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Authors: Jo Ann Ferguson

Rebecca

Rebecca

The Foxbridge Legacy, Book Two

Jo Ann Ferguson

This book is dedicated to Charles and Mildred Stern

Agents and Friends

Thank you for believing in my dream …

and helping make it come true

Chapter One

The sun was bright off the mountainsides to the north as the young woman adjusted her veil on her dark hair. It would not have mattered to her if it had been the dreariest day of the year, for she could see only the glory of her happiness reflected around her. With a joyous laugh, she twirled about so that her full skirts belled out even wider around her.

She turned once more to view her appearance in the small mirror. The veil did not hide her blue eyes and brilliant smile that were the two most admired features of her lovely face. She smoothed the silk dress along her body. She had never had such a fine gown, so it was appropriate that today she would wear it.

Today Rebecca North would become the wife of Keith Bennett. After their courtship and the thrill of him asking her to marry him, she would this morning take the vows that would make her his wife forever. It was a dream come true. He had proposed marriage several months ago, but had asked her to delay the wedding until he could finish the cabin he was building for them. At last, the day had come.

Her bags were packed and in the front room, ready to go to that new house. When she and Keith returned from their wedding party, her things would be waiting in the house they would share. Her smile softened as her eyes grew distant with thoughts of the life she would have from this day forward with the man she loved.

“Rebecca, are you ready?” came a voice that jarred her back to the present.

Her smile broadened as she turned to greet her older brother Hart. He would be giving her away, because their father, Major Henry North, had died in service to his country during the battle of Saratoga. The horrors of the war so recently over were forgotten in the midst of her joy. “Take Aunt Dena out to the wagon, and I will be with you directly.”

He nodded and closed the door. Rebecca looked around her room. Today she was leaving behind everything she had known all her life. Today she was beginning a new life that would incorporate all the love from the old one with a new love that would be the center of her being. “Good-bye,” she whispered to her room, her home, her self who had lived there for all of her nineteen years.

Cloying thoughts of nostalgia disappeared as she went out to the cart. An ecstatic bounce was in her step as she walked out of the cabin without another backward glance.

“Here comes the happiest bride I have ever seen,” teased Aunt Dena. She was a spare woman, well wrinkled with time. Laughter and sunshine had etched lines in her face. Her white hair was pulled back beneath the outrageous hat she wore for only the most special occasions. Its feathers and ribbons added six inches to her slight height.

Hart laughed as he helped his sister onto the hard wooden seat of the wagon. Unlike Rebecca, he had the light hair of their mother, but in many ways the Norths were alike. They shared a deep joy in life and a closeness which had strengthened when they had lost both of their parents. Hart was pleased that she would not be moving far from their home. The two of them and Aunt Dena were the total of the surviving North family.

It was a very short ride to the church, but Hart had insisted that they drive. He had not wanted her to walk and to get dust on her new gown. When they reached the white clapboard building, he lifted the older woman down so that she could go in to take her seat of honor in the first pew.

“All ready?” he asked, jokingly.

“I know brides are supposed to be nervous,” Rebecca said with a laugh, “but I'm not. I know that this is just the beginning of the most wonderful part of my life.”

He bent and kissed her check. His voice was very serious as he said, “I hope you are right, Rebecca. I hope you are right.”

“Hart, what is wrong?” Her smile faded as she saw the bleakness in his eyes.

A weak smile crossed his lips. “I'm the one who is nervous, I guess. It's hard for me to realize that in a few minutes you will be Keith Bennett's wife. I've been used to you being my little sister.”

“That does not change, silly!” She hugged him. When she heard the music from the church, she said, “I think the ceremony is starting.”

He held out his arm to her. “Then let us make our grand entrance, my lady.”

“What fancy manners from someone who used to dip my braids in mud puddles!”

Rebecca smiled up at her grinning brother as they walked into the church. He had seemed as delighted with this wedding as she was. Keith was his friend, and it had been Hart who had first suggested she take a walk with Keith along the moonlit path home from church services. Soon Keith had come calling on her. She had long admired her brother's friend, and her admiration became love. She guessed this wedding was the fulfillment of Hart's dream, as well.

As they walked past the rearmost pew, Rebecca noticed a stranger sitting there. Her eyes were caught by his dark ones, which were narrowing with an emotion she could not read. She wondered who this scowling man was. Something about the strong line of his jaw and his black eyes tugged at her memory, but she could not connect his handsome face with anyone she knew. As she passed him, she shrugged off her concerns and told herself he must be an acquaintance of Keith.

All thoughts of him faded as she looked at her fiance waiting with uncharacteristic formality by the altar. Keith was more comfortable making jokes around their supper table than standing at the front of the church dressed in his stiff collar and knee breeches. When he turned to see her walking toward him, his face split into a grin that made him look much more like the normal Keith.

Rebecca took his hand as she stepped up onto the raised section in front of the altar. He brought it gently to rest on his arm as together they looked at the minister. He glanced down at her as if to share an ecstatic secret while they listened to the clergyman intone the words that would make them one for all eternity.

Hart answered when asked who gave this woman in marriage. In a stage whisper, he warned the groom, “She's grouchy in the morning, Keith. Beware.” Along the first few pews, a ripple of laughter sounded as brightly as the blush glowing on Rebecca's face.

The groom held out his hand to Hart. For a moment, he looked startled, then he shook it seriously. Rebecca glanced from one face to the other, but could not read the emotions on either. Keith was grinning delightedly, but Hart's face was completely blank.

She forgave her brother his jest when he bent to kiss her cheek and added more softly, “Be happy always, Rebecca.”

When he was seated, the minister—who had appeared pained at the levity—continued with the rite. He read a blessing on the couple. Before he started the exchanging of vows, he asked, “If there is anyone here who has a reason why this marriage should not take place, let that one speak now or forever remain silent.”

“I have a reason!”

Rebecca gasped as she turned to see the stranger on his feet in the pew at the back of the small church. She looked up at Keith and saw the mixture of shock and rage on his usually placid features. Her thought that this was a prank he had devised to tease her disappeared as she saw his furious expression.

The stranger began to walk up the aisle toward the altar. A rumble of whispered comments preceded him like the foam of a wave rushing to embrace the shore. All eyes were on him, but he paid them no attention. His dark ones were riveted steadily on the bride. His lips curled up in a smile as he saw the astonishment in her eyes. The pretty bride clearly had no idea who he was or why he had stopped her wedding.

The minister stated, shortly, “Sir, it's a serious thing to interrupt a holy ceremony in this way. You say you have a reason why this marriage should not take place. What is it?”

He grinned coldly, and the pastor had the feeling he was looking into the face of Satan himself. Only the fallen angel would carry such dark malevolence in his black eyebrows and sternly chiseled features. His eyes returned to the bride. There was amusement in their obscure depths.

“Why don't you ask Rebecca?” His voice was as mysteriously rich as his sable hair.

“Me?” she gasped. That this man knew her name was as astounding as the rest of this outrageous situation. His gaze held her eyes as if he was trying to look past them to examine her soul. Lowering her eyes, she said, “Sir, as Reverend Poore said, this is no time for such antics. You have disrupted my wedding long enough.”

His eyes slowly and with obvious pleasure moved along her slender body. In the gown that flattered her delicate curves, she was the image of the maidenly bride. “I admit I wouldn't have known you, Rebecca, but I had thought you would recognize me. I haven't changed that much since our last meeting.”

Once again memory tried to stir within her, but brought no answers. “I'm sorry, sir. I don't think we have met. You must be mistaken.”

Keith stepped between his bride and the stranger. “Sir, Rebecca has asked you to desist. I suggest you do so, or you may not like the result.” Although he stood several inches shorter than the dark-haired man, he was not afraid to take on the intruder who had ruined their wedding. He had been waiting so long for it to take place, and he would let no one halt it. “I don't know who you are or why you think you have the right to interfere.”

“Let me introduce myself.” He gave a half-bow in their direction. “My name is Nicholas Wythe. That woman next to you is my wife.”

Immediately the church erupted into chaos. Hart leapt to his feet and over the front of the first pew to join in the confrontation with this man who dared to make such a pronouncement. Keith caught Rebecca as she gave a small cry and swayed against him. He feared she would faint, but she only clutched his arm as her life felt as if it was whirling out of control.

The elusive memory had been so close to her heart. While packing her personal and dower items that morning, she had pulled out from under her bed, the box which contained her most precious mementos and discovered the faded marriage lines that announced she was the wife of one Nicholas Wythe. It was a secret which had been kept for so long that it was no longer worth revealing.

Nearly five years had passed since the day she had discovered a wounded man delirious in their barn. The only thing he had been able to communicate was his need for secrecy. She had smuggled food to him and had cleaned the wound in his side and bound it for him. Around his head had been a bloody turban she had not dared to touch.

For two weeks, he slept in the barn. Each morning she expected to find him dead in his hiding place behind the bags of feed for the animals. Both her brother and her father had been away fighting in the War of Independence from England. It had been just she and Aunt Dena, Father's spinster sister who had come to live with them when Rebecca's mother had died before her young daughter's fourth birthday.

Slowly he recovered enough to escape his delirium. Whenever she had been able to get away from her other duties, Rebecca went to sit in the barn with him. She entertained him with her young impressions of the war, the village she lived near in northern Connecticut, and the world in general. He seemed ancient to her, for he must have been in his early twenties. Soon she learned how to cheer him so he was not so unhappy in his confinement. What little he told her of his own life she had forgotten in the passage of time.

She did not remember exactly when she had discovered that he was not a Continental soldier, but a loyalist. By that time she had come to see him as a person, not as an enemy. When he gave her a crudely written note to carry to a friend, she did not pause to wonder if she was doing something to compromise the ideals of independence she valued so highly. Her friend would never ask her to do something wrong.

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