The Rebel's Kiss – Chapter Three

Note to my readers: I am currently querying The Rebel's Kiss, so it is not my
intention to publish the entire work online. However, if you would like a pre-release review copy, simply drop me a line at, and I will send you a pdf of the completed manuscript. 

Also, if you missed Chapter One and Two, you can find them here and here.

Chapter Three
            Sarah looked up from her dressing table to find her maid staring at her as though waiting for a response of some kind. Sarah searched her memory, but turned up nothing. Her mind had been fully occupied by, of all people, a puffed-up macaroni. Never in a million years had she imagined herself being kissed by a man like that. Nor that it would end as it had. Her slipping away into the night to avoid dragging him deeper into the shadows so she could kiss him again. Thank heavens her father had no idea what he had interrupted.
            "I'm sorry, Addy, did you just asked me something?"
            "Oh, never you mind. I can see where your head is this mornin'." Addy wove a ribbon through Sarah's hair while she braided. "He was at the ball last night, weren't he?" Addy smiled at Sarah in the mirror, creating bags under her eyes that made her look older than her years.
            "Who?" Had one of the servants seen her with the stranger last night? How else could her maid possibly know about her chance encounter with the mysterious stranger?
            "Your lieutenant. That's who. No need to play coy with me, miss. I see that color in your cheeks and the twinkle in your eye."
            At times, Sarah wondered if Addy fancied herself Sarah’s mother even though the maid was but a couple of years older. She certainly overstepped the normal bounds of the master-servant relationship. Most days, Sarah didn’t mind. Not having grown up with a mother, it was nice to have someone dote on her even if Addy seemed overly eager for Sarah to settle down. Perhaps mothers were like that.
            Sarah relaxed. "Yes, he was in attendance. However, he's not my lieutenant—"
Not yet anyway. Her behavior had earned her a temporary reprieve when, unable to find her, Richardson had gone carousing with some of his fellow officers. Her father had refused to acknowledge her the rest of the night.  
            "He is if you play your cards right, girl!" Addy tied off the strand of ribbon then grasped Sarah's shoulders and squeezed. "Don't you be bringin' up that nonsense with me again. You goin' on 'bout how you ain't certain he's the one who will make you happy." She snorted. "What women in this world need is security, not happiness."
            Sarah couldn't fault Addy for the way she felt. The man she loved with all her heart had dumped her in the streets not three years into their marriage. She had come to the back door of the Stevens' mansion, pregnant with just the clothes on her back, looking for work. Sarah snuck her inside and made her a personal maid. Addy never spoke about what had happened, but poured herself into her work. For her, security and happiness had melded into one and the same.
            Sarah kept her gaze on her maid's faded brown eyes in the mirror. "Perhaps you're right, Addy. But something in my gut tells me the lieutenant might not be able to provide even that."
            Addy scowled. "You and your innards. They're always talkin' to you but never makin' any sense. Like that time you was tellin' me 'bout not drinking tea and all that. Thought you had gone plum mad."
            Sarah gave a half-hearted smile, remembering the time she had told Addy not to bring her usual pot of afternoon tea because she was joining the boycott. She had tried to explain to her maid that she was proud to be English, but she understood how her fellow colonists felt, stifled under the yoke of British rule. Some had begun to call their recent actions in Boston "intolerable” and Sarah was inclined to agree. She was certainly having an increasingly difficult time tolerating a certain lieutenant.
            But from that “tea nonsense,” as Addy called it, Sarah had learned a lesson in self-preservation. Her maid decided Sarah had taken leave of her senses and even threatened to call her father and the doctor. Sarah hastily assured Addy she had just been jesting.
             "Sarah!" Stevens bellowed, throwing the door open so hard it bounced on its hinges.
            Sarah flinched. Not just from being startled, but also because Addy had poked her with the pin she had been tucking into the last of her braided coils. She was tempted to test her scalp for blood with her fingertips, but she hated to undo Addy’s efforts. The sooner she could be alone again, the sooner she could try to make sense of her muddled thoughts.
            "Good morning, Fa—"
            "You may have escaped last night, but you will not do so again." Stevens roared as though he were half a mile away. "You will receive the lieutenant when he calls this morning, and you will accept his proposal should he be inclined to offer it despite your shameless performance last night."
            Shameless? Sarah's mouth went dry. Just how much did her father know about last night? Certainly, not the whole of it, or he would be returning from the dueling field, not invading her bedroom before breakfast.
Before Sarah could formulate a reply, her father turned on his heel, slamming the door with equal gusto on the way out. It was just as well. Her father seemed even less inclined to listen to her reasons for not wanting to marry the lieutenant than he had the previous day.
Sarah glanced at her maid.
            Addy looked as if she had been sucking on lemons. "I suggest you listen to your father. He understands more about the way this world works than either you or your innards."


            "Sarah," Lieutenant Richardson began. He paused when his voice lodged in his throat, and he took a moment to clear it. After a hack that had Sarah thankful she sat on the settee a good fifteen paces away, he continued, "Sarah, I'm sure you understand why I am here."
            "I do," Sarah donned the air of meek femininity her father and the lieutenant expected of her and picked up an unfinished sampler that she had started well over six months ago.
            At this moment, meekness seemed the most prudent choice given the likelihood of an audience. The parlor door had been left ajar as was proper when there were no older female relatives in residence, and therefore, no chaperone available. Not that her father would be lurking just outside the door. No, he had plenty of household staff willing to do his dirty work, including her own maid.
            "I understand you are here to call off your intention to marry me." Sarah looked up from her work and gave a little sigh to show she was resigned to that sad fact.
            Richardson stared at her with a bemused look as though his brain were taking an inordinately long time to process what she had just said. "No. No, of course not. I would not dream of calling off our engagement."
            Alas, it had been worth a try. Though, deep down, she knew her father's fortune was enough to make any man put up with even the most unpalatable of brides-to-be. Still, if Richardson had his limit, she would find it.
            "If you are not here to set things right, I cannot imagine why you would be here." Sarah stabbed the little bird she was working on with enough force to send her needle through the toughest of hides instead of the fragile linen stretched out in the frame in her hands.
            "I'm here to make sure you understand what is expected of you as my betrothed. And, the role you must play once we are married. There will be no more wandering off and, for God’s sake, no more bloody talk about non-consumption and other such nonsense." Richardson spoke so matter-of-factly, he could have been negotiating the purchase of a horse. Only his use of vulgarity in her presence hinted at a sense of underlying tension. "Did your father not tell you I would be calling?"
            So, her father had made good on his threat to tell Richardson his future wife needed a firmer hand. After her shameless behavior last night, she should have expected the lieutenant's visit to be more than a simple social call. It galled her that the overbearing man should think he had the right to instruct her when she had yet to accept his offer of marriage.
            "Yes, but he was not very clear on the specifics. I assumed I had proven an unsuitable choice, what with... my propensity to wander off and all."
            If Richardson still wanted to marry her, it was a safe bet he did not know about her kiss with the stranger. No man's ego would allow such a transgression to go un-admonished. If he did not know about it, far be it from her to inform him, especially when his reactions had hinted at a predisposition to anger easily.
            Sarah set aside her embroidery and rose from the settee to pace the room. She needed to choose her words well, and she could not do that with Richardson's lanky form looming over her, his beady eyes pinning her from both sides of a nose that would have done her mare proud.
            "I suppose being the gentleman you are, it would be unseemly for you to break off our engagement." Come what may, she would not be marrying Richardson. "But there is an easy solution to our dilemma."
            "Our dilemma?" Richardson's eyes crossed over the bridge of his most prominent feature.
            "Yes," Sarah wrung her hands for good measure and continued before he figured out there was no dilemma, at least not for him. "I will say that I am the one who called off the engagement."
            That wouldn’t sit well with her father, so she would have to tell him the truth—that Richardson had found her unsuitable. Now, she just needed to convince the lieutenant of that fact.
            "But why ever would you do that?" Richardson asked.
            Sarah stopped pacing. Could he not grasp the fact that not every woman in the colonies would be swooning at the thought of marrying him? Was he that arrogant or merely stupid? She shook the question off as interesting but irrelevant and started pacing again.
            "Because the last thing I could do...The last thing I would to saddle a man of your stature with me as a wife. I am totally unsuitable. I'm rash. I'm opinionated. I would much rather spend the afternoon reading than playing the pianoforte." All of those things were true. She couldn't even play an instrument. But even more than her lack of musical skills, she knew Richardson could not abide a woman who knew her own mind, and she had yet to add the coup de grace. "And, as you have discovered, I am insatiably curious. I cannot help but talk about things such as the non-consumption pacts with all who will listen. In fact, I was even considering setting up a spinning club, not because I have any sympathy for the rebels, but because I would so like to see what it’s like to spin my own wo—”
            Sarah had been on a roll, but when she noticed the dark clouds gathering on Richardson’s brow, she realized she might have taken things a bit too far.
            “Well, never mind,” she added a bit shakily. “The point is you can see that it is only right that I admit I could not marry you because I would not make a proper wife."
            Richardson brightened. "Oh, but you will. That is what I am here for. To explain what is expected of you as my future wife. Please take a seat and I will begin."
            Sarah wanted to scream. Instead, she plunked herself down on the settee so hard its wooden claws screeched against the floor. Folding her hands in her lap, she readied herself for what was sure to be several minutes of torment.   
            Apparently satisfied, it was Richardson's turn to pace. He took several turns about the room without saying a word then stopped and looked at her. "I really do not care that you are not the ideal female. That is not what I require in a wife."
            "You don't?" It was Sarah's turned to be confused. She had expected a lecture about her behavior. Above all else, Richardson was a stickler for proper behavior. His own as well as that of those around him.
            "No. Well, yes. I do expect you to be demure and modest, but those are traits I am sure you can develop in time and with proper instruction.”
            Instruction? Sarah cringed at the idea of a husband reproving every things she said or did.
            “You need not learn to play the pianoforte, but I do not approve of those novels you read." He waved his hand in front of his face as though brushing away the thought. "But no matter. Soon you will not have time for either."
            "I won't?" If he thought she would be following the drum, she would rectify that delusion, forthwith!
            "No. You will not. As you know, I am the heir to my father's estates and in line for a great title, and it is my duty, nay, your duty—" his cheeks colored and he seemed unable to finish the thought
            Sarah stared at the spreading crimson stain and understanding dawned. She bit her cheek to keep from laughing. Was this to be a talk about what Addy called the birds and the bees?
            Of course, Richardson would need an heir, and it would be his wife's duty to supply one. Perhaps he had misinterpreted her indifference to his attentions as a certain coldness of spirit instead of an aversion to his presence.
            A sudden clanging echoed in the street. The fire bell. Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. As if on cue, doors slammed, shouts resounded, and dozens of boot heels clicked against the cobblestone streets as seemingly every male citizen in Wilmington rushed to the emergency.
            Losing all sense of decorum, Sarah jumped from her seat and turned to the window behind her. Setting one knee on the settee, she pushed the lace curtains aside and craned her neck to see what sense she could make of the commotion.  
            A fire in a town like Wilmington was no small matter. Her father's home was largely made of brick and stone, but many of the structures up and down the street were mere wood. She could not do anything to assist in the dousing, of course, but if a segment of the town needed to be evacuated, she would help with that. Mrs. Jones, the elderly matron who lived alone next door, was nearly deaf, and unless she happened to have her hearing trumpet next to her ear, likely had not even heard the bell.
            Richardson joined her. "What now? Is there a fire?"
            He seemed more put out than worried.
            "It looks like a fire started in a pile of refuse at the end of the street." Sarah nodded to the crowd gathering at the end of the avenue, a cloud of noxious black smoke above their heads.
            "Probably set by one of the colonial criminals as a distraction. Right now, they are sure to be on their way to raid our arsenal while proper Englishmen are busy saving the town."
            His tone spoke volumes about his disdain for the colonials. Like her father, Richardson identified more with his native cousins across the Atlantic. In a way, the lieutenant's disregard was understandable. Unlike her father, Richardson had been born and raised on his family's English country estates, and his father had been a member of the House of Commons. The colonists had been a thorn in his family's side for decades, and his father had surely expressed his sentiments at the dinner table. Nevertheless, his attitude ruffled her feathers. She was one of those colonists, after all.
            "I don't know about that. See there." She pointed to a group of men rounding the corner, muskets slung across their backs. "The militia is joining in."
            "Militia." Richardson snorted and let his side of the curtain drop back into place. "Miscreants you mean. I'm sure they sent half their numbers to fight the fire just so they had an alibi. The rest are up to no good. Mark my words."
            Sarah pursed her lips and turned back to watch the fight.
            She had to admit she understood where Richardson's characterization of the militia came from. Aside from their weapons, there was nothing military-like about this ragtag group at all.
            The men formed a snaking line that started from the pump in the town square and wound its way through the throng of gawkers. When it became evident they did not have enough men to complete the distance to the garbage heap, a tall man with broad shoulders and short wavy brown hair broke ranks to enlist the aid of several able-bodied bystanders. A handful of young boys tried to join in, but when they proved more a hindrance than a help, he grasped one by the shoulder, spoke a few words, and let the lad go. The boy barked out a few words to his cohorts, and they were off like a shot down the street. Sarah smiled as the last pair of breeches rounded the corner. No doubt he had sent the boys on an errand, a move that preserved their egos yet removed them from harm's way.
            "Well the cream does rise to the top." Sarah said under her breath, as she watched the man shout orders that were obeyed without hesitation.
            "Do you know any of these men, lieutenant?" Sarah feigned casual interest.
            The lieutenant didn't budge from his position against the mantelpiece. "Of course not." He brushed a piece of lint from his sleeve. "What would I have to do with a bunch of ruffians?"
            "Oh no. What's this now?" Sarah pushed the curtain back further so she could see more of the street.
            "None of your concern, I'm sure."
            Sarah ignored him. "There seems to be some sort of confrontation. A brutish-looking man just yanked a fellow from the line. He's yelling something, but I cannot hear his words through the glass."
            The front door opened, and Sarah turned to find the room empty. It figured the prospect of violence would entice the lieutenant. She scrambled off the settee and followed him.
            "What is it?" she asked, joining Richardson on the front steps.
            "Hell if I know. It sounds as if the aggressor is accusing the other fellow of something, and he's demanding an answer. Probably stole his daughter or one of his livestock."
            Sarah scoffed, but Richardson ignored her. 
            They continued to watch along with seemingly every other inhabitant in town. Even Mrs. Jones had found her way onto her front steps, ear trumpet in hand. The big man had brought friends as well. They lined up behind him now, belligerent faces glaring a warning at anyone who looked as if they might intervene.
            The trash heap still smoldered, releasing a trail of inky, black smoke. No one paid it any attention as tension hung even thicker than the smoke in the air.
            "'Tis fortunate they dowsed the fire first, or the entire town might be ablaze," Sarah observed to no one in particular.
            The argument was audible now, but having missed the beginning it was proving difficult to determine its cause.
            The crowd came to life when the big man bellowed, "Fetch the cart!" One group ran off in the direction of Miller's barn. The smaller man paled when two men grasped his arms. He struggled for a moment, but soon gave up against their far superior strength.
            Cart? A chill ran through Sarah. That could only mean one thing. She had never seen a tar and feathering, but she had heard about them. Although the victim almost always survived, she could not see how. The pain of the hot pitch against one's skin must be unbearable, and the victim often came away horribly scarred. She rubbed her palms against her arms as though brushing away an imaginary pain.
            "Can you not do something?" She did not care who the little man was, nor what his transgressions might be. No one deserved that sort of humiliation and pain.
            "Me?" Richardson looked aghast at the suggestion. "I am under strict orders not to get involved in their squabbles. Besides, what do I care if they kill each other? It will leave more room in this God-forsaken country for loyal Englishman. And, I will be able to go back to England where I belong, instead of playing nanny to this backwater town."
            The mob stripped the man of his jacket then tossed his wig atop what was left of the refuse pile. It caught fire like a moth that had fluttered too close to a flame and then fizzled out.
            "Lieutenant!" Sarah pleaded.
            "Quite right, my dear. You should not be witness to this. Go back inside, and I will follow you in a moment." Not taking his eyes off the excitement, Richardson gave her a little shove toward the door.
            Sarah dug her heels in. "That is not what I meant, Lieutenant. Orders or not, you cannot mean to stand by and watch a man tortured right in front of you."
            "I most certainly ca—"
            "Stop!" a voice roared above the commotion.
            Sarah and Richardson both turned toward the sound.
            It was the man who had organized the firefight. Relief flooded Sarah. Surely, he would put an end to this. He matched the big man neither in size nor in tone. In fact, he spoke so softly Sarah could not hear what he said, and yet the aggressor shrank from his words. Sarah tried to take a step closer, but Richardson grabbed her arm.
            "What on earth do you think you're doing, Sarah? You cannot get involved."
            She tried to shake her arm free. "Involved? I have no more intention of becoming involved than you, Lieutenant. I simply want to hear what they are saying."
Truth be told, she wanted to get a closer look at the man who had taken charge. She couldn’t see his features clearly, but he seemed so familiar. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was well built and carried himself with a calm authority. He had the type of presence one did not easily forget.
Had she met him before? Unlikely, considering the protective barrier her father placed around her to separate her from any undesirable elements. Perhaps she had recently passed him on the street.
            "I see now why your father suggested I take a strong hand with you," Richardson hissed. "Someone needs to protect you from yourself. Very well. I forbid you to take a step closer."
            "Forbid! I do not—"
            Sarah forgot her indignation when one of the men rolled a stump into the middle of the square. Another man produced a quill and a scrap of parchment and handed it to a third. He hastily scribbled on it, the big man standing over his shoulder, periodically insisting that he scratch out what was written and replace it with new phrasing he was obliged to provide.
            "Look at them. They're like a pack of rabid animals. It is only a matter of time before they turn on each other." Richardson sniffed. "That man was lucky this time."
            "Lucky? What do you mean?" Though Sarah could not make sense of what was happening, but she was glad it did not involve a bucket of pitch and a couple burlap sacks' worth of chicken feathers. Perhaps Richardson was right.
            Her apprehension grew when the man with the parchment finished and handed it to the big man. He scanned the page, gave a nod of approval, and then shoved his intended victim toward the stump.
            Sarah scanned the crowd. Where was the commander of the fire brigade? Would he, once again, stop whatever humiliation the mob was about to inflict on the poor man? She finally spotted him, leaning against a post, his arms folded and his eyes half closed. She bit her lip, not knowing whether to find his nonchalance reassuring or exasperating.
            The little man stepped onto the stump. It wobbled beneath him, and he looked ready to dive headfirst into the dust until rough hands steadied him. Then, the big man handed the sheet of parchment to him.
            The man on the stump glanced at the paper. He opened and closed his jaw a few times until a jab from his tormentor loosened his voice. "I Francis Phelps, of W...W...Wilmington, do hereby ap..p...pologize to my fellow countrymen for being the lowest of vvvvvermin, and having not tu..u....u...rned over my store of gun p..p..powder..." Phelps bit back a sob.
            Richardson snorted his disgust and went back inside. Sarah paused, deliberating between hearing the man out and questioning Richardson. She finally decided she could not bear to watch another person be humiliated so. Besides, she might learn more from questioning the lieutenant. Picking up her skirts, she followed him.
            "What in heaven's name was that all about?"
            Richardson poured himself a glass of bourbon from the sidebar then took a healthy swig. "Just the animals turning on their own. It happens among the savages."
            Savages? He sounded like her father now.
            "But of what was the man accused? Storing gunpowder? I do not understand."
            Richardson cast an annoyed look in her direction. "The fools have been stockpiling gunpowder and munitions, thinking they can defend themselves from the British army. As if they would need to." He took another swig and wiped his mouth on his sleeve before muttering. "As if they could."
            Sarah still did not completely understand. "So he kept some gunpowder in reserve, and they wanted to punish him for it? Could they not see how he might have need of it himself?"
            "They were going to do more than punish the man. They were going to torture him. One of these days, these people are going to kill one of their own, and then who will save them?"
            Sarah sat on the settee and stared at the empty hearth as she mulled over the events of the afternoon. Maybe her father was right all along. The Rebel colonists had not seemed dangerous at first, but the way they treated that poor man suggested otherwise. What would they do with an actual Loyalist like her father if they could lay their hands on him? Was he safe? Were any of them safe?
            She rarely had an opportunity to offer her opinion on political matters. In fact, whenever she asked her father a question, she was told to focus on matters more suited to her gender. Like embroidery. How she hated embroidery! But in the end, she learned the benefit of appearances and to take a roundabout route to getting her answers. One that did not rouse her father's suspicions.
            She most wanted to learn more about the man who had stepped in to command the fire brigade. By whatever rule of order the rebels followed, he had been accepted as the leader of the makeshift unit. Surely, he must be among the fiercest of rebels and most loyal to their cause. Yet, while he had saved a man accused of treachery from a horrible fate, he hadn’t saved him from humiliation. Something did not add up, and when that happened, Sarah was at the mercy of her curiosity.
            "Lieutenant, did you happen to see the man commanding the fire brigade?"
            Richardson's eyes narrowed. "What about him?"
            Sarah paused. Clearly, the lieutenant was even more suspicious than her father.
            "Did he not look familiar?" She could not come right out and ask whom the man was. Her interest would be too obvious. "I am quite confident he is not in my father's employ. Nor is he one of the shopkeepers. I cannot possibly know him, yet there is something distressingly familiar about him."
            "I should hope you would not know him. That man is the worst of the vermin." Richardson set down his glass and collected his walking stick. "I must go and report this incident. I suggest you stay indoors. The streets are no longer safe for a woman. If you have need of anything, send word, and I will attend to you as soon as I am able."
            "Thank you, Lieutenant." Sarah walked him to the front door.
            “And, Sarah…” Richardson spun on his heel.
            “Yes, Lieutenant?” Sarah did not like the determined look in his eye.
            “Our business here is not finished.” Instead of waiting for a reply, he turned and walked down the steps and climbed into the carriage, which had been left waiting for him at the curb.
            “Perhaps not for you, Lieutenant,” Sarah whispered as she shut the door. “But, do not be surprised if things do not go as you gave planned.”
Sarah went back to the window and searched for a glimpse of the brigade's leader through the lace curtains. A few stragglers milled about, but most of the men had dispersed. Their leader was nowhere to be seen.
            "A Rebel?" she whispered.
            Suddenly the word did not bring such a bad taste to her mouth. Perhaps she would learn more about the man before she judged him. For that matter, perhaps it was time to learn more about the people her father thought of as savages and Richardson referred to as vermin. Who was this man, and how did he fit into their world? Or, was he not one of them at all?

No comments:

Post a Comment