By Anna Belfrage
“Who goes there?” Duncan demanded. “Show yourself before I shoot!”
In response, a woman stepped out from under the closest trees, the light of the returning day striking her face. “I was just biding my time,” she said in a low voice. “Didn’t want to wake you this early.” She craned her head back. “Good morrow to you, cousin.”
He didn’t recognise her at first. It could be the fading bruises or the slump of her shoulders that made it difficult to do so. This was a dowdy woman dressed in worn clothes who threw repeated looks over her shoulder, seemingly as skittish as a horse. But when she finally met his eyes, her lips quirking into a hesitant smile, he leaned out of the window.
“Aye.” She ducked her head.
“What in God’s name are you doing here? And at this ungodly hour, all alone?” he barked, and she flinched. She flinched! He gaped and felt Erin at his back, her hand on his shoulder.
“Hi,” she said, looking down at Lettie. “How about we let her in first before we start the inquisition?”
The moment he opened the door, Lettie stepped inside, throwing several looks over her shoulder. “There’s no one there,” he said, peering over her shoulder in the direction of the lane and the apple orchard that extended along one side of it.
“One never knows.” She shuddered. “The first person I saw once I’d disembarked in Philadelphia was that obnoxious Farrell." Her eyes met his. No need for more words than that. After all, she knew full well what Nicholas Farrell had done to ten-year-old Duncan. He fisted his hand at the unbid memories, recalling weeks of pain, months—nay, years—of fear, of always looking over his shoulder.
“Did he see you?” Duncan asked, studying her in the weak light that spilled through the narrow windows set on each side of the large double door. She shook her head, setting down the sad little bundle she was holding. “But I thought it best not to tarry in Philadelphia, so I set out directly.”
“Alone?” he asked.
“Aye. But I went canny.”
Lettie was tall for a woman, but the way she held herself, shrinking into herself, took several inches of her height. She wrung her hands repeatedly, revealing nails bitten to the quick and red and irritated cuticles as well as what looked like half-healed burns.
“Fat,” she muttered. “From the skillet.” She tugged at her sleeves, hiding most of her hands as she followed him to the kitchen.
It did not take long before Lettie was seated in the kitchen, sipping at the herbal tea Erin had made. His wife bustled about in only her nightgown and a shawl, her hair standing like a cloud around her.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Lettie staring at Erin, a deep furrow between her dark brows. “That’s your wife?” she finally said in an undertone, sounding incredulous.
“Yes.” Duncan swelled with pride. “That’s my Erin.” He smiled when his wife took a firm grip of her hair, twisted it into some semblance of neatness and hastily pinned it into place before turning to offer their impromptu guest bread and cheese.
“But she’s . . .” Whatever else Lettie had intended to say she swallowed back, thanking Erin for the food. She wolfed it down. Duncan shared a quick look with Erin before going back to stare with some awe as his cousin cleared the generous portion of bread and cheese in concentrated silence before sitting back with a little sigh.
Lettie caught him looking and flushed. “I was hungry,” she muttered. “I had coin enough to buy passage here, not much else.” She fretted with the ends of her shawl. “I did not dare stay with family in Annapolis—he’d go there first—so I stayed at a boardinghouse. But then I realised that it would not take him long to find me there, so . . .”
To Duncan’s consternation, Lettie bowed her head, a fat teardrop plopping down on the table.
“Hey,” Erin said, moving closer. “It’s okay, you’re safe now.”
“Okay?” Lettie dabbed at her eyes with her sleeve. “I cannot quite remember when I last heard someone say that.” She gave Duncan a teary smile, not quite looking in Erin’s direction. “Grandma Alex used to say that all the time.”
“Aye. That and bloody hell.” Duncan smiled. “And that last expression was very often related to your mischief.”
To his relief, that made Lettie laugh.
A cup or two of Erin’s herbal tea apparently had a soothing effect, at least to judge from how Lettie finally reclined in the chair.
“It’s your husband, isn’t it?” Erin said. “The one who’d come looking in Annapolis first,” she clarified.
“It is.” Lettie gave herself a little hug. “And I couldn’t go home to Graham’s Garden either.” She looked at Duncan. “But I am hoping he still thinks I am somewhere closer to Charles Town.”
“Charles Town?” Duncan frowned. “I though you lived in Jamestown.”
“I did. With my previous husband,” Lettie said with a little laugh that sounded brittle. “And when Aaron died in 1715, well, there was Emrick.” She shivered. “How could I be so foolish?” she muttered.
“Aye. I should have known better than to be swept away by him—him and his lying, treacherous eyes.” She suddenly looked directly at Erin. “Eyes the colour of emeralds, the colour of a viper’s eyes.”
Erin blinked, thick lashes shielding her eyes—green eyes flecked with gold.
Duncan cleared his throat and held out his hand to Erin, drawing her close enough that he could slip his arm round her waist. Lettie’s gaze followed his movement, her normally so generous mouth flattening into a tight line.
“Why would he think you’re still in—ah,” Erin said, “because of Blackbeard.”
Lettie nodded. “For once, God was on my side,” she said. “The Siren departed on the eve of the day Blackbeard began his blockade of Charles Town. I am hoping Emrick thinks I am still hiding somewhere nearby.”
“The blockade has been lifted,” Duncan said.
Lettie just nodded, swallowing repeatedly.
“He’ll not find you here,” Duncan said, even if he couldn’t really promise that. Once Lettie’s husband concluded she’d gone to Annapolis, it would not take him long to find out she had relatives living in Pennsylvania. “He might not even bother to come after you.”
In response, Lettie gave him a long look. “He will,” she whispered. “And God help me when he does.”
“Just because he finds you doesn’t mean you have to go back with him,” Erin objected, and Duncan frowned in warning.
“What?” Erin said. “He’s abusing her!”
“He is her husband,” Duncan replied, and at that Lettie broke down and wept.
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Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.
More recently, Anna has been hard at work with her Castilian series. The first book, His Castilian Hawk, published in 2020, is set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In the second instalment, The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain, while the third, Her Castilian Heart, finds our protagonists back in England—not necessarily any safer than the wilds of Spain! The fourth book, Their Castilian Orphan, is scheduled for early 2024.
Anna has recently released Times of Turmoil, the sequel to her 2021 release, The Whirlpools of Time. Here she returns to the world of time travel. Where The Whirlpools of Time had Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin navigating the complexities of the first Jacobean rebellion in Scotland, in Times of Turmoil our protagonists are in Colonial Pennsylvania, hoping for a peaceful existence. Not about to happen—not in one of Anna’s books!
All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.
Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, www.annabelfrage.com