Authors: Patti Wigington
Copyright 2011 Patti Wigington
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Table of Contents
Bedford County, Virginia
It was cold in the mountains. Sarah MacFarlane was wrapped in several thick quilts before the fire. Her teeth chattered in spite of the flames, and the wind outside the door whipped the snow into a frenzy. Beneath the layers of blankets, her newborn son nursed peacefully, fat little fists clenched, oblivious of the weather or anything else.
“Ah, wee Hamish,” Sarah murmured. “Your da will be home soon, and with him your uncle Rob. They’ll be so proud to know ye, laddie.” For a fleeting moment her memory turned to another son, a frail and blue little boy who had lived for only minutes. For a year now he had lain under a stone beneath the great oak tree near the barn.
Sarah had given birth to Hamish a mere three weeks before. Her husband, Ian, was gone only a few days when the babe decided to make his somewhat early appearance, and if not for dear Mollie, Sarah and her child would have died. Angus had gone with Ian, headed to Richmond to retrieve Ian’s brother Rob, newly arrived in the Colonies. Rob sailed from Kingston, where their uncle ran a shipping business for the sugar planters, and then had come on to Virginia. His letters from Jamaica advised them that he would be arriving in mid-November. Sarah hoped that the weather wouldn’t delay the arrival of
The Lady Meg
The farmhouse was not large, but it was cozy, and most of the year the plank walls kept the weather at bay. This storm, though, was different. A fierce gale blew outside in the night, and Sarah could see shining flakes of snow wafting between the cracks in the logs. The house was four rooms in a square, with a hall down the center. The floor was dirt in the summer time, but she and Mollie had thrown rushes over it when the weather had turned. It made the house smell a bit like a barn but that was better than walking on a frozen floor. Sarah hoped that by next year she could persuade Ian to install a plank floor, like in the fine planters’ houses they had seen in Richmond. After all, this was a respectable tobacco farm.
In addition to the nearly fifty acres of tobacco leaves that grew fat and green every fall, Ian and Sarah also raised a few chickens and two plump dairy cows. Mollie kept a kitchen garden, with rows of herbs and plump squash and bright yellow ears of corn. They had even tried a new plant, one the Indians called
, which had a tangy red juice inside the rubbery skin. Further down the hill was an apple orchard, and every year the sisters made cider together to sell in the town of Liberty. Altogether, they were indeed doing well, and Sarah felt she was deserving of a good plank floor.
The baby slurped noisily, and Sarah shifted him to her other side, keeping the quilts over them both. Charlie, the big bull mastiff, sat up abruptly, watching the door.
“Relax, ye beastie,” cautioned Sarah. “Tis only Mollie come back in with the wood.” She waited a moment, but when Mollie didn’t come in, she rose heavily to her feet. “Mollie,” she called. “Will ye need me to get the door?”
There was no answer but the howling of the wind.
Hamish had stopped eating by now, so Sarah quietly pried him loose from her breast. She swaddled him tightly in a length of thick plaid, and placed him gently in his cradle by the hearth. By now, Charlie was growling audibly. Sarah removed her father’s sword from its place on the mantel, and moved cautiously towards the door, keeping the dog by her side.
“Who’s there?” she called. “Mollie, if it be ye, answer me now!”
It all happened in a split second. The door burst open, and Charlie leapt, teeth flashing in the moonlight. A gust of cold wind hit Sarah in the face, and she swung the sword with all her strength. She heard a cry of pain, but didn’t know if it was her own voice or not. She didn’t think it was, but she blacked out before she could be sure. In that last fleeting moment, however, there was one thing she was very certain of. She had seen war paint on the three faces that met her at the door.
“Mollie, what are ye saying?” moaned Ian MacFarlane. His wife’s sister stood angrily in front of him.
“What I’m saying, ye foolheaded man, is that if ye’d let Robbie find his own way here, or just sent Angus off to fetch him, Sarah would nae ha’ been taken by the savages!” she screeched. Mollie Duncan was a small woman, but when angered she seemed seven feet tall. Her unfortunate brother-in-law was now feeling her wrath.
“Well, I had to go get him, now, didn’t I?” pleaded Ian. He looked beseechingly at Rob and Angus, who were wisely keeping their mouths shut.
“Oh, aye,” snarled Mollie. “Wee Robbie certainly couldna take care o’ himself, being such a small and delicate lad, now could he, Ian?”
Rob MacFarlane stifled a smile. Well over six feet tall, and broad in the shoulders, many men were intimidated by his size. He brushed a black curl out of his eyes and winked at his brother.
Mollie Duncan had returned from collecting firewood she had found the door wide open, her sister missing, and an Indian lying across the threshold. He was quite dead, most likely bled to death from the gaping wound in his belly. The sword stuck out of his gut like a pump handle. While standing there in shock, Mollie heard an unfamiliar noise, like a barn cat yowling. To her surprise, she discovered that the intruders had left little Hamish, in fact had probably never even noticed him, as bundled as he was in the plaid. She waited for the storm to abate, then wrapped the baby in her cloak and headed down the hill to the next house, where Sally Kerr and her husband Tom lived. She told them the story, and Tom kindly took care of the Indian on the doorstop, and in fact had also cleaned up her father’s sword quite nicely. Sally was even kind enough to nurse little Hamish along with her own baby so the poor thing wouldn’t starve to death. Mollie waited at the Kerrs’ for five days, and on the sixth day when Ian, Angus and Rob came riding up the path to the house she had intercepted them and told them what had happened.
Tom Kerr wanted to go right away to look for Sarah, but Tom only had one arm and couldn’t ride very well. It was decided that he and Angus should stay behind with the women. Mollie informed Ian and Robbie that they had better move before the next storm came in and covered up the tracks.
“How are we to find her in all this snow?” protested Ian. “She’s been gone near a week now.”
“Ye’ll find her, or at least try to, or I’ll use Da’s sword on you, Ian MacFarlane! Dinna you dare tell me ye’ll not go looking for your own wife, the mother of your only son!” Mollie was livid, her freckled cheeks turning bright crimson.
Rob strolled towards the trees, pointedly ignoring Ian’s discussion with Mollie. He shivered a bit, and watched as a clump of wet snow fell from a tree, landing on the ground silently. Rob was fascinated by this new place. When on land, he had always lived near the Glasgow shipyards, and had spent the last fifteen years of his life at sea, after Meg had died. Here was a country so big, so vast, there were parts of it where no one had been yet. It was nearly enough to make a man stay ashore, he thought briefly. But in the meantime, there was Sarah to find. Rob had never met her, but from what he had heard of the red savages, they would not treat her well.
“Come, Ian,” he said. “We’d best get started then.” Mollie looked at him gratefully. Angus, Mollie and Sarah had come to the Colonies as children, ten years ago, and both their parents were now dead. They were all that each other had.
“Well,” Ian wavered, “we might wish to wait till the morning. It will be dark in just a few hours.”
“Ian,” sighed Rob, “d’ye suppose the savages are waiting till the morning before they move on?” He loved his younger brother, but he was a bit thick sometimes.
Ian resignedly got back on his horse. He did love Sarah, but he really had no desire to go chasing off after painted savages in the snow. They had probably killed her by now, or worse. Of course, he realized that
going meant dealing with Mollie, and now Sally Kerr as well. He preferred to face the savages.
Haver Springs, VA
“This is ridiculous,” grumbled Cameron Clark. “I can’t keep people out of here all day. When are the police going to be here?”
She stood in the door of Granny’s Goodies, the big “closed” sign dangling behind her. Beside her feet was a sparkling pile of shattered glass. The local hoodlums had decided once again to pay a visit during the night. Usually they just spray-painted the windows, but this time they had actually broken one, which was why Cameron was waiting for the police.
“Well,” replied Alice, who ran the coffee shop next door, “maybe you’ll get some media attention from all this. That would be nice.”
“True. And with Antique Week starting today, media attention means money,” agreed Cameron. She checked her reflection in the window to make sure she looked presentable. Not bad, she admitted. Five foot seven and average weight, dark blonde hair, gray eyes wearing just the right amount of makeup. She was wearing a pair of stonewashed jeans, a hunter-green button-up shirt and a fleece sweater on top. In other words, she looked very average.
Cam’s shop had been open for six months, since the death of her grandmother. Emily Clark left Cameron a nice little nest egg, a ten room home, and a large collection of old and basically useless items. When Cameron cleaned out the old Victorian house in Haver Springs, she found herself reluctant to just throw away things that Emily had acquired over her eighty-two years. On the other hand, none of it was really anything that the Salvation Army would want, either. Alice had innocently mentioned that Emily’s big Victorian house had originally been zoned as commercial because a doctor had held his offices there. She had joked with Cam that it might be fun to open up a shop and unload Emily’s things on the unsuspecting public. Cam quit her job managing the bookstore in Charleston, South Carolina, moved back to Haver Springs, and opened up Granny’s Goodies.
She was always careful not to use the word “antique” in any of her signs or fliers. The word implied value and a certain degree of authenticity, and a lot of what Cameron possessed was stronger on charm than actual monetary value. She didn’t have any fancy Chippendale furniture, but she did have some really nifty old iron tools. She had an entire barrel of horseshoes and nails. There were boxes upon boxes of books, old newspapers, and magazines. She even had a complete set of four wooden wagon wheels. Much to her surprise, after she had been open only a few weeks, she discovered that people not only wanted to buy Granny’s things, but many of them also wanted to sell or trade. What had begun as a temporary hobby had actually turned into a fairly profitable operation, which was why, once again following Alice’s advice, she had gotten an alarm system installed only three weeks ago.
“Here,” Alice nudged her, offering a steaming cup of coffee. “You need this.”
“Mmm, that’s nice. Thank you.” Alice knew she liked her coffee well creamed without sugar.
“Uh-oh. Look what’s coming,” whispered Alice.
Cam glanced across the street and groaned. Wayne Sinclair was headed directly towards them. Cam wasn’t sure what it was about the man, but he gave her the creeps. Maybe it was because his eyes were two different colors, one blue and one brown.
“Ladies,” he drawled politely, surveying the damage. Wayne was the best-known antique dealer in the area, and in fact had been the one to organize the first Antique Week in Haver Springs five years ago. He also had a reputation for price gouging and less than honorable acquisition procedures. “Looks like we had a little visit from the elves last night, mm?”
“Actually, it was early this morning,” put in Cam. “Fortunately, I got up here before the elves got hold of anything.”
He looked pointedly at her, and Cam felt as though he could see right through her warm fleece sweater. “So, you weren’t… assaulted, or anything like that?”
Alice snorted, “No, Wayne, she was not assaulted or anything like that. Don’t you have any old ladies to go hoodwink?”
Wayne smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. A small tic in his left cheek marred his normally good looks. “How’s your husband, Alice? Tell Hal I said hello.” With that, he strolled away.
Alice rolled her eyes. “God, he is such a pig. Lucky thing he’s so handsome, or someone would have killed him by now.”
Cam stared at her. “What was that remark about Hal for?”
Alice shrugged. “Long story. A few years ago, we were really strapped for cash, and Hal had this old desk. He asked Wayne if it was worth much, and he said sure, maybe a hundred dollars or so, but he really didn’t want it. Well, Hal begged and begged him to buy this desk from us. I mean, I didn’t even have any grocery money. So finally Wayne gave in, and bought the desk for a hundred bucks. Well, guess what happened?”
Cam saw where this was going. “How much was it really worth?”
Alice sighed. “Over five grand. And when Hal heard about it, he called Wayne out about it, and Wayne just said that it wasn’t his fault that Hal was a dumb rube, and that Hal had begged him to take the desk off his hands.”
Cameron shook her head. “He’s awful. Makes my skin crawl. I’m glad I don’t have anything in my store that he would want.”
Alice winked and poked her. “Oh, honey, you do. Just not antiques.”
“Yuck,” grumbled Cam, making a face. “No, I mean it. He came in once when I first opened up, walked around with his nose in the air for an hour, and finally told me good luck with my nails and soda bottles, and he hasn’t been back since.”
“You’re lucky. Oh, look, this must be our new deputy, coming to keep Haver Springs safe for decent citizens. Good Lordy, Cam. Take a peek at him. He’s just a pup,” grinned Alice.
Moments later, Cam found herself staring up at a round, friendly face. The deputy’s wire-rimmed glasses glinted in the morning sun.
“Ma’am, why don’t we go inside and I can take my report in there where it’s warm?” he offered.
She showed him inside, and he inspected the damage to the window. “So, was anything stolen?”
“I don’t think so, um, Detective… ”
“It’s Sergeant Adams, actually, but you can just call me Troy,” he smiled.
“Thanks, Troy,” she continued. “I expect the alarm scared them away. I was already up and dressed, and I came right in when I heard it.”
He looked around the broken window. “Is any of this stuff valuable?”
Cam shrugged. “Depends how you look at it. These copper jelly molds, for example. I have them here because I like them. If someone else likes them too, then I guess they would be valuable to that person, but the monetary value is less than a hundred dollars for the whole lot of them.”
He examined the glass case that had been on display in the huge bay window. “What about these? Is this sword worth anything?”
Cam nodded. “Well, yes, a few hundred dollars, that’s why I have it locked in there. It’s Scottish. The basket hilt indicates it’s about two hundred and fifty years old. But a thief would have to be pretty stupid to think he could go running off down the street with that thing in his hands. It’s nearly four feet long, and pretty heavy.”
Troy nosed around some more, cautious of the shards of glass that littered the shelf. “Will you still be able to open up today? It’s the first day of Antique Week. How about this book?”
“Oh, that’s a journal, from around the time of the Revolutionary War. It’s actually not for sale, it belonged to some ancestor of mine. One of these days, I might even get around to reading it. I like to keep it with the sword because we found them in a trunk together.”
“Nice combination. The pen being mightier than the sword, and all that stuff. So, the guy you were talking to before I pulled up, who is he?” Troy asked.
She rolled her eyes. “Wayne Sinclair. He has an antique shop down the street. He wouldn’t break a window, though. If he was going to steal from me he’d try to do it legally.” She told him Alice’s story, but they both agreed that Sinclair was an unlikely suspect.
Cam checked her watch. It was nearly nine in the morning, three hours since the alarm had pierced her pre-dawn reverie. She had been sitting on the back porch drinking her morning coffee. It was her favorite time of the day, because it was so quiet, and there were no cars or people out, making her feel like she was the only person awake in the whole world. The hour before sunrise was her special time, for her alone. Seth never understood that, but then there were a lot of things Seth had never understood. Strange how her life had changed in the past year. Cam had spent Christmas day with Granny Emily, and then gone back to Charleston, to her job as manager of the little bookstore. Two days later, Granny was out shoveling snow on the front walk and had a heart attack. By the time Cam got the call from Alice, who heroically tried to perform CPR before the medics arrived, Emily was dead.
Emily’s death had made Cam realize her own mortality, so she decided to take the plunge and ask Seth to marry her. He seemed so nice and stable, with a respectable job in acquisitions at the Charleston Museum. She wasn’t passionately in love with him, but they had been together for four years, and she did care about him. But before she could ask him, he told her that he had been seeing someone else, someone he met at work, a soul mate with whom he “had more in common”, to be precise. She packed his things and tossed them out in the rain while he was at a New Year’s Eve party. She had gotten the locks on the apartment changed. Seth tried occasionally to contact her, drunkenly begging her forgiveness, after his so-called soul mate dumped him for a military school cadet closer to her own age. Cam simply got an unlisted phone number, and that had been the end of Seth.
Then she had taken a week off work and returned to Haver Springs, where she had spent nine formative years of her life, to clean out the old Victorian house on Meador Street. She remembered first seeing the big red house when she was nine, after her parents had died. She hadn’t been with them when the car crashed, or she would have been dead too. Her only relative in the whole world was her father’s mother, Granny Emily, whom she had never even met. Emily opened her door and her heart to the sad, silent little girl, and loved her as though she were her own. Cameron was thinking about her when the shriek of the alarm broke her solitude.
“So, you didn’t see anyone when you got to the front?” Troy asked.
“Well, no. I mean, I came through the house, instead of going around the outside. I guess that would have been faster, wouldn’t it?” she added lamely.
He assured her that she had done just fine, took a few Polaroids, and went on his way. Alice nudged her. “He was nice, Cam. Did you see the way he looked at you?”
Cam shrugged. “He
nice. Not really my type, and about five years too young, but nice. But he wasn’t looking at me. And besides,” she said firmly, “I am not looking for a man. I’ve had my fill of them for a while.”
She and Alice had become good friends ever since Emily’s death, and she had told the older woman all about Seth. It was odd, she thought. Living in Charleston, working at the bookstore, she never would have been friends with, and certainly never would have confided in, a person like Alice. Alice was coarse and loud, and dressed in sweat pants and a t-shirt most of the time, except on Sundays for church. She also had the kindest heart Cam had ever met. Her one flaw was that Alice had been happily married to her husband for nearly twenty years, and therefore felt that all women needed to be married. She had made it her mission to find a suitable match for Cameron, a man who would have met the approval of Emily Clark, who had been Alice’s dear friend.
After breaking up with Seth, although maybe “getting rid of Seth” was a better way of putting it, Cam wasn’t looking. She was reasonably attractive, in pretty good shape, and took good care of herself. There was nothing wrong with her, she decided. It was just that the last man she had picked wasn’t right. Before Seth there had been a long, dry spell, and before that was college, where she had dated a grad student who had turned out to be far too clingy and needy. He had become so dependent on her that she had felt stifled and had ended it abruptly.
Cameron began sweeping up the glass, and flipped the door sign around to “open.” Alice waved good-bye.
“Gotta get back. I left Hal in charge and you know how he gets when things are busy,” she grinned. Cameron knew. Poor Hal. He loved Alice and tried to help out in her coffee shop, but the truth was he would rather be out fishing. Cameron wondered if he had known what he was in for when he married Alice. Probably not, but after twenty years Hal wasn’t going anywhere.
There was a loud jingling. The sleigh bells hanging on the front door announced her first customer of the day. It was a woman in a polyester pantsuit with a freshly shellacked beehive hairdo and rhinestone earrings. Cam knew it was going to be a long morning.
As was tradition, all the shops stayed open until four that Saturday. Normally they closed at one, but an exception was made for the kickoff of Antique Week. Cam finished up with the last of her customers and flipped the sign around, locking the front door. She collapsed onto the stool behind her counter. It had been a very profitable day, and tomorrow afternoon looked even better. Several people indicated they would be back for more the next day. A lady from Charlotte bought half a dozen horseshoes, and promised to bring her friend in to browse as well. The broken windowpane had certainly not detracted any customers from visiting Granny’s Goodies.