A Historical Romance Novel


Cheapside Trilogy Book One

Judy Gerlach

Published by Wicket Gate Publishing
Lexington, Kentucky
Copyright © 2018 by Judy Gerlach

Chapter Links:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

CHAPTER ONE

Monday, March 14, 1859
Cheapside Auction Block, Lexington, Kentucky

A queasy feeling, heavy as lead, settled in the pit of Timothy Locker’s stomach. The twenty-five-year-old itinerant preacher fixed his eyes on the auction block ahead.

Cheapside. The mere thought of it triggered a rush of anger through his veins.

Narrowing his gaze over the sea of top hats before him, Timothy caught a glimpse of the sign posted to the platform’s wooden beam. He could only make out the larger words at the top, yet the injustice of Cheapside screamed at him from the first line alone: Auction and Negro Sales.

His jaw clenched.

A quick glance at the clock tower reminded him he was half an hour early. No sense in standing around doing nothing. The two men he was supposed to meet were nowhere to be seen.

The young preacher’s swift strides carried him to the corner of Short Street where he crossed over to the other side. Taking a right, he made his way along the boardwalk—past the bank, an attorney’s office, and a men’s clothier.

Not more than a few doors away, two nurses in gray uniforms caught his eye as they exited a doctor’s office. He watched them wave to a middle-aged, red-haired gentleman riding down the street.

Just as the red-haired man stopped and dismounted, the two men Timothy had been looking for earlier approached the man from the opposite direction.

“C’mon, Frank. We really need your support today.” Reverend Leonard Thompson’s tone gave away his desperation as he addressed the red-haired man. “Just once, stop thinking about your own selfish agenda and help us out.”

The man named Frank ignored Leonard while he tied his horse to the hitching post. Flicking his gaze to the two nurses, he exhaled a huge breath, his lips flapping from the force. A good yank on the rope followed by a forceful boot strike to the dirt, and he was soon waggling his finger in Leonard’s face. With a voice loud enough to draw attention from several passersby, Frank lit into Leonard. “What I do here is none of your business, so leave me alone! Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal!” The veins in Leonard’s neck throbbed. That was never a good thing.

One of the nurses—the shorter one with blonde tresses—dipped her head as she peered out from under her bonnet. The embarrassed look on her face suggested she’d rather not be a witness to this shouting match. Her eyes met Timothy’s, but she quickly averted her gaze to the other nurse, who seemed a bit frightened by the outburst.

Timothy tensed and held his breath while his other preacher friend, Micah, stood a few feet behind Leonard and remained silent. Which way was this altercation going to go?

Leonard thrust his pointer finger right back at the red-haired man. “Just once, Frank … just once … why can’t you work with us instead of against us?”

Frank snapped his head away from Leonard, kicked the hitching post then excused himself and waved good-bye to the nurses. He took off in a huff across the street.

Leonard brushed by Timothy. “I’m ready to go,” he rasped before he stormed off toward Cheapside, Micah trailing after him.

Timothy’s chest heaved. Leonard must really have something stuck in his craw today.

Nodding politely to the nurses, Timothy doffed his hat. Without giving it a second thought, he’d locked eyes with the pretty blonde nurse. Heat crept up his cheeks. “My apologies, ladies, for my friend’s lack of manners. Don’t know what got into him.”

“No worries.” The tall brunette flashed a smirk. “We really need to get our lunch now or we’ll be late to work.” She cupped the blonde’s elbow, prodding her toward the corner café.

The blonde wrenched her arm free, casting a shy smile to Timothy. “If you’ll excuse us, sir.”

“Certainly.” Timothy doffed his hat a second time. “Enjoy your lunch, ladies. Good day.”

Giggling, the nurses disappeared into the café.

Yes, enjoy your lunch, ladies. Go about your business like everything’s right with the world.

But everything wasn’t right. Didn’t anyone besides himself and his preacher friends care that human beings were about to be auctioned off?

Dipping his head against the stinging March wind, Timothy pressed forward across the street. He joined his companions near the edge of the courthouse lawn.

Chilly as it was, Leonard shrugged out of his frock coat and tossed it over his arm. Perspiration dampened his white shirt below his armpits, spilling onto his black waistcoat. His jaw twitched with every throb of the veins in his neck.

Timothy balked. Best not to ask about that argument now.

The clock tower tolled twelve times. Noon. Time for the bidding to begin.

Inside the pocket of his frock, a well-worn Bible slipped through his fingers.

As the first lot of goods emerged from the pen, he ran a finger along the inside of his high stiff collar and stretched his neck. How many times had he witnessed scenes such as this? There was no getting used to it.

Upon the block stood a young black girl named Lottie. Today, though, she was simply “Chattel No. 1.”

The girl’s faint whimpers, barely audible above the raucous din of voices, fell on Timothy’s ears. His stomach lurched, and he swallowed it back. If only he could shake that gnawing feeling deep in his soul. “This is utter madness.”

Leonard gave him a grim nod. Digging deep into his pocket, he scooped out a bulging purse. “Pray we have enough money to buy the girl. If we’d known sooner—if we’d been given more time—we could pay whatever it costs and set her free.”

Timothy faced Micah, who was himself a slave and the preacher of the slaves’ church. “I wish I could have contributed more, my friend.” He glanced at the girl on the block, feeling guilty for not getting back in town soon enough to help raise money. God help them … they had to be able to ransom the girl.

Micah leveled his eyes at Timothy. “Lottie had papers sayin’ she free. Did you know that? She a free girl until they grab her away. Ain’t no law gonna help Lottie.”

“That’s what I don’t understand. If Lottie was free, how did this happen?” Timothy searched Micah’s eyes. Such deep pain.

Micah pounded his fist into his hand. “They trick her, then they kidnap her.”

“Kidnapped?” Timothy quirked his brow at Leonard.

“Yes,” Leonard said. “We had less than a week’s notice. Micah informed me of Lottie’s plight the very moment he found out from her mother.” He jammed the thick purse back into the pocket of his frock. “Ruth told Micah right away, but it was hardly enough time for the congregation to collect the money we’d need. Everyone did the best they could.”

The buyers put out their cigars and threw them down, grinding the butts into the dirt with their boots. Catalogues and pencils in hand and purses padded to the full, they ceased their chatter.

Timothy secured his low-crowned hat over his tousled brown hair then shifted his focus back to the auction block. “Gentlemen, this is it.”

As the sale launched into full swing on the lawn of the Fayette County Courthouse, a gravelly voice from the front of the crowd echoed off the side of the building. “Four hundred!”

“Five hundred!” Leonard waved his hand high.

One bid, then another—randomly back and forth they flew. As the bids increased to a feverish pitch, the auctioneer stopped abruptly, cut off by a sudden interruption.

“Halt the bidding!” Leonard’s deafening shout rang across the lawn.

Timothy jolted. Leonard must have run out of money.

“It over.” Micah’s shoulders slumped.

With a sudden spring forward, Leonard pushed his way to the front. “Allow me a moment! It’s important.” He jumped onto the auction block.

Timothy shot Micah a questioning look, but Micah only shrugged.

The wide-eyed auctioneer laid down his hammer, stepped aside and adjusted his spectacles.

Leonard raised his arms, palms to the audience. “Please! Cease the bidding now! This girl has been fraudulently brought here for sale. She is a free black, I tell you!” His fist thudded against the auction stand. “Lottie Preston is the daughter of a recently deceased free man who purchased her freedom just before he died. Her widowed mother was tricked into handing over her daughter’s manumission papers!”

Timothy’s heart drummed against his ribs. Should he try to coax Leonard away?

“On with the bidding, I say!” Standing in front of Timothy, a gray-haired man with a mutton chop beard charged forward. “This ain’t no time for yer dern abolition speeches. Save your hellfire sermons for Sunday morning, preacher!”

“Why that …” Timothy lunged at the mocker.

“Stop.” Micah’s firm hand pulled him back. “You’d only make it worse for Leonard.”

A deputy rushed at Leonard from the side, jangling a pair of handcuffs.

Leonard stumbled and nearly fell. “You won’t need those, sir.” He straightened up and elbowed his way back to Timothy and Micah as the bidding resumed.

Here they stood—three men of God. Silent. Defeated. Dejected.

“Fifteen hundred dollars once! Fifteen hundred twice!” The auctioneer’s hammer came down hard. “Sold!”

Timothy flinched. Another sale. Another life.

Micah wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his coat. “Lottie’s father, he dead, and now she got no written proof of her freedom.”

“I’m sorry, Micah.” Timothy averted his gaze, quelling the urge to retch.

Leonard put a hand to Micah’s back. “We did everything we could.”

“I know.” Micah shook his head. “Now how I gonna tell Ruth her daughter been sold?”

“You shouldn’t go alone, Micah.” Leonard buttoned up the pocket where he kept the money pouch. “I’ll give you a ride out to the Trumbeaux Estate.”

“I’d like to go, too, if you don’t mind.” Shifting his weight from one leg to the other, Timothy unfolded a paper he’d stuffed between the pages of his Bible and showed it to Micah. “I already have these flyers posted for my camp meetings so I’m free for the afternoon.”

“I’d like that.” Micah scanned the flyer. “Looks good, my friend.”

As the three preachers made their way across the lawn, a well-dressed little black girl zipped toward them and crashed headlong into Timothy’s side. Her arms flew around him, and tear-drenched cheeks nestled into his frock. “Poor Lottie! Oh, Lord o’ mercy, Bro’er Tim, she done be sold!”

“We know, Brillie.” Timothy’s heart ached for the girl who’d been like a little sister to him ever since his host family in Lexington had rescued her from Cheapside. What if Brillie hadn’t been rescued? Where would she be? Could the same thing happen to her that just happened to Lottie? “I’m so sorry you had to see your cousin get sold.”

The skirt of Brillie’s green pinstripe dress swirled about as she shuffled her boot on the sparse lawn. “Aunt Ruth say y’all gonna buy Lottie. What happened?”

“We tried, Brillie. We just ran out of money.” Timothy gave a tug on one of Brillie’s long braids. “How about you ride with us to the Trumbeaux Estate to see Aunt Ruth? I’m sure Melia won’t mind if you go.”

“All right, Bro’er Tim.” Brillie pointed across the street. “She right over there.”

With an arm across Brillie’s shoulders, Timothy nudged her forward. “Let’s go tell Melia you’ll be with me.”

As they crossed the street, meandering through the crowd, the auctioneer’s hammer struck the wooden stand for the next round of bidding. Brillie gasped and jumped.

Timothy pulled her closer. What must it be like for her and Aunt Ruth?

♦♦♦

A downtown café

Nurse Haven Haywood carefully lifted a spoonful of hot potato soup, blowing softly on it twice before letting it pass through her lips. She glanced across the table at her coworker, Nurse Sarah Goolsby. “Mmm … Millie’s Café has the best soup anywhere.” Plucking the blue and white checkered napkin from her lap, she patted the corner of her mouth.

Sarah slurped soup off her spoon. ”Mmm … it’s delicious.”

A thirty-something black waitress in a coffee-stained calico dress, scuttled up to the nurses’ table, balancing a wooden tray in her hands. “Be needin’ some apple pie when you done with that soup?” She lowered the tray laden with several tempting slices of Millie’s pie of the day, sliding it until the edge rested on their table.

Haven leaned in, relishing the plump juicy apple slivers dripping with sugary cinnamon sauce. “Oh my … looks delectable. We’re short on time today, though. Could you wrap up a couple slices for us to take back to work?”

“Yessam. I can do that.”

As the waitress moved on to the next table, Sarah plunked her elbow down by her soup bowl, sinking her chin into her palm. “Haven, tell me, why was your pa arguing with that preacher a while ago?”

“I don’t know, Sarah. Pa argues with a lot of people.” Sipping her coffee, Haven stared past Sarah to the painted letters on the glass window that read Millie’s Café backwards. “I think it was about the auction.”

“I thought so.” Sarah’s lips formed a playful grin. “I saw you smiling at that other preacher. You know—the younger one.”

“So, what’s wrong with that? Aren’t I allowed to smile at someone?”

“Yes, but it’s the way you smiled, and the way he looked at you.” Sarah’s elbow slipped off the table. She quickly straightened herself up. “I know you too well.”

Haven squirmed in her chair, bumping her shoe against the table leg. “You just think you do.”

“Well, I thought he was handsome. I know he had his eye on you.” Sarah pointed her index finger, almost touching Haven’s nose. “I saw him blush.”

“Stop it, Sarah.” She swatted Sarah’s finger away. “You’re imagining things.”

Sarah pursed her lips. “I never imagine anything.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” Pushing her bowl aside, Haven cleared a spot for her reticule.

“You know he was cute, Haven.” Sarah lifted her coffee cup, peering over the rim.

“I’ve got no room for a man in my life.” She had to agree with Sarah, though. He sure was cute. No … handsome. Both, actually. What did it matter, anyway? She wasn’t interested.

“When the time is right, we’ll know. Right?” Sarah fished around in her reticule and scooped out some loose change. Lifting her gaze, she flashed a smile to the waitress, who’d just brought them their slices of pie.

“Funny, that’s what Ma always …”

The town clock tolled once. Haven pushed away from the table. “Heavens to Betsy, Sarah. How can it be one o’clock already?”

“That’s what you get for flirting.” Sarah slapped some coins on the table.

“Sarah, stop it. I mean it.” Haven flung her mantle over her shoulders. “I wasn’t flirting with anyone.” Was she?

“Yes, you were.”

Adjusting her cap, Haven dashed out the door, Sarah close on her heels. She made a sharp left onto the boardwalk—just in time to catch sight of the preacher Sarah thought was so cute. But her jutting elbow slammed into the red, white and blue striped pole in front of the barber shop next door. “Ow!”

Mr. Cute looked her way and smiled before he climbed into a carriage.

How could one handsome face possibly be so distracting?

 

CHAPTER TWO

The Trumbeaux Estate

Leonard turned his modest carriage into the lane of a massive estate. “Welcome to Monsieur Maurice Trumbeaux’s humble abode.”

Timothy chuckled as he scanned the endless acres of land. Reaching back to the little girl snuggled under Micah’s protective arm, Timothy tapped on her knee. “Brillie, you’ve not said a word the whole way here.”

Brillie frowned. “Ain’t got nothin’ to say, Bro’er Tim. Too angry.”

Timothy skewed his lips. This was harder than he thought it would be. “Brillie, can you tell me about your aunt? What does Ruth do here?”

“Sure, I tell you about Aunt Ruth.” The girl’s face brightened. “She a maidservant to Miz Jeannette—that Massa Trumbeaux’s wife. She real nice.”

“Aunt Ruth sounds very special.” Timothy smiled at Brillie then looked at Leonard. “You mentioned Lottie was kidnapped. Didn’t Trumbeaux try to get Lottie back?”

“He was out of the country when it happened.” Leonard kept his gaze on the lane. “The whole family went to France to visit his parents. I don’t think they’re home yet, so he doesn’t even know.”

“No wonder Brillie’s upset.” Timothy leaned forward. “She was counting on us.”

A white mansion with six thick columns came into view as they rounded a bend. Timothy gaped. “Is that their house?”

Leonard grinned. “Indeed, it is. Greek Revival at its finest.”

A plump woman in a white-trimmed black dress, bouncing her way toward the house, goaded a young boy along in front of her. He held a canning jar in each hand, whining every time she poked him.

“Ain’t never knowed a boy could take so long to fetch some apple butter!” The woman scolded the boy in between pokes.

Timothy glanced back at Brillie.

“That be Cora.” Brillie perked up. “She Aunt Ruth’s friend.”

As Leonard slowed down in the circular drive, Cora stopped by the steps and stared at them. Her hands flew to her cheeks, and she spun on her heels, facing the mansion.

“Ruth! Ruth!” Cora scuttled up the portico steps. “Brother Leonard here with Micah! Praise the Lord—they done bring Lottie back! Come on out here, Ruth!”

“Uh-oh.” Timothy’s heart stopped. “Did you hear that?”

“Yes … she thinks we have Lottie.” Leonard shook his head. “She must have seen Brillie’s bonnet and thought she was Lottie.”

Micah squeezed Brillie’s shoulder. “Lord, help us.”

Seconds later, a petite woman wearing a dress like Cora’s, appeared at the door. “Lottie!” She brushed past Cora and almost knocked her over as she raced down the steps, waving her arms high. “Thank you, Jesus! You done save my Lottie.”

When the carriage came to a stop, Brillie wiped her tears, sprang from the back seat and sprinted over to Ruth. Ruth looked past Brillie and craned her neck, standing on her tiptoes.

Micah approached her slowly. “I’m so sorry, Ruth.”

Timothy’s stomach churned. What could be more painful than a mother’s joy shattered into a million pieces?

Ruth dropped to her knees. “No, no!” Her cries rent the air from the lane to the mansion. Rocking back and forth, she lifted her face toward heaven. “God of mercy, it ain’t so! Not my Lottie. She all I got left, Lord. No-o-o!”

“It a wicked thing, Ruth.” Micah helped her to her feet. “Lottie draw such a high price, we just not have the money. Brother Leonard, he try powerful hard.”

Leonard’s gaze fell. “It weighs on me heavily.”

Timothy hopped down and stood next to Micah. He tipped his hat to Ruth. “Hello, ma’am. I’m Micah’s friend, Timothy Locker. I’m sorry to meet you under these circumstances. But Micah is right—Brother Leonard tried his very best.”

A harsh wind whooshed in. Ruth leaned into Micah’s arms. “It not supposed to happen this way.” She shivered, hugging her shoulders.

Micah took off his cloak and wrapped it around her. “Let’s get you inside.” He flattened his hand against the small of her back, guiding her toward the portico. “When Trumbeaux coming back?”

“Massa and Missus, they be gone another week or two.” Ruth rubbed her sleeves across her wet cheeks. “Oh, Micah, if only Massa Trumbeaux come home now, he fix everything. The overseer, Massa Hughes, he say this all my own doing.”

Timothy walked alongside them. “It’s not your fault, Ruth.”

As they neared the steps of the mansion, the overseer rode up to the front where the workers had congregated. “Back to work or I’ll have your hide!” Hughes lashed a whip in the air.

Suddenly, dogs in the distance barked and horses’ hooves pounded louder and louder.

“Sounds like riders coming our way—and fast.” Timothy lifted Brillie into the carriage. “Stay here with Brother Leonard and don’t get out. You understand?”

Brillie twisted clusters of her pinafore in her trembling fingers. “I won’t, Bro’er Tim.”

Three men on horseback and two hounds turned into the circular lane by the front portico. Great puffs of dust and dirt billowed up in their trail. One of the men held his gun high as his horse slowed to a walk.

“Blast those catchers, anyway!” Hughes jerked the reins to the right forcing his horse to face the intruders.

The three horsemen stopped in front of Hughes. The man waving the gun spoke first. “Hughes, where’s Trumbeaux?”

“Away on holiday in France. I’m in charge now.” Hughes flashed a scowl. “What do you want, Cal?”

“We been deputized by Sheriff Hines to search for two runaways, both of ‘em boys. One’s nineteen and the other’s thirteen. Names are Pete and Shadow. Been missing since late morning, right around auction time.” The gunman named Cal did a quick scan of all the workers.

Micah squeezed Ruth’s jittery hands, and Timothy kept an eye on both of them. Hadn’t Ruth been through enough already?

Beady little slits sharpened Cal’s sneer as he rode down the line of slaves and back. Snapping up a brown leather pouch hanging from a lanyard around his neck, he thrust his pointer finger and thumb inside. A few thick, shredded leaves of chewing tobacco escaped from the pinched wad as he crammed the rest into his mouth and began chomping away. “We’re gonna have us a look around the place and let these here hounds do some sniffing. You know the routine.”

“Yeah, I know your routine.” Plunging forward in the saddle as his mount sidestepped and reared, Hughes grabbed a fistful of mane and patted the horse’s neck. “Whoa, boy! Easy now.” Turning to the tobacco-chewing man, he rasped, “Get on with it!”

Cal spat, then flashed a snarky grin. “Everyone stay right where you are until we’re done. Tolbert, you take the north grounds; Artie, you take the south.”

Timothy glanced over at Brillie as Tolbert and Artie galloped off in opposite directions. Good—she hadn’t budged.

Thirty minutes later, they all convened near the bottom of the portico steps, empty-handed.

Walking up to the carriage, Cal pointed at Brillie. “You was at that auction today, weren’t you?”

Timothy eased closer to the carriage, a prayer on his lips for Brillie. Terror marked her face. If that man so much as laid a hand on Brillie …

“Look at me, girl!” Chewed tobacco sprayed from Cal’s mouth. “Answer me!”

Timothy mustered all the fruit of the Spirit he could—especially the self-control part. He could sure use an extra dose of that. “Go ahead, Brillie. Answer the man.”

“Yessuh.” Brillie’s lower lip protruded.

Cal swiped his stained sleeve over his wet beard. “What do you know about Pete and Shadow running off?”

“Nothin’!” Brillie’s voice took on a higher pitch. “No ways.”

“Don’t lie to me, you little—”

“The young lady said she doesn’t know anything about it, Cal!” Leonard sprang to his feet. “She’s been with me every moment since the auction!”

“Don’t take that tone with me, preacherman. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s a loud-shoutin’ preacher.” Cal plopped one arm on the side of Leonard’s carriage and leaned in. “And why are you out here, anyway?”

“Reverend Locker and I brought this little gal and Brother Micah here to inform Ruth that her daughter was sold. That’s all.” Leonard’s scowl deepened. “Now, if you don’t mind, I must get Brother Micah back to his master before he gets reported as missing or runaway.”

Cal walked over to Micah. “Let me see your pass.”

Micah reached in his pocket, but all three gunmen cocked their pistols quicker than a duel at high noon. Micah froze.

With a flick of his wrist, Cal waved his partners closer. “Tolbert, Artie, check him for weapons.”

After a brief frisking, Micah again reached into his pocket and pulled out his pass. He handed it to Cal who looked at it and handed it back.

“All right, you can go.” Cal unhitched his horse and mounted, the dogs following him. “Blast those dogs! Couldn’t track a scent if you spread it out on a platter in front of ‘em.”

Hughes rode up to Cal. “Are you about done?”

“Done for now! ‘Spect we’ll be back afore long, though.” Cal spit a wad and rode off with his partners.

Micah walked with Ruth up the steps where Cora stood waiting then returned to the carriage. Cupping his mouth, he shouted, “Take good care of Ruth, Cora!”

Timothy puffed his cheeks and blew it out before landing a hearty slap on Micah’s shoulder. “Ruth must be pretty special.” No mistaking the longing look on his friend’s face.

 

♦♦♦

Haven Hill Farm

Haven Haywood tucked her youngest brother in bed and tousled his hair—a habit she knew greatly annoyed him. “Have a good nap, Hank.”

“I’m way too old for naps.” The ten-year-old boy rolled over and punched his pillow.

“Ma makes me take naps sometimes, too.”

Frowning intensely, Hank straightened his hair where she’d mussed it up. “And don’t do that again.”

Haven stuck her tongue out at him and closed the door then walked down the hall to her parents’ room. Finding the door slightly ajar, she poked her head inside. “Ma? May I come in?”

“Of course, dear.” Ma lowered the book she’d been reading. “You’re home early today.”

Sitting on the edge of the bed, she kissed Ma’s cheek. “Dr. Wright sent us home because of the storm threat. But he asked us to come early in the morning to organize supplies before patients start trickling in. I have to leave before breakfast.”

“All right, dear.”

Haven tapped the cover of Ma’s book. “I thought you already read Jane Eyre, Ma.”

“It’s still good the second time around.”

Haven stayed seated on the bed.

Ma tucked a bookmark between two pages, clapping the book closed. “All right, sweetheart. Something’s eating at you. What is it?”

“Ma, I was wondering … does it bother you that I chose a career over courting?”

“Don’t be silly, Haven. Your pa and I are very proud of you.”

“I needed to hear you say that.” Haven rose to her feet. “Sarah’s been flirting with every man that looks at her cross-eyed, and she teases me relentlessly about getting a beau.”

Like that preacher I met today.

“You’ll know when it’s time, dear.” Ma cozied down into the mattress and grinned.

“That’s what I told Sarah you’d say!”

 

♦♦♦

The Roberts farm

Fast-moving charcoal clouds threatened the darkening sky during the short jaunt to the Roberts farm—an unassuming place Micah called home as a slave. Timothy angled his face upward to the thick pockets of water overhead. “Doesn’t look good, Leonard. Hope it holds off until we get back into town.”

“Me, too.” Leonard turned the open carriage into the lane of the small hemp farm. “Wouldn’t that be the perfect way to end this day?”

“No, thanks.” Timothy looked back over his shoulder at Micah. “How’s Brillie?”

“Still asleep.” Micah glanced down at the child nestled under his arm.

Timothy drew in the crisp farm air. “I think it’s been a year since I was here.”

Micah nodded. “I believe that’s right. You brought Brillie out to my church social. Not sure if we’ll have a social this year. Massa been havin’ some health issues off and on.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Leonard drew the carriage to a stop by the slave quarters—three modest, one-room cottages.

A dog yelped, and Brillie bolted upright in her seat. “Who’s that?”

Micah reached over the side and scooped the puppy up in his arms. “Lazarus, my boy, you came to greet me.” He placed Lazarus on Brillie’s lap. “What you think, Brillie?”

Brillie’s face brightened as the puppy bathed her with wet puppy kisses. “He so cute.”

Timothy reached back to stroke the pup. “Nothing like a cute puppy to cure what ails ya. Right, Brillie?”

Brillie giggled as she burrowed her fingers into a pile of fur. “This here puppy sure do like me. Wish I could take him home.” She lifted the puppy and kissed him on the nose. “Why you call him Lazarus, Bro’er Micah?”

“Well, Brillie, when that pup come out, his little body be limp as a wet rag.” Micah tickled the puppy behind its ears. “Thought he was dead, but after I stroked him, he come alive—just like Lazarus in the Bible.”

Brillie squeezed Lazarus, pressing her cheek against his snout. “This here’s a special pup.”

A slave woman named Martha skittered over to the carriage and looked up at Micah. “If it weren’t for this here pup, I might be done with my chores by now.” She gathered the puppy from Brillie’s arms.

Micah climbed down and stood next to the carriage. “Brillie, you come visit soon. You can play with Lazarus.”

“I will, Bro’er Micah.” A huge grin stretched across Brillie’s face as she wiggled in her seat.

Picking dog hairs off his cloak, Micah faced Martha. “How Massa Roberts today?”

Martha’s smile faded into a frown. “Massa done took sick again. Been in bed all afternoon, givin’ Miz Cilla fits.” She cuddled the squirming puppy closer. “Bear, he try and help Miz Cilla, but she be a frettin’ all day.”

Timothy furrowed his brow. “I’m sorry to hear that, Martha. Tell Bear I said hello.”

“You should go check on Roberts, Micah.” Leonard gathered up the reins. “I’d best be getting Brillie and Timothy back to Melia’s house before that storm hits.” He looked up at the bulging clouds.

“You’re right. I best be seein’ what I can do to help. Keep my mind off …” Micah rubbed the back of his neck as he turned away and faced his small log cottage.

“Off what, Micah?” Martha sported a mischievous grin as she stroked the pup’s fur. “Or who?”

Micah shook his head. “Martha, Martha, you need to be a mindin’ your own business.”

A snicker escaped Timothy’s mouth before he could stop it. At least he knew he wasn’t the only one who suspected Micah had a woman on his mind. That widow I just met at the Trumbeaux Estate? Fancy that … Micah’s in love.

Martha planted her free hand on her hip. “You need a good wife, that what you need. I just a tellin’ Bear last night how our friend Micah need a good woman.” She pivoted and walked toward her cottage.

Micah trailed after her. “And what Bear say?”

Martha glanced over her shoulder. “He say, ‘Martha, you need to be a mindin’ your own business.’ That what Bear say.”

 

CHAPTER THREE

The Delaney home

Timothy strode across Melia’s foyer to the hall tree, Brillie stringing along with him. “I’ll hang up your coat and bonnet. Run on upstairs and let Melia know we’re home.”

The moment Brillie’s shoe hit the first step, Melia’s voice floated down from the upstairs hallway. “Avery? Is that you?”

“No, Miz Meely, it’s me—Brillie.” Her plaited hair dangled down her back as she tilted her head upward. “And Bro’er Tim.”

Melia appeared at the top landing. “Thank goodness you’re home. Come up here and freshen up while I talk to Timothy. Avery and his sister are due in today.” She made her way down the staircase as Brillie skipped the rest of the way up.

“Sorry we’re late, Melia.” Timothy hung his coat next to Brillie’s.

Melia set her needlework on the bench by the stairwell. “How did Brillie’s aunt take the news about her daughter?”

Timothy leaned against the balustrade. “Not well, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, Timothy, I can’t imagine such pain.” Melia stared at the front door sidelights, adjusting a hairpin in her dark blonde tresses.

“Me neither. How can people be so cruel?”

“Very sad. Come … let’s have a cup of tea in the parlor while you tell me everything that happened.” Melia picked up her needlework. “Take this, please. Set it on the table by my chair. I’ll have Mrs. Perky prepare a tray. Be right back.”

Timothy warmed his hands by the hearth while he waited. The house seemed so quiet—except for the occasional clanging of a pot or pan in the kitchen.

A few minutes later, Melia returned to the parlor and set a tray with teacups and a plate of gingersnap cookies on the pedestal table. “I know you must be hungry, young man.” She took a seat in one of the two wing chairs by the table.

Timothy plopped into the other chair. “Come to think of it, I am.”

Melia lifted her teacup, balancing the saucer in her other hand. “Did you get your flyers posted for your camp meeting?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Timothy snagged a cookie.

“Good.” Melia rested her cup and saucer on her lap. “Now tell me what happened at Cheapside.”

Timothy finished off the cookie then relayed the chilling events of the auction.

Melia’s eyes widened. “Heavens be … I might have fainted!”

With a heave of his shoulders, Timothy nodded. “I came close.”

“If only Avery had been home.” Melia patted her lips with a napkin. “He had to pick up his sister in New York. Alifair’s coming to live with us, you know. Her husband recently passed away. A bad bout of cholera took him.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Did I mention she’s pregnant? She didn’t find out about the baby until after William died.” Melia ran her finger around the rim of her teacup. “Avery insisted she come here. She doesn’t have any other family.”

“How kind of you and Avery to open your home to her.” He brushed some crumbs off his shirt then fixed his gaze on the crackling flames of the hearth.

Melia reached across the table and patted his arm. “You’re still thinking about the girl at the auction, aren’t you?”

“Sorry.” Timothy set his cup and saucer next to Melia’s.

“Oh, don’t be. But what’s done is done.”

“I’m certain Trumbeaux won’t let this matter rest when he returns from France.” Timothy slapped the chair arm.

Someone knocked on the front door, and Melia shot to her feet.

Timothy hurried past her. “I’ll see who it is.”

“Telegram for Melia Delaney.” A teenage boy waved an envelope.

“I’ll be right there!” Melia vaulted into the foyer, her fingers stuffed into a reticule jingling with loose change. She tipped the messenger and snatched the telegram.

Timothy closed the front door. “What’s it say?”

“Good gracious, Timothy!” Melia’s jaw dropped. “Avery and Alifair are due to arrive by stage at five o’clock. Would you mind picking them up? If you leave now you can make it.”

“Don’t mind at all.” Timothy snatched his coat and hat from the hall tree as a flash of lightning triggered a window-rattling rumble of thunder.

“Better take an umbrella.” Melia opened the front door and looked up at the sky. “And take the large carriage, too. Alifair is sure to have quite a bit of baggage with her.”

“I’ll take care of it, ma’am.” Timothy buttoned up his frock and headed to the back door.

As he passed through the kitchen, Mrs. Perky stopped stirring the custard for the pudding. “Will you be joining the family for supper, Reverend Locker?”

“Mmm, mmm … yes, Mrs. Perky. Whatever that is you’re cooking, it sure smells good!”

The plump housemaid blushed. “Thank you, sir.” A few whimsical curls bounced beneath her white maid’s cap.

An hour later, Timothy lumbered through the kitchen, escorting a very travel-weary Alifair. “We’re back, Melia!” He supported the pregnant woman with one arm around her waist and his other hand under her elbow.

Melia rushed to meet them. “Oh no! What’s wrong with Alifair?”

“She needs to lie down … quickly. Says she’s having contractions.”

“Let’s get her to the parlor. She can lie on the chaise.” Melia draped Alifair’s other arm across her shoulders.

Rapid flashes of lightning lit up the room as Timothy eased Alifair onto the chaise.

Melia spread an afghan over her. “Where’s Avery?”

Timothy backed away from the chaise, his eyes fixated on the lovely creature lying there.

“Timothy?” Melia poked his arm.

“Oh … he’s in the carriage house tending to the horses. He’ll be in shortly.”

Brillie sauntered into the room and over to Melia.

Crack!

“Gracious me!” Melia jumped, pulling Brillie with her.

“I’m skeerd of lightning, Miz Meely.”

A fierce hammering at the front door followed by the maid’s ear-splitting scream sent Melia airborne again. “What in merciful heavens?”

Timothy dashed toward the foyer, and Melia darted after him, leaving Brillie with Alifair. Her hands flew to her cheeks, and Timothy pulled her back as they faced the intruders.

The maid cowered by the staircase landing, wringing her apron and trembling like a cornered mouse.

“Who are you?” Melia’s shrill voice just about split Timothy’s eardrums.

“I know who they are.” Timothy glared at the trespassers. “They were out at the Trumbeaux Estate this afternoon looking for some runaways.”

Cal kicked the front door shut and faced Melia, brandishing a gun while the others restrained their hounds. “Sorry to frighten you, ma’am. The name’s Cal.” Tobacco juice dribbled down his beard. “You wouldn’t happen to know where I might find those runaway boys, would you, Mrs. Delaney?”

“I don’t have any idea what—”

Crack! Crack! Lightning flashed in broken spurts.

Cal moved closer to Melia, his beady eyes narrowing even more. “Now see here, Mrs. Delaney, we got reason to believe you do.”

“I do not!”

Timothy dived at Cal. “This is ridiculous!”

“Get back and shut up, preacher.” Cal took aim at Timothy’s chest.

“Miz Meely?” Brillie’s tiny voice trembled from the parlor. “Who’s out there? I skeerd.”

“Hmm … who might that be?” Cal shifted his beady eyes to the parlor. “Reckon I’ll have to have myself a little look around.”

“No!” Melia pushed past Cal and blocked the parlor entrance. “This is my house! I don’t give you permission to go traipsing through it—you and your disgusting bounty hunters!”

“Don’t need your permission, ma’am.” Cal sported an evil grin.

Timothy eased closer to Melia, but Cal grabbed Melia by the arm and shoved her aside.

“Blast you, Cal!” Avery Delaney had entered the foyer from the back of the house. “Don’t you ever lay a hand on my wife again!”

“You know him?” Tears glistened in Melia’s eyes.

“Unfortunately.”

“Look here, Delaney, I don’t mean to cause no harm, but I gots a job to do here, see.” Cal backed away from Melia. “Just calm down.”

She ran to Avery’s side. “Oh, Avery, these dreadful men burst into our house like they own it.”

“Silence!” Cal glowered at them.

Avery drew Melia closer. “All right, then, why are you here, Cal?”

Cal lowered his gun. “Lookin’ for a couple of runaways, Delaney.”

Melia’s knuckles whitened as she tightened her grip on Avery’s arm. She nodded toward Mrs. Perky, who hadn’t budged from her spot by the landing. “I’d appreciate it if you’d allow the maid to go in the parlor, too.”

Cal waved the maid over. “Go on. Get in there.”

Avery glared at the slave catchers. “My sister is with child and needs immediate medical attention. I’ll thank you to leave my house now!”

“Not until we search the place, Delaney.” Cal got right up in Avery’s face. “Now move aside.”

“Back off, Cal.” Utter repugnance contorted Avery’s features. “Man, you stink. Just take your hounds and hurry it up!”

Timothy stood by the parlor entrance as Mrs. Perky sat wringing her apron in silence.

Cal stayed near the front door. Snatching the empty, floral-painted tole tray—the one Melia used for the family’s missives—from the small foyer table, he spat out the foul-smelling wad of tobacco and slammed the tray back on the table.

Avery’s face twisted into a sneer. “Nice to see you’ve refined your manners, Cal.”

The clock in the parlor chimed seven times. Raindrops pattered against the windows before hammering down like a cloudburst. A few minutes later, Cal’s men returned to the foyer.

“Satisfied?” Avery’s face radiated an angry crimson. “Now, I’ll thank you to remove yourselves from these premises!”

Cal tipped his hat to the family. “Thanks for your hospitality. Much obliged.”

As soon as Cal’s boots hit the porch, Avery slammed the front door. He turned the key in the deadbolt and checked it twice.

Melia pulled Timothy aside. “I hate to send you out in the rain but I need you to fetch Dr. Wright from his house. His office is closed now.” She scrambled through the pigeonholes of the maple secretary for a scrap of paper then wrote down the address. “It’s only four blocks.”

“I’m on my way.” Timothy took off in Avery’s small covered buggy and returned with the doctor in less than thirty minutes.

Melia’s face lit when Dr. Wright entered the parlor. “Oh good! I’m glad Timothy found you. Alifair’s right over here.”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll wait in the foyer.” Avery turned, tapped Timothy’s shoulder and nodded toward the parlor entrance. “Come, Timothy. Fill me in on what happened today.”

Timothy took a seat on the foyer bench next to Avery, leaned over and rested his elbows on his lap. Time to relive the ordeal. Again …

“What a day, Timothy.” Avery straightened his back and leaned against the wall. His eyes hardened. “Listen … about those boys, I have to tell you …” He cleared his throat. “I think I saw them as the stage was nearing Lexington.”

Timothy sat up straight. “I’m all ears.”

“I’d been staring out the window of the coach, half asleep. Just northeast of Lexington a sudden movement at the edge of the woods caught my attention.” Avery stretched out his short legs, crossing his ankles. “At first, I thought I’d seen a couple of animals, but it soon became clear the figures were human. Looked young to me.”

Timothy raked his fingers through his hair. “You know I must go check it out.”

“Now?” Avery quirked his brow. “In the dark?”

“No, but I must leave before dawn. Sounds to me like they’re lost.” Timothy angled his head and put a hand to Avery’s shoulder. “Pray that my connection in Ripley will be available. The conductor there can give them passage across the Ohio on a little skiff.”

“My prayers always go with you, son.” Avery fingered the watch fob on his waistcoat and glanced at the time. “It’s half past eight already.”

Dr. Wright walked into the foyer. “Your sister’s going to be fine. The contractions have stopped. I’m certain it was the long, bumpy ride in the coach.”

Avery pushed himself up from the bench. “That’s what I suspected.”

Timothy crossed the foyer with the doctor. “Finally, some good news.”

Dr. Wright faced Avery. “Keep her on bed rest a few days.” He grabbed his coat and hat from the hall tree. “Looks like the rain has stopped. I’ll just walk home.”

The aroma of cinnamon chicken wafted past Timothy’s nostrils. His stomach growled. He could eat the whole chicken.

The family gathered in the parlor, and he took his regular place at the dining table, surprised to see Alifair seated directly across from him. She smiled, and his breath caught. A strange lump lodged in his throat. Wasn’t she supposed to be on bed rest?

Those eyes of hers … a rare pale green … like the sun-kissed surf of the sea. Fascinating. Except she’s a widow. A pregnant widow.

For the second time in one day, he found himself captivated by a pretty face. First the nurse downtown and now Avery’s sister.

This nonsense had to stop.

Making every effort to divert his attention to anything but Alifair, he rushed through his meal and pushed away from the table. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll retire to my apartment.”

“Goodnight, Timothy.” The whole family spoke at once, but for some reason, his eyes locked with Alifair’s.

“Goodni—” His voice cracked. He cleared his throat. “Goodnight.”

How embarrassing.

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Haven Hill Farm

“Stick ‘em up or I’ll shoot!”

Haven dropped a comb, and Ma sprang from her vanity stool.

The two Haywood women turned to find themselves face to face with the business end of a small gun. Ma shook a gilded hand mirror at the bandit. “Henry Colton Haywood, you put that thing down right now or I’ll tan your hide!”

“Ah, Ma.” Hank thrust his lower lip out and stuffed the makeshift toy gun into its holster.

Grinning at her little brother, Haven stooped to pick up the comb. She’d been helping Ma pin up her long brown hair.

The boy hooked his thumb in the holster. The pistol had been fashioned for him from a broken and unusable gun by their uncle, Brady Haywood—a real life cowboy complete with jeans, suede vest, bandana, boots with silver spurs, and a wide-rimmed, felt hat made out of beaver hair.

Ma sported her “this is your last warning” frown. “You know I think the world of Uncle Brady, but I don’t like the way you behave whenever he’s about to visit.”

Haven tugged on Ma’s hair and put the last pin in place. “Hank, how many times has Ma told you it’s an outdoor toy?”

“Sorry. Guess I forgot.” Hank’s head drooped. He peered up at Ma through his uncombed brown locks. A pair of large brown eyes begged for mercy beneath the rim of his kid-sized western hat.

Ma took his hand and walked him over to the door of her bedroom. “Oh, Hank. Where’s Ella this morning anyway?” She poked her head out into the hall. “Ella!”

Hank’s mammy skipped up the stairs. “I right here, Miz Becky! Where that boy go? He slippery as a baby pig in the mud!”

“Ella, see to it that Hank refrains from playing with that toy in the house.” Ma fingered a tuft of Hank’s messy hair. “And please see that he is cleaned up and ready on time for his tutor when she arrives this morning.”

“Yes, Miz Becky.” Ella reached for the toy gun. “Hand it over, boy.” She palmed his back and pushed him out the door.

Ma returned to the vanity, muttering complaints under her breath as she patted her cheeks. “Why, if that Brady Haywood wasn’t your pa’s brother, I’d … I’d—”

“You’d what, dear?” Pa sneaked up behind Ma.

“Frank! You startled me.” Ma puckered her brows at Pa’s reflection in the vanity mirror.

“What is it about Brady that’s got your dander up this morning?” Pa bent over and kissed Ma on the temple.

“Oh, it’s nothing, Frank.” Ma stood up and smoothed her skirts.

“Good morning, Pa.” Haven gave him a hug. “Hank pretended he was a robber and scared us out of our wits with that gun Uncle Brady made for him.”

Pa looked Ma in the eye. “Now, Becky, the gun doesn’t work, you know. It’s useless.” He dipped his head to the vanity mirror and combed his fingers through his curly red hair. His blue eyes held a glint of mischief.

“Well, it looks real, and I don’t like him playing with it in the house.” Ma stood in profile in front of the mirror, adjusting her bodice.

“Brady’s a good man, Becky. Got a heart as big as all outdoors. And as for Hank, he’s just at that age to begin shooting lessons. He’s gonna turn out fine.” Pa shrugged. “Besides, we’ve got enough to worry about with one prodigal son out there somewhere. God only knows where we went wrong with Harley.”

“How long’s Harley been gone this time, Ma? A month? Two?” Haven shook her head at the thought of her third oldest brother—the one closest in age to her and her twin sister, Harmony. “And no word of him from anyone?”

“I know, dear. That’s why I worry so much about Hank.” Ma arranged her hand mirror and the matching brush and comb in a neat row on the vanity shelf. “I know he’s only ten, but if he turns out anything like Harley, I don’t think I could handle it.”

Pa scratched his chin through his bushy red beard. “I’ve said it before, Becky—I think God gave us Hank to see if we learned anything from raising Harley.”

“Frank, you’re impossible.” Ma poked her finger into his chest.

Pa wrapped an arm around Haven’s shoulders. “What about this beauty here? She makes me proud.”

Haven smiled. “Aww, Pa … thank you.”

Ma patted the side of Pa’s face. “You’re right, dear.” She faced Haven. “See, dear … didn’t I tell you how proud your pa and I are of you?”

A huge grin split his beard. “Well, of course we are, sweetheart. Why wouldn’t we be?”

“Oh, it’s nothing, Pa. I thought maybe you and Ma might be worried because I’m twenty years old and never been interested in having a beau.” Until that cute preacher I saw today.

“Nonsense.” He extended one elbow to Ma and the other to Haven. “Let’s go to breakfast. Shall we?”

“Sorry, Pa … didn’t Ma tell you? I can’t join the family for breakfast. I have to go in to work early. Big Joe’s waiting for me outside.” She waved and ran on ahead. “See you this afternoon!”

♦♦♦

The woods in the country

“Well, Danny Boy, dawn has broken.” Timothy put the bulls-eye lantern aside and picked up the reins. ”Time to get to work if we’re gonna find those boys.”

The horse snorted and pawed the dirt.

Driving along at a snail’s pace, Timothy stopped every now and then to remove fallen twigs and branches that had blown onto the road during Monday’s high winds. What if the boys had wandered farther away or deeper into the woods before he could even begin his search? “Sure hope they don’t get caught by the pattyrollers, Danny Boy.”

A mile or so into the sunrise, he passed one rider on horseback headed toward town. Other than that, nothing seemed unusual.

Finding the perfect spot to pull off the road, he waited and watched. The birds of early spring flitted about in the trees, singing their chorus. With the sun rising higher, the morning frost that dusted their woodland home began to thaw. Had the boys kept warm overnight?

As an occasional gust of wind whistled through the pines, he hugged his chest and shivered. Too hard to sit still.

A grayish-brown squirrel paused on the branch of an old elm, eyed him for a second and scurried down the trunk. It scampered to a neighboring tree, darted up the trunk and hid in the branches.

Timothy slipped his pocket watch from his waistcoat and noted the time. Almost seven. A crumpled piece of paper fell from the pocket and drifted to the floor. He picked it up and smoothed it out, perusing its content for about the fourth time. A reward notice for the two runaways. He’d snatched it from a post on his way out of Lexington. Some of the ink had smeared, but he could still read the message:

 

Two hundred dollars Reward, From the subscriber, on the 14th of March, two Negro bucks of the following description, to wit: Pete, 19 years, dark complexion, 5 feet 7 inches high, lean, quick spoken. Had on, when he absconded from Cheapside auction, brown wool overcoat, black linsey pantaloons, and pegged shoes. Also Pete’s brother Jim, nickname Shadow, 13 years, very black, about 5 feet, very lean, scar on left leg, easily excitable. Attired similar to Pete. The above Reward will be paid for the return of both or one hundred dollars if only one is returned. Asa Short, Fayette County.

 

His fist clenched, crumpling the notice again. He jammed it into his pocket as his eyes scanned the length of the road. Being an expert woodsman, he looked for any unique markings on either side to help him identify his location.

“Danny Boy, I think this might be the best place to start.” With a canteen strapped over his shoulder and his rifle secured, he led the horse off the road.

Whispering soothing words to Danny Boy as he walked, Timothy took the horse and rig far enough into the woods where they wouldn’t be visible from the road. Finding a suitable hitching spot, he stroked the horse’s withers. “There now, Danny Boy, I don’t think you’ll attract the attention of any travelers back here.”

For the next fifteen minutes, he wandered from one clearing to the next. With the trees still bare from winter, the morning light filtered through to the ground. Good visibility. He glanced at his pocket watch. Past seven-thirty.

Doubt started to plague him. He prayed short, silent prayers. If the boys were still in the woods, they couldn’t have gone far.

As familiar woodland creatures went about their activities, his eyes searched every detail. But one sound stopped him cold in his tracks.

Something swift. Footsteps?

Whatever it was came to an abrupt halt, and something else followed. He crept toward the sound just as the running picked up again. The snapping and cracking of fallen twigs trailed the creatures through the thick brush.

Then he heard voices. Human voices. Young. Frightened.

The clatter of hooves and the creaking of wheels on the main road started to pick up. He had to get this taken care of soon.

“Aaah! Aaah!” The sudden screams began at a low pitch, increasing to a high-pitched squeal.

Timothy ran like the wind toward the source, but the screams stopped. Two frantic voices bantered nearby. He slowed his pace then froze before ducking behind the large trunk of an old elm. Pete and Shadow. Good … they hadn’t noticed him yet. He watched for a minute or so. He had to be careful.

The older boy lay writhing on the damp soil, which was strewn with clusters of rotting leaves. “Go on, Shadow.”

“Pete … no, Pete.” Shadow knelt, rocking his body beside his brother.

“Forget about me, Shad.” Pete shoved Shadow’s chest, knocking him back on his rear. “Go on without me.” Pete’s pleading grew weaker. “Hide somewhere till dark. And remember—follow the North Star.”

“No, Pete, I skeerd.” Shadow wiggled closer to his brother.

Pete rolled to his side, his features contorted. “Run, Shad. Run … before the pattyrollers come … and beat us with they whips … till the blood runs.”

In a flash, Timothy pounced on Shadow, wrestling the kicking and punching boy flat on his back. Without so much as a scratch to Shadow, he’d managed to straddle the boy. Eye to eye.

Shadow spat in Timothy face, spraying his chin.

Timothy caught his breath and lowered his chin to his sleeve, wiping away the spittle. He’d had worse greetings than that. “Listen to me, boy. I don’t want to hurt you. I want to help you. Do you understand? I want to help you.”

Shadow stopped struggling long enough to glance at Pete. Then he switched his gaze back to Timothy.

“Listen here … it appears your brother’s done got himself caught up in a claw trap. Looks like he could use some help real fast.” Timothy kept his eyes locked on Shadow. “Now, are you able to help him by yourself?”

Shadow’s whining faded. “No, suh.”

“That’s what I thought.” Timothy smiled. “Your name is Shadow, isn’t it?”

The boy nodded.

“I’d like to help Pete. Would you let me do that?”

Shadow’s lips quivered. “You gonna take us back to Massa Short?”

“No.” Timothy relaxed his grip. “You have my word on that.”

The boy’s eyes stayed locked on his.

“I’m a preacher.” Timothy wondered if that even meant anything to Shadow. ”You might know a good friend of mine. His name is Micah. Do you know Brother Micah?”

Shadow’s demeanor brightened. “He your friend?”

“Yes, he is—a really good friend.” Finally. He was getting somewhere. “Now what do you say? Will you let me help your brother, or are we just gonna let him lay there and bleed to death?”

“Help him.”

“All right … that’s better. I’m going to let go of your arms, and I’m going to get up. If you decide to run, I’m not going to chase you. I’ll stay right here with Pete.” Timothy glanced at Pete’s bloody leg. “Now, I could sure use your help getting that claw open. How about it, boy? Can you help?”

Shadow squirmed and wriggled his arms free. “Yessuh.”

Timothy got up cautiously and pulled Shadow to his feet. Taking off his coat, he walked over to Pete and got down on his knees. “Listen to me, Shadow. As soon as I open this trap, I want you to ease your brother’s leg out. He may scream. Do it anyway.”

“Yessuh.” Shadow lifted his brother’s leg as the claws opened. “Don’t scream, Pete.”

“Good job, Shadow.” Timothy patted his back. “Now, I’m going to pour a little water from my flask over the wound. I don’t think it will sting too bad. But just in case, hold his hand.”

Pete flinched.

Shadow clasped his brother’s hand tighter. “You all right, Pete?”

“Pete’s doing great. Next, we’re gonna make a tourniquet.” Timothy ripped the sleeve off his own shirt. “Do you know what a tourniquet is?”

Shadow shook his head. “No, suh.”

“Just watch. I’ll show you.” Timothy tied the sleeve around Pete’s leg. “This will keep him from losing too much blood.”

Clearly, he couldn’t take Pete to Ohio like he’d planned. “Shadow, I think we need to get Pete to Shaker Village. It’s about thirty miles southwest of here. The Believers there have helped me out many times. They can fix up Pete’s leg, and they have excellent places to hide fugitives. They’ll let you both stay there until Pete is well enough to travel. Then I’ll come back to get you. Sound all right to you?”

Shadow nodded. “Yessuh.”

“Good.” Timothy smiled, but a loud neigh from Danny Boy suddenly echoed through the woods.

Shadow shot to his feet.

“That’s just my horse.” Timothy got up and drew Shadow close. “Something must’ve spooked him. You stay here while I …”

A swishing noise in the nearby patch of trees hissed into the clearing. “Shhh! Quiet.” He held his palm up to the boys. “Don’t move.”

Footsteps followed, and Shadow scurried behind a large tree.

Swish, swish.

Cocking his rifle, Timothy waited. Probably just a deer, but one could never be too sure.

Another footstep. Someone emerged from the copse and appeared where some early morning sunrays sliced through the bare trees, creating a blinding aura. An apparition?

His heart about to leap from his chest, Timothy jerked his rifle up and took aim.

The visitor froze. “Please … don’t shoot!”


What will become of Ruth now that her once free daughter has been sold back into slavery?

Will Alifair’s alluring flirtations with Timothy be enough to steal his heart from the pretty nurse?

Can Timothy protect the two runaway slave boys he found in the woods, or will they get caught by the pattyrollers and taken back to Cheapside?

If you’d like to read the entire book, click here to order your copy on Amazon.

Order now and save!

Paperback: just $12.99
Kindle version: only $5.99

I’d like to invite you to visit the rest of this website to learn more about Ransom My Heart. You can also check out my blog and read my short stories.

-Judy Gerlach