This Day is Ours
By Gretchen Jeannette
The American Colonies, 1776.
As the flames of revolution spread across a divided land, a shadowy figure prowls the streets of Philadelphia. Known only as Jack Flash, rebel highwayman, he preys on wealthy aristocrats loyal to the British Crown. The unpredictable outlaw always manages to stay one step ahead of his foes, until the night he targets a Loyalist lady whose fiery spirit could spell his doom.
Alexandra Pennington has her future well planned when a chance encounter turns her world upside down. Betrothed to a dashing king's man suited to her in every way, the young widow becomes entangled with an unrefined rebel fiercely opposed to British rule. Against all reason, she finds common ground with an enemy of the Crown. The sensible course for her is clear, but her bond with the notorious rogue will test her loyalty not only to her king but also to the man she vowed
Alexandra’s gaze flickered from one man to the other. For the life of her, she could not comprehend why Charles Villard went out of his way to include Lindsay in his circle of friends, most of whom seemed the intelligent sort. On the other hand, Charles’s willingness to accept this socially inept being indicated a charitable nature.
When a quartet of musicians hired for the occasion struck up a merry drinking song, Lindsay folded his hands over his breast, eyes fluttering. “Ah, ‘With Women and Wine I Defy Every Care,’” he sighed. “Listen to that sweet flute. How refreshing! Those churlish fifes and drums are all one hears anymore.” He signaled a steward for more wine. Plucking a lace-trimmed kerchief from his cuff, he blotted perspiration from his rouged face. “So tell me, Charlie, is North Wind ready for the race?”
“He’s not only ready; he’s unbeatable. So says my jockey, Sammy, and he knows him better than anyone.”
“Excellent! If Jameson had any backers, I would stake a frightful sum on your horse.”
“By any chance, have you seen Mr. Jameson’s stallion?” Alexandra wanted to know.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Then perhaps you shouldn’t be counting your chickens.” She could not say what inspired her next words, other than an intense dislike of Lindsay, but the challenge came forth unbidden. “I’ll be happy to accept your wager.”
Lindsay sputtered his surprise. “Oh my.”
“One hundred pounds?” she asked sweetly. “Is that frightful enough for your fancy?”
Lindsay turned his rheumy gaze on Villard, who shrugged and kept quiet, his face impassive. Lindsay looked back at Alexandra. “How can I resist such reckless derring-do? Very well, then. One hundred pounds it is.” He paused, suddenly distracted. “Charlie,” he murmured, looking toward the line of carriages parked in the drive, “the bumpkin hath arrived. Alexandra, isn’t that your coachman speaking with him?”
Turning, Alexandra saw Christopher Clue conversing with Dalton Jameson. From their animated gestures and easy smiles, she supposed this wasn’t the first time they had met. “So it is.”
“Perhaps we should leave him be,” Lindsay suggested with an attitude of distaste. “He’s clearly more at home with the help.”
Villard shot him a glance. “Mr. Jameson is my guest. I’ll thank you to remember that.”
“Never fear; I shall bravely endure his want of distinction and breeding. It’s sad to say, but I imagine his horse outranks him on both counts.”
Alexandra handed Villard her wineglass. “I’ll go and greet him.”
“I want to give him some advice about the course. You don’t mind, do you? After all, I have a tidy sum riding on him.” She left without waiting for his reply. Gazing around at the polished crowd, she knew they would frown on her rubbing shoulders with the lower sort. Her eyes danced as qualms about impropriety gave way to an impish urge to set them all on their ears, especially Charles for subjecting her to that annoying fop.
Approaching Dalton Jameson, she noticed two things about him: he was wearing the same clothes as when she first saw him, and they were not as clean as before. Preoccupied with untacking his stallion, Mercury, he glanced around on hearing her footsteps on the gravel drive.
She smiled a welcome. “Good afternoon, Mr. Jameson.”
“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m glad to see you again.”
“And I, you.” Now she was near enough to detect something else about him: he smelled of lye soap, but this did not mask the odor that came from working with livestock. She turned her attention to Mercury, noting his alert eye, his ears pricked forward in interest. “He knows something is afoot.”
“That he does,” Jameson agreed, “but he ain’t worked up, just curious.”
Mercury did indeed seem relaxed, which Alexandra attributed not only to his natural disposition but also to Jameson’s handling of him over the past three weeks. She asked her coachman, “Christopher, have you ever seen a more superb specimen of a horse?”
“Never, ma’am. I was just telling Dalton, he has all the earmarks of a champion.”
“Would you mind looking after him for a while? Mr. Jameson and I need to discuss the fine points of the race course.”
Clue’s quick, cheerful face lit up. “Mrs. Pennington,” he ventured in a sly voice, “did you bet on this rascal?”
“Why, yes,” she said, “because he’s going to win.” She met Jameson’s look of surprise. “Isn’t that so?”
“Count on it. I’ve never lost a horse race.”
Hearing this, Alexandra amended an impression she had formed during their first meeting. He wasn’t boastful, she decided, just that sure of himself. She asked him, “Will you walk with me in the garden?”
The casual invitation seemed to tongue-tie him for a moment. Then he smiled in that free and easygoing way she remembered. “I’d be honored, Mrs. Pennington.” He handed Clue the stallion’s lead rope. “If you wouldn’t mind, give him a little water and rub him down, then walk him under the trees. Just don’t let him graze.” Satisfied that his horse was in skilled hands, Jameson gave himself over to Alexandra.
They entered a terraced garden flourishing with hardy autumn blooms. After plucking a flower head of pink phlox, she twirled the stem between her fingers, acutely aware of the tall, earthy man walking beside her. Like his stallion, he seemed at ease yet watchful, patiently awaiting her lead. Enveloped in his musky scent, she began, “I hope you won’t think me impertinent, as I’m sure you know racing much better than me, but I observed some things about the course that might prove useful to you.”
“I’m all ears, ma’am.”
“To begin with, the ground past the stable is spongy from yesterday’s rain. You should keep to the outside, as near to the posts as possible. The footing there is much firmer.”
He nodded, thoughtful as he gazed straight ahead. “What else?”
“Just past the second turn, on the right is a small pond where some geese landed this morning. I believe they’re still about. I don’t know how Mercury responds to noises, but those birds began to trumpet when I rode past.”
Another nod accompanied by a lingering glance at her. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
She had worried that he might not take her seriously, but he seemed absorbed in weighing her advice. “Oh, and one other thing,” she said. “The wooded stretch of the course is tight. Be mindful of that once you come off the third turn, as the way narrows quickly.”
“You really know your stuff.”
She blushed with pride. When she looked him full in the face, the glare of sunshine revealed a quality of his aspect she couldn’t help noticing: the stronger the light, the better he stood it. “I’ve ridden a time or two.”
“And you know a prime bit of blood when you see one. I, myself, never laid eyes on Mercury’s equal. He’s a rare gem for sure, light in hand, willing to work, and good around people to boot. That reminds me, I noticed him catching your scent earlier. He seems to like the smell of your perfume. Being this close, I have to agree with him. You’re wearing rosewater,” he inhaled deeply, “with a bit of vanilla, am I right?”
She might have been put off by his boldness were his manner not so ingenuous. “Exactly right,” she said, amazed at how seamlessly he had turned the conversation from the safe ground of horse racing to the very personal matter of her fragrance.
His tone changed too, quieter and earnest when he asked, “Did you really bet on me?”
The wonder in his eyes made her smile. “I most certainly did.”
“Knock me down with a feather. What did your Mr. Villard have to say about that?”
“What could he say? It’s my money. More to the point, I happen to think Mercury is the better horse.”
“He is that, ma’am. He’s the fastest horse around, and no mistake. His speed plain takes my breath away.”
The thought struck her that the upcoming contest would be as much a tonic for him as a chance to line his pockets. From the buoyancy of his step to his adventurous air to the eagerness animating his countenance, he exhibited a competitive spirit. If he harbored any fear of losing, she saw no indication of it.
“I won’t repeat that to Charles,” she said. “He’s anxious enough about the match. But don’t worry”—her blue eyes sparkled with mirth—“he’s sure to be gracious in defeat.”
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This Day is Ours
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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.