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Authors: Anna Belfrage

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Time Travel

Serpents in the Garden

BOOK: Serpents in the Garden
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Introduction

On a muggy August day in 2002, Alexandra Lind was unexpectedly thrown backwards in time, landing in the year of Our Lord 1658. Catapulted into an unfamiliar and frightening new existence, Alex could do nothing but adapt. After all, while time travelling itself is a most rare occurrence, time travelling with a return ticket is even rarer.

This is the fifth book about Alex, her husband Matthew and their continued adventures in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Other titles in The Graham Saga:

A Rip in the Veil

Like Chaff in the Wind

The Prodigal Son

A Newfound Land

Coming Soon:

Revenge and Retribution

Wither Thou Goest

To Catch a Falling Star

Serpents in the Garden

Dedication

This book is dedicated to my mother, who very early on introduced me to the magical world of books.

Chapter 1

“Are you sure?” Betty Hancock trembled with agitation. “What if you don’t come back? Ships are wrecked, and—”

Jacob Graham scoffed and went on stuffing his few belongings into the canvas sack he had procured a day or so ago. “I know the man. Captain Miles is a wily sailor. He’s been sailing the seas longer than most – he’ll keep me safe.”

“But—” Betty protested, only to find her mouth covered by his. For some minutes, all other activity came to a halt as they concentrated on exploring this new found pleasure. His tongue flicked against her lips, and she opened her mouth under his, keeping her eyes wide open.

He pulled back with a pleased grin. “You like it, don’t you?”

Betty’s face heated. It was wrong to lust for someone not yet your husband, and still… She smiled and nodded, going back to helping him pack his clothes.

She peeked at Jacob from under her lashes. Four years he’d lived with them, and the boy she had once regarded as a brother had in the last few months changed into a man – a very young man, but definitely a man. Well over six feet tall, with fair hair that hung straight and thick down to his shoulders, and startling light hazel eyes, Jacob Graham was a lad that turned more than his fair share of feminine heads on the street, and not only among his contemporaries.

“Why?” Betty asked for the hundredth time.

Jacob exhaled and sat back on his heels. “You know I’ve always wanted to.”

She gave a grudging nod. As long as she’d known him, he’d spoken of his desire to see the world, and these last few years living so close to the sea had increased that itch. Still, all of this made her feel inconsequential, discarded.

“But what about me?”

“I’ll come back, and the pre-contracts are already signed.”

Betty made a sound halfway between a sob and a chuckle. “The pre-contracts? You know as well as I do, that they can easily be broken. Our fathers may decide to not uphold them, and in particular my father might be tempted not to.” She was not for nothing the daughter of the single man of law in town, had grown up in a household where deeds were drawn up and amended on a daily basis, and had seen far too many contracts for marriage being declared null and void by one or both contracting parties. “He’ll be very disappointed.”

Jacob nodded, cheeks colouring. “I don’t want that. But this isn’t for me; I can’t spend my life drawing up papers.”

“My father will never allow me to wed a seaman. So what will you do, Jacob? Once you come back from your journeys?” She’d touched upon a sensitive subject, she could see.

He twisted, muttering something about becoming a merchant, mayhap a farmer like his da. A farmer? She couldn’t quite see herself as a homesteader’s wife.

Jacob raised a hand to her cheek. “A healer, I think. That’s what I would like to be.” He pulled out his three books from where he kept them under his bed, and opened the heaviest of them. “I know this almost by heart.”

So did she, what with the time they’d spent perusing the Culpeper herbal he’d inherited from his grandfather.

Jacob’s finger traced the detailed drawings of a foxglove. “We grow this at home. My Offa brought the seeds with him.”

She leaned against him to look over his shoulder.

“You’re tickling me,” he said.

No she wasn’t, it was her hair. Betty hated it: wild, exuberant, impossible to tame into anything resembling a neat hairdo, and on top of that a reddish brown, not a bright gold like her sisters’.

Jacob rubbed his head against hers, let the book slide to lie on the floor, and kissed her.

“How long?” she said much later. “How many years must I wait for you?”

“I don’t know. Two? Three?”

Betty shook her head. “My father won’t let me wait. I’ll be wed elsewhere before you come back.” Around them, the house was quiet, everyone but them asleep. She’d never been in his room at night before, and never in only her chemise and a shawl. She was very aware of her breasts pushing against the thin cloth, of how his eyes kept returning to them time and time again. Jacob moved closer. She shifted away and he followed after.

“If…” He broke off and took her hand, playing with her fingers.

“If what?” Betty asked, breathing heavily.

“If we bed…”

She scooted away from him. Bed with him? His fingers grazed her arm, the side of her neck, and she had no idea what to do with the responding flickers of heat that coursed through her.

“We can handfast,” he suggested, “and then…”

Betty looked at him with trepidation. According to her father, handfasting was a custom best eradicated, as it left the woman vulnerable to misuse. But in their case, the betrothal was already formalised, the contracts drawn up and signed. Except that the contracts called for Jacob to be eighteen, and that was more than two years away.

For a long time, they sat on the bed, eyes locked together. Scarcely able to breathe, Betty nodded and placed her hand in his much bigger one. What was she contemplating? She tried to reclaim her hand, but his fingers had already closed round hers, a warm, strong grip. Her pulse was swift, like the fluttering of a bird’s wing, and beads of sweat formed along her hairline and behind her knees.

“I, Jacob Graham, take you, Betty Hancock, as my truly wedded wife, and to you I pledge myself,” Jacob said, eyes huge in his pale face.

“I…” Betty licked her upper lip, feeling somewhat faint. “I, Betty Hancock, take you, Jacob Graham, as my truly wedded husband, and to you I pledge myself.” A nervous gust of laughter escaped her. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to do this.

Their clasped hands were slippery with sweat. Jacob leaned forward and brushed his lips against her cheek. His hot breath tickled her skin, and she shivered. He kissed her again, his hand came up to rest lightly on her breast, and Betty felt the oddest sensation, like miniature feet pattering over her skin. She panicked when he pressed her down on her back, a quick instinctive struggle that made him freeze, his eyes never leaving hers. He waited, his hand heavy on her breast. She could feel her heart begin to race. He slipped his leg between hers, and she fell back against the pillows. He tugged at the drawstring of her shift, and she crossed her arms to hold the cloth to her. Gently, he loosened her hold, and she let him, allowing him to bare her chest.

“You’re very pretty,” he said, raising a finger to one of her nipples. She held her breath as he touched her, closing her eyes when his hand inched the shift up her legs. She liked the warmth of his fingers on her skin, and she relaxed, her whole body softening. Jacob kicked off his breeches and lay on top of her. She opened her eyes wide when she felt his member pressing into the skin of her belly. So big? Jacob slid down to lie between her legs, and then he was inside of her and it was all over. Betty Hancock was now officially a married woman, and she still didn’t know if she wanted to be.

When the time came for him to leave, they had managed a couple of times more, and Betty was left strangely disappointed and sore, with the dawning realisation that this night might lead to a child. Jacob kissed her one last time, stroked her over her undone hair, and smiled.

“My wife.” He clambered out of the window and dropped to the ground below. A few moments later, he was gone, swallowed up into the night.

*

Jacob moved stealthily through the sleeping port.
Regina Anne
was due to sail at daybreak, and he had but an hour to make it on board without being noticed. He hadn’t been entirely honest with Betty. Captain Miles hadn’t offered him a place on board, would never offer him a place unless it was with parental consent. Jacob hefted his bag higher onto his shoulder and slunk along the shadows in the direction of the furthest end of the wharf.

For some minutes, he stood studying the
Regina Anne
, trying to assess how to best get on board. He sighed. He’d have to swim and clamber up her sides. Not that much of a trial this balmy August night, and a while later Jacob curled into a tight sodden ball in his chosen hiding place. He used his damp bag as a rudimentary pillow and closed his eyes, reliving the night. Not yet sixteen and already a man…

In his head, he saw Betty’s coppery eyes as they stared up at him. He felt a flash of guilt at leaving her to face their parents alone, but consoled himself with the thought that Mama would be there for her. He was almost asleep when an unsettling thought struck him, and he sat up so abruptly he banged his head against the low ceiling. Nay, he decided, they were too young for there to be issue; of course they were.

Some hours later, rough hands closed on Jacob. He was dragged from his makeshift bed by a sailor the size of a giant and frogmarched over to where the captain was waiting, looking anything but pleased.

“Jacob Graham.” He sighed. “And what am I to do with you? Whip you and set you ashore?”

Jacob grinned. The coast was dwindling fast behind him, and as to the whipping – no, he didn’t much believe in it.

“I want to see the world,” Jacob said, “now, before I grow too old.”

Captain Miles huffed with exasperation. “And do your parents know where you’ve gone?”

Jacob hitched his shoulders. “I left them a letter,” he replied in a tone far more relaxed than he was.

“You left them a letter? Daft lad! Matthew Graham is not going to like this, is he?”

Jacob ducked his head. A pit yawned inside of him at the thought of Da’s reaction.

“Besides, aren’t you under apprenticeship?”

“Aye, but I don’t want to be a man of law.”

“An absconded apprentice…” Captain Miles scratched at his cheek, all the while studying Jacob. “As I recall it, you’re contracted to…” He broke off and gave Jacob a compassionate look. “Ah, I see. You don’t like her.”

Jacob blinked, confused. “Like who?”

“The lass – Betty, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I like her very well. Once I’m back, we’ll wed properly.” Jacob stretched. A man, he was a married man.

“Wed properly? What have you done, lad?” Under the captain’s disapproving eyes, Jacob squirmed, but mumbled that handfasting was a recognised tradition.

“Handfasting?” The captain’s voice was incredulous. “You handfasted with a lawyer’s lass, and you think that will be binding?”

“Not in itself, but we…” Jacob made an unequivocal gesture, all of him swelling with pride.

Captain Miles seemed mightily unimpressed, two parallel furrows forming between his brows. “You’re a wee fool, Jacob Graham. What have you done? What have you left the lass to face alone?”

Jacob felt most of his bravado dissipate at the expression on the captain’s face. What had until now seemed a romantic gesture paled into unappetising tawdriness, and his ears heated at the thought of what they might all think of him. Bed with her and then be off, and Betty would be branded at a minimum a fool, at worst a slut. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to block out the sudden clear images of William Hancock and his wife Esther, and the way they stared at their youngest daughter.

“Maybe I should go back.” Jacob looked at the faint shoreline.

“Och aye? How? Are you a fish?” The first mate, Smith, laughed at his own joke.

“I can swim.” But not that far; even he realised that.

Captain Miles clapped Jacob on his shoulder. “Too late, son. We can’t turn back now. But you’ll be off this ship the moment we get to Edinburgh, and there I will turn you over into the hands of your uncle. And let us hope the wee wench isn’t too harshly whipped.”

Jacob’s guts wrenched at his words. No, he told himself, Mr Hancock wouldn’t do that. Surely he wouldn’t.

*

Betty couldn’t move. Her back, her thighs, but mostly her buttocks were one huge burning pain. When her father had discovered Jacob was gone, he had been most upset, but when he threatened to tear up the pre-contracts, she had defiantly told him it was too late, because she was a wife in all ways that counted. The silence that had fallen had been absolute. She’d heard her mother gasp an “oh, Betty” before her father’s hand had closed on her. He had dragged her upstairs and commanded her to undress down to her shift.

She hadn’t understood what was about to happen until her father had yelled for her one remaining unwed sister to come, and for Doris, the serving girl, to come up with his horsewhip. Still she hadn’t fully believed he would do it, because she had never seen him hit anyone before. Curtly, he’d told her to turn around and grab the bedpost, and to her surprise, he had tied her hands to it. She had yanked at her bindings, looking with brimming eyes at her mother.

The household had stood silent while her father explained that his daughter had shamed him, acting the whore to his erstwhile apprentice. When she protested, he had yelled at her to be quiet, to hold her tongue, depraved child that she was, and then he had raised his hand and brought the whip down for the first time.

Once he stopped, she was no longer crying: she was mute with pain and shock. When he had undone the ropes around her wrists, she had fallen neatly to her knees before her bed. A hand on her elbow helped her to stand; someone had eased her out of her bloodied shift, washed her and dressed her in cool linen before leaving her alone to meditate upon her sin and seek forgiveness from Our Lord.

*

Two days later, the door to her room was unlocked, and Betty was told to come downstairs. She dressed slowly, barely capable of moving without pain, and when she finally made her way down to the parlour, her father told her she was coming with him to break the news about Jacob to his parents. At his instructions, she returned upstairs to pack some clothes together. Her mother came to help, but Betty shook her head, turning her back until she left the room. If she was shocked by her father’s anger, she felt betrayed by her mother, and she vowed she would never speak to her again – at all.

To sit a horse was torture. Betty spent a considerable amount of time padding her backside with her skirts. Her father’s eyes burned into her back, and she hoped he was at least slightly ashamed of what he’d done to her. She was never going to forgive him for it, ever. She adjusted her straw hat so that her face and particularly her eyes were fully shaded, and sat waiting while her father kissed his family farewell. She had kissed her brother and sister, but had stood cold and unresponsive in her mother’s embrace, ignoring the look of hurt that flashed across her mother’s face.

BOOK: Serpents in the Garden
12.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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