A Devil of a Time
By Gretchen Jeannette
Captain Niall McLane might think he has survived the worst that could happen to any man, but as the bloody American Revolution draws to a close, he finds his troubles are just beginning. When Niall becomes a suspect in a grotesque murder, his reputation as a merciless Indian fighter and scalp hunter turns the public against him. Worse, the real killer has only begun to rampage, his sights set on those close to Niall.
Now the hunt for evil is on. Niall's only allies are Andrew Wade, a hopeless drunkard tormented by his act of cowardice, and Andrew's young wife, Clarice, a woman of mettle who captivates Niall’s heart. After another murder occurs, Niall manages to stay out of jail, but can he protect Clarice from the formidable creature prowling in their midst?
From the mysterious forests of Kentucky to a graceful Virginia plantation, from the fevered heat of battle to the passionate struggle for renewal, A Devil of a Time weaves a tale of courage, betrayal, and forbidden love, of three men grappling with the demons of their past, and the remarkable woman destined to change all their lives forever.
Shortly after supper, Niall slipped outside onto the veranda behind the mansion. A full moon shone through the treetops, bathing the world in opalescent light. Taking refuge in a shadowy corner beyond the spill of lantern glow, he drank in the splendor of Polly’s parklike estate. A luxuriant formal garden, extending from the veranda to the back of the property, encompassed a full acre of gently undulating grounds. Secluded pathways offered an escape into tranquility, winding among beds of native wildflowers, exotic shrubs, and ornamental trees, many in bloom. He could hear the music of a flute wafting through the night. Recognizing the light, silvery notes of a Handel sonata, he grimaced, for the song signaled the start of an amusement of paramount importance to this gathering: dancing.
On Polly’s orders, the musicians would commence with a round of four minuets, followed by a French cotillion in honor of her military guests. Once the ceremony of skilled footwork and dexterity concluded, the jigs, reels, and country dances would follow.
I cannot wait to show you off.
Niall scowled in the dimness, envisioning a catastrophe of missteps and lost rhythm, of Polly scolding him for not paying attention during his lessons. He turned as the veranda door opened, fully expecting to see Polly or a servant sent to summon him.
Clarice stepped outside. Scanning the veranda, she spied his figure cloaked in shadows, and although she could not make out his face, she knew him by a host of sensuous details. When he walked forward into the light, she caught the full view of his handsome appearance. Her body’s response to his nearness was immediate, unnerving in its intensity. “Have you seen Andrew?” she asked.
“Not for a while.”
“I’ve looked all over for him. I don’t know where he could be.”
“They’re playing cards in the upstairs sitting room. Did you look there?”
“No, I didn’t,” she said, wondering how intimately he knew the upstairs chambers of Polly’s house. “That must be where he went.”
“I’ll go have a look.”
“Please don’t trouble yourself. He’ll make his appearance eventually.” After a momentary silence, she ventured, “Are you getting some air?”
“I’m hiding from Polly.”
She smiled in surprise. “Why, pray tell?”
Just then, the opening notes of Bach’s Minuet in G Major floated through the air, prompting his reply, “That’s why. The minute I go back inside, she’ll want me to dance.”
“You make it sound like a punishment.”
“It is when you have two left feet.”
Then Clarice realized he was suffering from nervousness. This courageous man, who had battled scalp hunters in the deep woods, whose ferocious aggression helped turn the tide in a bloody Yorktown redoubt, was terrified of dancing before this crowd. That he made no effort to hide his apprehension touched her deeply. “You do not,” she chided. “I saw you dance on Twelfth Night. Anyway, no one cares if you miss a step.”
At that, Clarice yielded to a sudden impulse to banish Polly Stewart from his mind. “Dance with me,” she invited in a soft voice. “Let me see how you do.”
Niall started to decline, but then she drew near enough that the fragrance of her perfume invaded his senses. With the strains of a romantic melody stirring his blood, he watched her gather her skirts and dip a low curtsy. Thus persuaded, he bowed in response. The next thing he knew, their hands were joined, her palm warm against his skin. As he guided her into the first figure of the dance, the steps he had once trudged through came naturally, almost without conscious thought, enabling him to savor the passion of her movements. Like a mystical princess endowed with enchantment, she seemed to float across the veranda, commanding in her beauty and grace. Whether she was dancing by his side or slowly wheeling away or gliding forward in refined steps to clasp his hand, he found he was not merely performing with her but engaging in a kind of courtship under the starry heavens. With each touch, with every look exchanged, he matched the intensity in her eyes, beguiled by the lure of the forbidden that made her so unspeakably desirable. When the music dwindled through the final refrain, signaling the end of their communion, he cursed Bach for not writing a longer piece.
He faced her for the closing honors, bowing as she curtsied.
“You dance beautifully,” she said.
“You inspired me.” He kept his smile correct and polite, no easy feat with her standing within arm’s reach. “I had no idea the minuet could be so enjoyable.”
A blush of pleasure suffused her face. “I think you’re ready to face the public.”
He felt ready to take on the world. When he offered his arm, she accepted without hesitation, and together they returned to the ball.
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A Devil of a Time
Gretchen lives and works in Chester County, Pennsylvania, an area rich in Revolutionary War and Colonial American history. Her enduring interest in 18th Century America began at a young age, inspired by tales of adventure, romance, and early American lore. After working as an editor for a small publishing company, she decided to write a story of her own. So began a journey fueled by her passion for breathing life into history through believable characters, authentic historical details, and stories woven with romance, action, and adventure.