the stairs. After seeing her aunt into the carriage, Marcus extended his hand to her. Sitting beside her aunt, Hannah turned to give her thanks, but to her consternation Marcus held back the door from closing.
“I will help them both home, Mr. Wick, if you would like,” Marcus offered. “I find myself ready to depart myself. I will see the women safely within your home.”
Hannah sat in a dumbfound silence moments later. She found herself uncomfortably situated in the carriage with her inebriated aunt and the infuriating Marcus Durham.
“Lieutenant Fletcher could have easily done so,” Hannah retorted as the door closed shut. “He escorted me.”
“The fault of his disappearance would lie to me, I am afraid, Miss Corbett. An urgent matter came up that he had to attend to. I was supposed to inform you. I am sorry. I forgot until now.”
Her aunt laid her head upon Hannah’s shoulders. “What a good man! Such a shame you are married. My dear, Susan, she would have been such a good match!”
Hannah could feel the color to her cheeks flushing with her aunt carrying on so. Marcus said nothing, but sat with that damn grin on his face and his eyes piercing hers.
Hannah rushed her aunt up the steps the moment the carriage halted. T
hankful Mrs. Hayes met her aunt. Hannah recognized the signs that it would not be long before her aunt was sick. Mrs. Hayes excused herself with her aunt and quickly ushered her aunt up the stairs. Hannah turned and to her dismay she was standing alone with Marcus.
Marcus seemed quite content with the situation. He shook the fallen snow off his coat and opened the door into the drawing room. A small fire kept sparked for the family’s return. He turned to the houseboy. “Add a few logs.”