This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

The MacGregor Legacy - 3 Book Series

From Scotland to the Carolinas
For Love or Loyalty (Book 1) ~ For Love or Country (Book2) ~ For Love or Liberty (Book 3)

Path of Freedom, Quilts of Love series

1858 North Carolina - When Quakers Flora Saferight and Bruce Millikan embark on the Underground Railroad, they agree to put their differences aside to save the lives of a pregnant slave couple..

Highland Sanctuary, (Highland series - Book 2)

1477 Scotland - A chieftain heir is hired to restore Briagh Castle and discovers a hidden village of outcasts who have created their own private sanctuary from the world. Among them is Serena Boyd, a mysterious and comely lass, who harborsg a deadly past that could destroy her future. .

Highland Blessings, (Book 1 - Highland series)

1473 Scotland - The story of a highland warrior who kidnaps the daughter of his greatest enemy and clan chief to honor a promise to his dying father.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"For Love or Liberty"

For Love or Liberty  
(Book 3)

ISBN 978-1426733864
Release Date: Nov 2014

She wants to live in the past. He wants to step into the future. 
Will either of them recognize the love between them now?
Coast of NC to Lake Erie, Ohio (1813)

"Taylor channels Jane Austen as Conrad’s and Charlotte’s bickering fuels their attraction to each other, in a manner reminiscent of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Charlotte struggles with trusting the man who left her for the sea, and Conrad fights to show his affection without further alienating the woman he loves."
Publishers Weekly

One Sentence Blurb
For Love or Liberty is the story about a family learning to battle the heartache of grief, while growing in their faith, and risking the opportunity to love again.

Back Cover Description
Grieving over her twin’s death, Charlotte Morgan leaves the Carolina coast for the shores of Lake Erie, Ohio to help care for her niece and nephew. Captain Conrad Deaton goes along to support his brother in the role of a widowed parent. Soon, Conrad and Charlotte are locked in a battle of wills, as The War of 1812 rages around them.

Charlotte wants to preserve her sister’s memory, while Conrad believes they should not dwell on the past. In spite of their differences, Conrad has a certain charm and magnetism that draws her. Afraid of their past history, his rejection, and loving a man duty-bound to war and sailing the high seas, she tries her best to resist her growing feelings for him. As the battle on Lake Erie breaks out, fear and tension escalates. When neither brother returns with the others, Charlotte fears the worst.

Where to Order

USA Bookstores
Abingdon Press (direct from publisher) 
Christian Book Distributors
Barnes & Noble

LifeWay Christian Stores 

Canada Bookstores

Amazon Canada 
Ausberg Fortress Canada 

UK Book Stores
Alban Books 
Amazon UK
Blackwell Online Bookstore

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"For Love or Country"

For Love or Country  
(Book 2)

ISBN 978-1426733857
Release Date: Mar 2014

One spy. One commission. One love.
He must risk it all to gain everything.
North Carolina, 1781

At the height of the Revolutionary War, Tyra MacGregor is successful at thwarting the British Army with her colonial spy efforts. But her sleuthing ways come to a screeching halt when Captain Donahue "Hugh" Morgan puts her under house arrest.

Hugh is intrigued by this courageous spy the natives call "War Woman." She's more daring than most men and is intelligent in defending her convictions. Even more impressive to Hugh is the strength of Tyra's unshakeable faith in God.

When Tyra saves his life during an attack, Hugh vows to return the favor. Before he can intervene, however, she is caught by his superior officer and imprisoned. Soon Hugh's honor, faith, country, and love are all on the line. Can he risk it all to gain everything?

"A terrific tale of sacrifice and love!" Amazon review by April Renn

Read the First Chapter!

For Love or Country

Chapter One
Wilmington, NC (1781)

Tyra MacGregor did not want the Christmas feast to end. She leaned back in her wooden chair and peered at her family gathered around the long dining table, laughing and talking in jovial spirits. It had been a miracle her father, Lieutenant Malcolm MacGregor, and her elder brothers, Callum and Scott, were given a few days off from the Continental Army to spend Christmas with them. This time when they left, they would be taking her younger brother, Alec, now that he had turned ten and five. Tyra blinked back sudden tears as a searing ache twisted her insides.

“Lauren, this was a delicious meal.” Da leaned over and gave their mother a kiss on her rosy cheek. They shared an intimate glance of love and devotion. Tears sprang to her mother’s blue eyes. Tyra looked away, unable to witness the emotional exchange as the back of her own throat constricted.

“I did not prepare it alone, Malcolm.” Mama’s voice carried down the long table. “Tyra’s cooking skills have greatly improved since ye’ve been away at war.”

“Indeed?” Her father lifted a russet eyebrow, as the corners of his mouth curled in an approving grin. A full beard and thick mustache layered with gray specks in his reddish-golden whiskers branded its mark into her memory. “Then I daresay, well done, lass.”

“Thank ye, Da.” Tyra forced a tender smile to hide her fearful worry. Thinking of her gift to them, genuine joy crept into the muscles of her tense face. “And now I have a surprise for you all.”

“Dessert?” Kirk’s voice cracked as he shoved his empty plate aside. At ten and three, her youngest brother often suffered the embarrassment of his tones vibrating from his throat. He rubbed his hands. “I thought I smelled a sweet treat earlier.”

Tyra took his empty plate and placed it on top of hers, biting her bottom lip to keep from blurting out the answer. She whirled and stepped toward Alec.

“No, leave mine.” Alec threw a hand out to protect his unfinished plate. “I intend to eat every bite.” He glanced at their father and older brother, Scott. “I do not know when I might have the blessing of another home-cooked meal after this day.”

Tyra paused, her gaze meeting Alec’s brown eyes. Her heart thumped against her ribs in an attempt to stomp down the rising grief welling inside her. Even though she was only ten and seven, she believed Alec was too young for war. She didn’t care if other lads his age had already signed up these past five years. Many of them were gone from this world. The knowledge alone made her want to drop the plates and wrap her arms around him and beg Alec to stay. Others who had enlisted at his age continued to survive like her eldest brother, Scott. They had grown into fine young men, accustomed to the ways of war, always fighting for their freedom.

“I wanna go!” Kirk plopped his elbow on the table and set his chin on his palm. A disgruntled expression marred his forehead. “I am not much younger than Alec.”

“Hold yer tongue.” Mama’s blue eyes were like the crystal frost outside as late evening approached. She toyed with the wrist of her cream-colored blouse, her dark blond hair coiled into a French bun. “’Tis bad enough I must part with three sons and a husband. They can at least leave me one son.”

Tyra gulped, hating the tide of emotion threatening their last moments together. She carried the plates from the dining room to the kitchen where she placed them on the table. As she pulled out the dessert plates, her mother entered. She wiped at her eyes and took a deep breath. At five feet and eleven inches, Tyra towered over her mother by at least five inches, but she didn’t let it stop her as she threw a comforting arm around her mother’s shoulders.

“Mama, do not worry. God will keep them safe.” Tyra hoped her voice sounded more certain than she felt. “Da, Callum, and Scott have been safe these past few years. We must have faith for Alec as well.”

“Of course, yer quite right.” Mama grabbed the extra plates and gave her a grateful smile as she reached up and cupped Tyra’s cheek. Thin lines framed the corner of her mother’s eyes, but she still looked young at two scores and one. “I am thankful I have ye here to remind me, lass.” She motioned to the dessert tray and waved Tyra forward. “Now on with ye, they are waiting.”

Tyra hurried to the dining room and set the tray before her father. “I hope you all saved room for my cinnamon gingerbread cake. ’Tis a small Christmas gift I want to give each of you.”

“Then we shall cherish it.” Her father rewarded her with a wide grin, reaching for the small plate with eager anticipation. He grabbed a fork and carved out a bite. With slow precision, he slid it into his mouth as he watched Tyra and chewed. He nodded in appreciation. “Mmm, quite good.”

“Thank you, Da.” Tyra said, pleased her father liked it. “Now, the rest of you must try it.”

“I am ready.” Kirk leaned up on his elbows against the dining table and drummed his hands on the surface. He beat out a ditty of “Free America.” “See? I could be a drummer. Plenty of boys my age have enlisted.”

“Well, ye shall not be one of them,” Mama said, as she set a plate by Alec and Scott. “Mind yer manners, lad.”

Tyra cut slices for each of them before carving a slice for herself. She enjoyed the sweet taste of the moist cake on her tongue. With the British blockade along the coast, they had learned to do without certain supplies and cooking ingredients. Sugar was rare, but the Tuscarora Indians who lived in the nearby swamp provided them with honey. She had been able to barter for it over the past couple of months to save what little sugar they had left in anticipation of their upcoming Christmas feast.

“Someone has been making you into a fine cook while we have been gone.” Callum sat back with a satisfied grin and pushed his empty plate aside. “’Tis good to be home again, all of us together one more time. I will cherish this fond memory in the months to come.” His brown eyes glistened in the candlelight as he blinked back moisture and looked away. When he had first arrived yesterday, she had hardly recognized him with a full beard and mustache. She was glad he had shaved it off. He now looked more like the brother she remembered with the exception of his somber mood. Tyra could only imagine what horrible images lurked in his mind from the war. He no longer acted like a young vibrant man of only a score of years to his credit, but a seasoned man who had seen too much of life.

Tyra glanced at Scott to see if he shared the same sentiment as Callum. Scott cleared his throat and looked down, hiding his blueeyed gaze. His blond hair looked darker than she remembered, most definitely longer, tied back in a ribbon at his neck like her father.

Always the charmer in their family, Scott had changed as well. He was more pensive and quiet than she had ever known him to be. At ten and eight, he had only been serving for three years, unlike her father and Callum.

“Mama is a patient teacher,” Tyra said, breaking the silence. She glanced at her mother, knowing herself to be a difficult pupil with her unladylike qualities and lack of interest in domestic skills. She and her mother had set aside their differences and worked together, while the men were away from their rice plantation at The MacGregor Quest. Tyra taught her mother to shoot a rifle and a pistol, while she made more of an effort to wear constricting gowns and assisted with more household chores—like cooking.

“Tyra has turned out to be quite a teacher herself.” Mama winked at her as she took a bite of her cake. “There has been too much strife in Wilmington of late between the Whigs and the Tories, so I decided the boys should receive their education here under Tyra’s guidance.”

“Aye, she is more like a growling bear,” Kirk grumbled, reaching for another slice of cake.

“No!” Tyra snatched the plate from his grasp, covering its contents with a protective hand. “The rest is for Da and our brothers. I wanted them to have at least one more slice to remind them of home whence they leave on the morrow.”

Kirk gave her a scowl, but sat back without another protest. He glanced at his father and brothers, his green eyes wide with concern. Tyra knew he felt the same fear as she—that it might be the last time they were all together. Most of his childhood had been stolen by the War of Independence. Soon they would welcome the year of seventeen eighty-one.

“Let us retire to the parlor.” Mama stood with a smile. It brighten the dark room lit only by a few candles which made shadows dance upon the paneled walls. Even the fruit painting by a local artist hung on the wall in darkness. A slight chill hovered at the glass windows of the dining room with no fire to warm them. “Kirk, go build us a warm fire in the parlor.” Her brother hurried to carry out their father’s bidding.

Frantic beating on the front door sent alarm through Tyra as she exchanged worried glances with the rest of the family. Who would dare interrupt their Christmas? Most of their neighbors would be at home celebrating with their own families. “Lieutenant MacGregor! I have new orders for you.” A man’s voice called through the door. More knocking followed.

“Wait here. I shall only be a moment.” Da’s boots clicked across the wooden floor as he left the dining room and entered the foyer. The sound of him unlocking the latch and sliding it back grated on Tyra’s nerves. The hinges creaked and low voices conversed. A few moments later, he closed the door and walked back into the dining room. Tyra held her breath.

“I am sorry,” Da said, standing at the threshold. “General Greene has gained new information and is calling all the troops back to service. We must leave now.”

“Can it not wait till the morn when ye had already planned to leave?” Disappointment carried in Mama’s tone. Her chin trembled as she lifted fingers to her lips as if to still the motion. Her gaze slid to each son and lingered on the three eldest. “I had hoped to have a wee bit more time.”

“Me too, my love, but ’tis not to be.” Da took a deep breath of regret. “Leaving now will make the difference of eight hours of travel.”

“When will ye sleep?” Mama asked. “War does not always give us time to sleep.” Callum stood to his feet. Scott and Alec followed his example. “Da, I shall prepare the horses.”

“Excellent.” He motioned to Scott. “Pack us some food.” “I shall help.”

Tyra launched into action, standing to her feet. Her head swirled in denial as her legs moved of their own accord. The back of her throat went dry, while it seemed as if stones churned in her stomach. The moment she had dreaded was now upon them.

* * *

Captain Donahue Morgan bristled as the hairs upon his neck and arms rose, crawling over his flesh. They were being watched and their red uniforms were like a bull’s target. He held up his hand to signal the four soldiers following his lead. Their mounts slowed to a stop. Hugh listened as he gazed into the layered forest of green pine needles and bare branches of oak and poplar trees. The earthy scent of fresh pine and melted snow drifted through the air. No sound of human life caught his notice, but winter birds sang and flew above them. Wiry bushes dotted the thick woods full of dark shadows where anyone could be crouched in hiding, waiting to ambush them.

The only map in his possession wasn’t drawn to scale, so he feared they might have wandered off the path to Wilmington. The drawing lacked significant landmarks and could have been more insightful. His superior officer had given it to him when he commissioned Hugh to find two of their ranking officers and negotiate their freedom from the rebel Continentals. Hugh could not fail. One of them was Colonel Neil Morgan, his elder brother.

A shiver of foreboding slithered up his spine and branched over his neck and shoulders. If Hugh had learned anything during his time in the colonies, it was the fact these blasted rebels did not fight fair like an upstanding British soldier, full of honor and courage. Instead, they would take cover behind rocks and trees, picking off His Majesty’s Royal Army one by one like the red-skinned savages he had heard about.

“Get ready,” Hugh unsheathed his sword from his side. “We are not alone.” He kept his voice low as he continued to watch the woods around them. Hugh saw and heard nothing that would alert him to danger, but surviving the last three ambushes in South Carolina with his full regiment had given him enough experience to trust his instincts.

The birds above flew away. Eerie silence followed. Hugh tensed. The sound of a rushing wind sailed by him. A low thud hit the man behind him and a gut-wrenching moan wrestled from him. Hugh twisted to see his comrade clutch the arrow in his chest, a look of shock and then pain carved his expression into a memory of guilt and it would not soon leave Hugh. His friend paled and fell from his horse.

“Go!” Hugh urged his mount forward. Arrows whistled past them from every direction. They were surrounded and outnumbered. Strangely dressed men left the cover of the trees with loud shrilling sounds which vibrated through Hugh’s head. He maneuvered his horse around one dark-skinned man who met his gaze, lifted his bow and arrow, and took aim. On instinct, Hugh dropped his head and tried to crouch his large frame behind his horse’s mighty neck. As Hugh raced by the Indian, pain sliced into his left side. It felt like someone had branded him with the end of a red-hot iron poker, fresh from a burning fire.

Air gushed from Hugh’s lungs, as another fallen comrade landed in the dirt behind him. The man’s horse neighed and reared up on its hind legs, his hooves pounding thin air. Hugh raced on, eager to escape the same fate. He could not fail in this mission. Who else would rescue his brother? Clenching his teeth against the increasing pain in his side, Hugh blinked to clear his vision and leaned forward with determination.

More shrieks and warrior cries bounced through the forest, and they followed him. As near as he could tell, most of the Indians were on foot. Two of them climbed upon the horses of his two fallen comrades and chased after Hugh and his last remaining friend. They knew the layout of the land better than Hugh, and it showed as they caught up with them. Hugh ducked and leaned to the left and right to avoid the large tree branches, but he couldn’t miss the sting of some of the smaller ones as they slashed across his face and neck. A cut above his eyes poured blood into his blurry vision. With each breath, his heart continued striking against the inside of his chest like a fist that wouldn’t stop.

“Argh! They got me, Hugh!” Miles called to him.

“Just hang on and keep going.” Hugh glanced over his shoulder. The movement twisted the arrow still lanced into his side and caused a wave of dizziness to wash over him.

Something pierced his left thigh, stinging his flesh. Shock reverberated through his system as he glanced down to see another arrow had hit his leg. Warm blood oozed over his breeches, soaking and discoloring the white material. Hugh struggled to stay seated as his energy evaporated, and his remaining strength drained with his life’s blood. The jarring of his winded horse pushed both arrows deeper. Hugh groaned from the pain and almost lost consciousness.

The two Indians closed in on him from the front, and Hugh couldn’t find the strength to guide his horse in another direction. Instead, the animal slowed to a trot, then walked, until he stopped altogether. The Indians grabbed the reins and pulled Hugh down. Hugh grabbed his side as he landed on his right hip and gritted his teeth in agony.

A moment later, Miles landed beside him. Blood now soaked his shirt beneath the opening of his red coat. His pale face was testament to how much blood he had already lost. Hugh hoped their end would be swift and merciful. The thought of more torture was enough to make him pray for death. Instead, he sat still and held his head up when he could find the strength. He would not be a coward. If he had to die, he wanted it to be with honor.

“I am Red Fox,” said the man who had stared at Hugh and shot him in the side. “You on MacGregor land. They fight redcoats.” He pointed at them. “You enemy. We take you to War Woman.” He bent and broke the long stem of the arrow sticking out of Hugh’s thigh and side. Red Fox moved over and did the same for Miles.

“A woman?” Hugh blinked with a weary sigh. His body swayed one way and then the other, his head numb from a loss of blood. “Dying . . . by the hand . . . of a woman . . .” Hugh took a deep breath to gather what little strength he had left. “Has no honor.” His head rolled back on his shoulders and his blurry vision saw a mixture of colors and light. “Kill us now.”

* * *

The next morning Tyra slid the latch back and swung open the side kitchen door. The rising sun cast an orange-pink glow across the slanted gray clouds. The frigid air promised another cold day, but it didn’t look like more snow would fall. As much as she enjoyed the rare snow, she rubbed her hands in a silent thank-you to the Almighty. Harsh weather would make things harder on her father and brothers.

With The MacGregor Quest plantation located southeast of Wilmington, their homestead overlooked the road and a semi-circle dirt drive. On the other side, lay the Cape Fear River, shimmering like diamonds when the sun’s rays angled upon the surface of the water. The swampy woods served as their only neighbors on the right and on the left their rice fields extended for several acres beyond the stables. Tyra followed the familiar path to the well on the swampy side. Patches of snow still lingered where their house shaded the ground. A thick white frost covered the rest.

As she walked toward the well, her black boots crunched against the stiff white frost layering the grass like thick pie crust. She breathed in the crisp air, allowing it to cleanse her lungs. Winter was here, so they kept the doors and windows closed and the hearths burning, but at times it almost stifled them.

The sound of men’s voices carried in the breeze. Tyra paused and tilted her head to hear better. A horse snorted. It sounded like they were on the other side of the house by the swamp. She rushed back to the house and entered through the front door to keep from alarming her mother who was no doubt still in the kitchen.

Hurrying down the hall, Tyra tried to keep her footsteps light. She opened her father’s study and reached above the hearth to lift the rifle from where it hung on the wall. A quick search in the desk drawer revealed a pouch containing round bullets and gunpowder. Tyra loaded the rifle as her father had shown her and slipped out of the study. She rushed down the hall and out the front door, determined to meet the men before they reached the house. Lifting the hem of her brown skirt, Tyra ran down the porch steps, hoping she wouldn’t trip. She rounded the corner and lifted the rifle, taking aim.

“War Woman, we bring you redcoats!” Red Fox called out. He led two horses carrying wounded British soldiers. Both men looked unconscious as they lay over the back of each horse with broken arrows sticking out of them. Tyra’s gaze scanned the somber expression of the other ten Tuscarora Indians surrounding them. She lowered her rifle in stark confusion. “They on MacGregor Land. Redcoats enemy to MacGregor.”

“What happened?” The words slipped from Tyra’s mouth before she could halt them. She hoped her tone did not sound like an accusation. Would this deed now bring British wrath down upon their heads? They had heard rumors the British were heading toward Wilmington. She had to find a way to protect her mother and Kirk. How could she make this right?

“We bring them for justice.” Red Fox continued walking toward her. Tyra knew him to be a fair man, but he did not always understand the white man’s ways. She wished her father was here to speak for her.

“You found them on MacGregor land?” Fear iced up Tyra’s spine, but she stiffened to keep from shivering. Fear would not aid her now. Instead, she hoped to draw strength from the Lord and the wits He gave her just as her mother had always done. She lifted her chin and met his gaze. “Were there more of them?”

“We killed two others.” Red Fox turned to glance back at the wounded men and nodded his dark head toward them. “These two live. We bring them to War Woman. You decide fate.”

“What were they doing?” she asked.

“Riding to your house. Your father and brothers gone. We stop them.” He pointed to one of the men with an arrow in his side and thigh. “This one must be leader.”

“What did you do with the others?” Tyra accepted the reins of the two horses he handed over to her. “I have heard more redcoats are coming. I do not want your tribe to be in danger.” Tyra thought of his wife and daughter, a close friend from childhood. “Their army has too many soldiers, many more than the small tribe you have left in the swamps.”

“We will bury them as your people do.” He nodded his head to the two wounded men. “How will you judge them?”

“I shall try and get them to talk. I cannot fight hundreds of soldiers when they come, but if I save their lives, the new soldiers may give my family mercy.”

Red Fox laughed and exchanged doubtful glances with his friends. “Few white men understand mercy. Your father and brothers rare.”

Tyra swallowed at the memory of their smiling faces at the Christmas feast. A hollow spot formed in her throat. She gripped the reins tight in her hand. “You speak the truth, but I must try. I am only one woman. I cannot fight hundreds of soldiers.”

“War Woman fight with wisdom.” Red Fox pointed to his own head. “If you need us, you find us in swamp.”

“Indeed, I will.” Tyra nodded.

Red Fox motioned to his men and they followed him back to the woods.

A groan caught Tyra’s attention. She looked over to see the one with two arrows grimacing in his semi-conscious state. If she didn’t hurry, he would soon awaken and the pain would be unbearable.

Tyra led the horses to the front of the house where it would be easier to carry them inside. Indecision wrestled in her heart. How would she get them down and drag them inside without causing them further damage and pain? She couldn’t leave them like this to die.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"For Love or Loyalty"

For Love or Loyalty  
(Book 1, The MacGregor Legacy)

ISBN 978-1426714696
Release Date: Nov 2013

One conquest could destroy her, but avenge his family.
Scotland to the Carolinas, 1760

#MacGregorLegacy #4LovLoyalty

For Love or Loyalty is the story of a highlander seeking revenge, but when the bargaining price becomes too great of a moral sacrifice, he must find a way to reverse his deeds and save the woman he loves.

Malcolm MacGregor vows to free his family and exact revenge against Duncan Campbell. When the opportunity arises, Malcolm decides to use Duncan’s daughter as the bargaining price. Lauren Campbell is the perfect answer, until she begins chipping away at the bitterness in Malcolm’s heart and changing everything. Her bold faith and forgiveness ignites guilt he would rather avoid and a love he doesn't deserve.

Lauren Campbell never expected to discover such a caring and protective man behind the façade of Malcolm MacGregor’s fierce reputation. When they arrive in America, things turn against them, and Lauren finds herself in a fate worse than death. Now Malcolm has the dilemma of freeing the rest of his family or rescuing Lauren, but time is short and with little means, he needs a miracle. 

For Love or Loyalty (The MacGregor Legacy, #1)



Read the First Chapter!

For Love or Loyalty

Chapter One
Argyle, Scotland, 1760

A feeling of foreboding crawled over Malcolm MacGregor like a colony of insects picking at his skin. He gripped the reins as he inhaled the crisp March air, but it burned his lungs with the residue of tainted fire. A cloud of dark smoke hovered over the wee village of Inverawe—home. Fear coiled inside Malcolm’s gut as he urged his mount forward.

His brother kept pace beside him. At a score and four, Thomas was two years Malcolm’s junior. He favored Malcolm with the same stubborn chin and broad shoulders from hard work.

Distant moors lined the overcast sky. Morning fog hovered over the glen, blending with heavy smoke. As they drew near, their eyes stung and the burnt smell accosted them until they coughed. Keening scraped his ears like a tormented bagpipe.

They reached the stone huts, packed with dirt and straw roofs. At least the village homes weren’t on fire, as he originally feared. Piles of furniture and personal items burned in front of each hut. Sad faces and weeping echoed from every direction.

Malcolm’s throat constricted. His chest tightened in a mixture of compassion and fear for his family. He maneuvered his horse between the huts heading toward the center of the village, seeking the home where he had grown from a lad into a man. Engulfed in flames, it blazed to the sky.

“Mither an’ Carleen . . .” The words fell from Malcolm’s swollen tongue, stalling in the air as his thoughts shifted to their youngest brother, Graham. At only twenty, the lad would have done aught to protect the women in their absence.

“Malcolm, ye’re back!” Heather strode toward him, her eyes red and swollen. Words stalled upon her tongue, increasing his anxiety as he waited for her to collect her emotions and continue.

“What happened?” Malcolm asked, pulling his horse to a stop and dismounting. It was an effort to keep his voice calm, but he tried for Heather’s sake, though his insides quaked. 

“‘Tis the worst.” Heather succumbed to tears, shaking with grief.

“What is it, lass?” Malcom shook her hoping to force her out of her temporary stupor.

“Where’s Mither an’ Carleen?” Thomas strode toward them, his voice betraying his fears.

Heather sobbed, falling against Malcolm’s chest. On instinct, his arms slipped around her. He looked up, his eyes questioning the rest of the villagers approaching with sorrowful expressions.

“The Campbells were here.” Roy strode forward, his red eyes weary with similar grief—his right eye swollen and his lip cut. Even in his late fifties, Roy was healthy and robust. It would have taken several men to bring him low. “They took Iona an’ Carleen.”

“Took them?” Thomas gave the elder man a look of disbelief. “Where?”

“How long ago?” Malcolm pressed Heather into the arms of her mother who came up behind her. He turned back to his horse and prepared to mount.

“Nay! There’s too many o’ them. Sixty or more.” A strong hand grabbed his shoulder. “Listen to me, lad. Ye canna help yer mither an’ sister if ye’re dead.”

“I’ve time to catch them if I leave now.” Malcolm pulled away. More hands grabbed him. He didn’t want to fight his own kinsmen, but they wouldn’t deter him from his mission. He had to act now before it was too late.

“Let me go!” Thomas yelled, fighting a similar battle.

“I’ve got ’im, Da.” Strong arms belted around Malcolm’s neck and jerked him backward, cutting off his air. Malcolm coughed. He swung his elbow into Alan’s ribs.

“Argh!” Alan¬ relaxed his hold, but didn’t let go.

“Listen to reason, lad. The rest o’ us are too auld an’ wounded to be fightin’ ye.” A fist from another angle slammed into his jaw. “But fight ye, we will, if it’s the only way to save yer life.” Roy’s voice echoed over the multiple hands and arms keeping him down.

Never had the villagers fought him like this. More dread pooled in the pit of his stomach as he realized there had to be a reason for their adamancy. What had they not yet told him? They were right. How could he and Thomas expect to best sixty or more Campbell men? This feat would require his wits, and he wasn’t thinking, only reacting.

“All right.” He clenched his teeth, willing his body to relax against their resistance. “Tell me why I shan’t go after them. It does not make sense to lose precious time.”

Following Malcolm’s example, Thomas also surrendered.

“Duncan Campbell came to collect the rents,” Roy said. “But he arrived with an army of warriors. He did not come hither on business as he claims. His purpose was to cause trouble an’ he chose yer family to be the example.”

“They were not supposed to come for another fortnight.” Malcolm jerked away from Alan who sported a bloody lip, already swelling, and a long sword gash upon his arm. Malcolm frowned. Only the Campbells would have been carrying broadswords. Blood soaked Alan’s sleeve, probably more so from his skirmish with Malcolm. Guilt lacerated Malcolm’s emotionally scarred heart. How long must they go on living like peasant pawns for the Campbells’ entertainment?

“They did all this over unpaid rents?” Malcolm lifted his hands in disbelief. “We took the cattle to market an’ we now have the rent. ‘Tis all for naught!” His voice cracked as he ran a hand through his hair. A deep ache twisted his gut.

“Listen to Da.” Alan wiped the back of his hand across his lip. “We need a plan. The Campbells want us to come after them in a mad rage. They have the king’s favor an’ all the wealth they need. We canna fall into their trap again.”

“We can gather more MacGregors an’ break into Kilchurn Manor.” Thomas walked over. The others stepped aside to let him through. “We’ll get Mither an’ Carleen out.” “We canna abandon them.”

“‘Tisn’t that simple. I wish it were.” Roy rubbed a wrinkled hand over his weathered face with a broken sigh. “Even if we gather more MacGregors from other parts of Argyll, we may not be strong enough to break through Duncan Campbell’s forces. He has too many allies. If we succeed an’ bring them home, how will we stop them from coming again?”

Roy and Alan stood still, watching Malcolm and Thomas as though they would tackle them again if need be. More villagers crowded around. All of them looked like a sorry lot, the men having been beaten, the women wearing expressions of grief and sorrow. Soot layered their faces, arms, and clothing.

"‘Tis possible they have taken them to a debtor’s prison,” Mary MacGregor maneuvered around her husband and son, “since yer mither did not have the rent money.”

“If that is the case,” Malcolm said. “They will have to release Mither an’ Carleen once I pay the rent.”

“Duncan raised the rents again, plus he’s charging interest,” Mary said. “He took our furniture an’ burned what he did not want.” Tears filled her eyes. “William an’ Graham are young an’ foolish to try to fight them. They killed William this day. How many more do ye think we can stand to lose?”

“An’ Graham?” Malcolm staggered at the news. He closed his eyes, rubbing his brows. William and Graham were inseparable. Had Graham suffered the same fate? Heather broke into more weeping and Malcolm’s chest tightened. The lass had been sweet on their youngest brother as soon as they could walk. Now he understood the extent of her grief. “Where is Graham? Did they take him, too?” Malcolm clenched his fists at his sides, attempting to calm the rising tide of anxiety. “Is he alive?”

“Aye, but barely,” Roy said. “I’m sorry, Malcolm. We tried to fight them, but there were too many . . .” 

“Take us to ‘im,” Thomas said in a gruff voice, moving to stand beside Malcolm.

“Greg and Colin are tendin to ‘im. The Campbells beat him bad an’ hung ’im on a tree.” Roy’s voice faltered. “To make an example out o’ ‘im.”

“By the neck?” Malcolm followed Roy and Alan to their hut. Fear clawed at his heart and gripped his lungs, stealing the breath from him.

“Nay,” Alan said. “With his arms spread out. We think both shoulders are dislocated.”

They stopped before entering Roy’s hut. “They left us only one bed, so that is where we put ’im.” Roy held up a palm and shook his head. “Prepare yerself, lads.”

Malcolm bent through the threshold and blinked, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim candlelight. Their small huts contained no windows for daylight to filter inside. He walked across the dirt floor to the tiny bed. Graham’s long legs hung over the side. His height matched Malcolm’s at six-four. Among the three brothers, Thomas was the shortest, shy of them by a couple of inches.

Colin looked up from where he hunched over stitching a wound in the lad’s side. Greg cleaned his bruised face from the other side. Neither of them spoke as they concentrated on their tasks.

Both Malcolm and Thomas dropped to their knees. Thomas groaned and gulped back a threatening cry. Malcolm searched for his voice, but it lodged in his throat as a sickening pain clutched his soul and wouldn’t let go. They stayed that way for several moments, trying to make sense of it all.

Colin cleared his throat. “The lad fought bravely, like a Highland warrior if ever I saw one.” 

Graham disliked fighting. Unlike the rest of them, who thrived upon the sword, Graham had preferred his wits to outsmart the wretched Campbells. He held out in stubborn pride believing forgiveness and reason would bridge the great divide between the Campbells and MacGregors. Today, he had discovered the truth and his faith had almost cost him his life.

“Is he . . .” Still unable to say it, Malcolm laid a hand on Graham’s chest. A faint heartbeat pulsed beneath his palm. Malcolm closed his eyes in relief.

“He passed out from the pain when I reset his shoulders back into the sockets,” Greg said. “As soon as Colin stitches his side, we’ll bind his ribs.”

“At least he’s alive,” Thomas said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I always teased him about being the bonny son. Now look at ’im. I fear he won’t ever be the same again.”

“Graham was never vain.” Malcolm gripped Graham’s limp hand. “I worry ’bout the lad’s spirit an’ his broken ideals. He will blame himself for not saving Mither an’ Carleen. No doubt, he will feel naïve he ever thought reconciliation with the Campbells was possible.”

“Aye, ’twill take him a while to recover,” Thomas said with a sigh. “Did Mither an’ Carleen see what happened to ’im?”

“Nay,” Colin shook his head. “The Campbells split up. Scott Campbell took them away, while his father stayed behind to cause more damage.” Colin rubbed his eyebrows and sat back. “That one has the heart of the devil, he does.”

“I shall get revenge for our family an’ the whole MacGregor Clan. The Campbells have wronged us for two centuries. They have tried to wipe out the MacGregor Clan, an’ here we survive against all odds.” Malcolm raised a fist and growled. “This time, I care not what it takes.” Malcolm turned to Roy. “We shall send a scout to Kilchurn Manor to see if Mither an’ Carleen are being held there and the nearest debtor’s prison. We will move our family to Glenstrae under the protection of the MacGregor Clan Chief.” He shoved a hand on his hip and rubbed his eyebrow, fighting the onslaught of a headache and too much regret. “Should have done it a long time ago after Da died.”

“Ye were but a wee lad.” Roy shook his head. “Do not do this to yerself. ’Tisn’t yer fault.”

“Aye, ’tis time. I’ve tarried long enough. I almost lost my family because of it.” Malcolm glanced down at Graham, fear spiking inside him. He hoped it wasn’t too late.

 * * * 

"Where ye going?”

Lauren Campbell jumped with a start, throwing a hand over her hammering chest. She placed a finger across her lips to shush her sister of ten and two. A quick glance around the busy kitchen assured her no one paid them any attention. Cook put away uneaten food, while the rest of the servants cleaned up where the Campbells had broken their morning fast.

“Do I have yer word to say naught?” Lauren peeked at her sister’s wide brown eyes, curious as Blair twisted her lips into a mischievous grin.

“If ye take me with ye.” Blair nodded, her sandy, brown hair slid over her face. She brushed the long strands out of her eyes with an impatient sigh.

“I canna.” Lauren shook her head, biting her lower lip as she placed biscuits in a basket. “’Tis dangerous where I’m going.”

“Where?” Blair sidled up to the counter beside Lauren, excitement building in her tone.

“I’m going to the ancient castle of Kilchurn.” Lauren’s heart swelled as her sister’s eyes widened in admiration.

“All alone? Ye know Da would not approve if he was home.” Blair lowered her voice to a whisper. “He will be angry if ye do not take cousin Keith.”

“Keith is studying to take orders next week and will give his first sermon.” Lauren whispered, touching the tip of her sister’s nose and grabbing a block of cheese. “I canna interfere with the Lord’s work. Besides, Kilchurn Castle is part of our estate. ‘Tisn’t as if I’m leaving the grounds.”

“But ye’re leaving Kilchurn Manor,” Blair said.

“’Tis only a short ride.” Lauren covered the basket with a cloth and tucked in the edges. She paused, considering her sister’s hopeful expression.

“I want to go, please.” Blair linked her fingers as if she was about to pray. She wore the Campbell plaid over a dark blue dress and frowned with a sulky pout as she crossed her thin arms. “Lauren?”

“Run along and get ready. Meet me at the stables,” Lauren said. “I shall see that your horse is saddled and ready.”

Blair disappeared. Her footsteps pattered down the hall. Lauren chuckled and shook her head, knowing the child ran in haste. She hoped Blair would not tumble into one of the servants. With her basket of goods in tow, Lauren let herself out the side door and made her way to the stables.

It was a crisp morning, bright with sunshine and promise. Lauren loved the ancient relic of Kilchurn Castle now crumbling on the far side of Loch Awe. The short journey would take them less than an hour on horseback. On the days she walked the grounds, Lauren loved imagining what it must have been like centuries ago when the castle passed from the MagGregors to the Campbells through marriage.

Lauren entered the shaded stables. “Aidan?” Lauren called to the stable lad. “Are ye there? Blair are going for a ride.” No one answered. Strange. Lauren shrugged and stepped back, trampling on a pair of booted feet. A man’s hand clamped over her mouth, shoving a piece of cloth inside to silence her scream. Another hand pulled her by the hair and jerked her back against his hard body. Her basket of goods went flew over a nearby stall. The horse inside stomped and snorted.

“I took care o’ the lad,” said a gruff voice at her ear. “Just needed to get ’im out o’ the way. ’Tis Duncan Campbell’s daughter I want.”

Lauren’s heart pounded in her ears as she kicked behind her, but he slammed a fist against her temple. Pain sliced through her head. He wrapped an arm around her neck, cutting off her air, and dragged her into a dark corner.

“Lauren?” Blair called. Her footsteps came closer. “Are ye here?”

Closing her eyes, Lauren stopped struggling, praying God would spare her sister. The man breathed heavy at her ear, his grip intense. To Lauren’s relief, he appeared to be alone, and he did not go after Blair.

“Aidan?” Her sister sighed with frustration. “Where did everyone go?” She stomped out of the stables and back toward the manor.

As soon as Blair disappeared , the man slipped a knife to Lauren’s throat. “Go.” The blade nicked her skin as he pushed her forward, leading her out of the stables on the other side. The gag tied in her mouth made her jaw ache and dried her tongue. He dragged her into the woods where a horse waited.

Lauren tripped over a fallen branch, but he caught her and shoved her against a tree. Her bruised hip stung as he pulled her arms behind her and bound her hands. The man slung her over his horse and mounted up behind her. Between a dizzy spell and a wave of nausea, she caught a glimpse of his MacGregor plaid.

They rode toward Inverawe where Lauren often visited the poor and brought them food. Iona and Carleen MacGregor always welcomed her and shared their faith. Iona’s sons were not quite as friendly, but Graham was open-minded and kind. As the youngest, Lauren supposed he wasn’t as set in his ways as the other two. He was closer to Lauren’s age at twenty.

When they arrived at the village, Lauren wasn’t prepared for the devastation she witnessed. Ashes simmered in gray piles. Grief-stricken faces glared at her with hatred. Several people spit at her and one threw a rotten onion at her. The putrid smell made her stomach roll.

They came to a pile of rubble that should have been Iona and Carleen’s hut. Hot smoke still pumped from the smoldering remains. Lauren’s stomach tightened as tears sprang to her eyes. Her father and brother were supposed to arrive here and collect the rents. Surely, they were not responsible? Her heart ached, fearing it was the truth she wanted to deny.

Her abductor stopped at one of the huts, pumping smoke through the chimney. He grabbed Lauren by the arm and yanked her down. She stumbled to her feet, finding it hard to regain her balance. He pushed her toward the door as others surrounded them.

“Why did ye bring a Campbell ’ere?” a woman asked. “Do ye not think they have caused enough trouble?” 

“Aye,” a man said. “The whole lot o’ them will come looking for ’er.”

“Malcolm! Thomas!” Lauren’s captor ignored them and banged on the worn wooden door. “Open up. I have Lauren Campbell.”

The door swung open and Malcolm’s tall form ducked under the threshold. He crossed his arms with a menacing scowl. “Colin, ye were supposed to find my mither an’ sister, not bring back a hostage.”

“Iona an’ Carleen were not at Kilchurn.” Colin’s words came out in a rush, as he tightened his grip on her. “But she was.”

“What are we supposed to do with her?” Malcolm pointed at Lauren, venom coating his tone. “This was not the plan.”

“We have no plan since they were not at Kilchurn,” Thomas said, coming to stand behind Malcolm. “Mayhap, she can be the plan. Who else is goin’ to be as important to Duncan?” 

“She canna stay here,” another man said. “Her father will destroy the whole village lookin’ for her.” “Aye, but she’s here now Mary MacGregor said. “The damage is done. Ye should best make the best o’ her situation. Could we exchange her for Iona or Carleen?”

Shock vibrated through Lauren. What had her father done? While the MacGregors had never been cruel to her, most were wary and reluctant to befriend her except Iona and Carleen. Now that the villagers had good reason to be seething in anger and resentment, she had no idea how far they would go in using her. She wondered if anyone at home had discovered her disappearance.

“What if he comes back an’ burns the rest o’ our homes?” a woman asked.

“Heather, he owns all these huts. If he burns them all, he canna rent them out.” Malcolm scratched his temple and glanced at Lauren. “Remove her gag. She may know something.”

“How ye plan to get ‘er to talk?” Colin asked, jerking at her bindings. The cloth fell from around her head, and Lauren spit out the other piece.

“Speak up, lass.” Malcolm stepped toward her, his height more like a tower than a mere man. “Where did yer da take my mither an’ sister? The sooner we find out, the sooner negotiations can begin an’ ye can go home.”

“All I know is that he intended to collect the rents and go to the harbor.”

“The harbor?” Thomas joined his brother, his palm up against the side of his head, pondering the possibilities. “Why would he do that?”

“Only one explanation,” an older man said, lifting a finger. All eyes turned to him. “To sell them. What else?”

The women gasped, some wept, while the men groaned and complained in outrage. Colin jerked Lauren by the arm and shoved her to the center. “We have one of their own!” She stumbled and fell to her knees. He pulled her hair. Fire burned her scalp. She prayed her neck wouldn’t break from the pressure. Tears stung her eyes. Lord, I thank you for sparing Blair.

“What would Duncan do to save this bonny face?” An elderly woman bent to squeeze Lauren’s cheeks. The others came at her all at once with raised hands. Lauren closed her eyes, expecting a beating.

“Stop!” Malcolm’s firm voice sliced through the mob like a king. With the MacGregors scattered throughout Campbell lands that used to belong to the MacGregors, none of them had a clan chief. The exception was Glenstrae farther north in the heart of the Scottish highlands. Yet, no one laid a hand on her. They obeyed Malcolm out of respect.

“Let us think about our actions an’ how the Campbells might retaliate.” Malcolm lifted his hands and pointed in the direction of Kilchurn Manor. “As long as the lass lives an’ remains unharmed, we have something to bargain. None o’ us wanna worry ’bout being murdered in our beds at night or forced to flee to the hills again.”

Eyes widened, mouths dropped open, and heads shook back and forth in slow motion. Some of the villagers’ skin turned paler. They backed away from her.

“Duncan an’ Scott Campbell have a good head start. At this point, we would be guessing which harbor they went to an’ taking the lass at her word,” Malcolm said.

“Taynuilt Harbor is the closest,” Roy said. Lauren had heard one of the others call him by name. He was a middle-aged man who looked at her with so much malice her skin itched and burned. “’Tis on Loch Etive an’ leads out to sea.”

“Aye.” Malcolm nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. “First, I want to ensure Graham’s safety ’til he heals, as well as the villagers. I shall find her wretched father.” His boiling gaze landed on Lauren and their eyes met. If the good Lord hadn’t been holding her together, she might have crumbled in fear, but Lauren not only found the courage she needed, but managed to lift her chin and kept her peace. Later in solitude she would bear her burdensome fear to the Lord.

“Let us bring her inside while we tend to Graham an’ make our plans,” Malcolm said, turning to the others.

Colin shoved her. Lauren stumbled into Malcolm. He reached out a steady hand and gripped her arm. She assumed the action was only out of instinct, not for her welfare.

“What happened to Graham?” The words tumbled through her lips. Of all the MacGregor men, he had always been kind to her.

Malcolm paused, his lips twisting in anger. “Yer da ordered him beaten. They tied him to a tree, pulled an’ tortured him ’til his shoulders snapped out o’ the sockets. They murdered his best friend, William.”

Lauren cringed as her mouth drained dry and her stomach twirled. The temptation to deny his words frayed at the edge of her mind, as she followed him inside.

Malcolm directed her over to a large figure lying motionless on a small bed. A candle burned on a makeshift table beside him. She took small steps, her heart pounding into her throat.

“Graham?” Lauren leaned over him, taking in the sight of his bruised and disfigured face. The memory of his handsome features were like a vision. Graham didn’t respond. Deep sorrow filled her soul as she imagined what agony he must be enduring. “My . . . da . . . did this?”

“Aye,.” Malcolm’s tone dripped with bitterness. “I was not here, but they tell me he tried to protect my mither an’ sister—yer friends.” He emphasized the last words as if she had betrayed them herself.

“They are my friends,” she whispered, unable to wipe at her tears with her hands bound behind her. Bile rose to the back of Lauren’s throat, threatening to overcome her. Graham’s wounds would be branded in her brain forever. What would become of Iona and Carleen? She slid to her knees as grief wracked her body. Lauren had never been able to deny the emotional tug of compassion. While she wondered what was to become of her, Graham’s grave condition weighed upon her heart along with the spiritual state of the souls within her father and brother.

Lauren turned and tried to wipe her cheek on her shoulder. Malcolm strode toward her, his mouth set in a grim expression. She resisted the desire to cower and forced her muscles to remain still.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Path of Freedom - Quaker Historical (1858)

Path of Freedom (1858, North Carolina)
Quilts of Love Series, Abingdon Press
Tentative release date: Jan 2013

When Quakers Flora Saferight and Bruce Millikan embark on the Underground Railroad, they agree to put their differences aside to save the lives of a pregnant slave couple. With only her mother’s quilt as a secret guide, the foursome follows the stitches through unknown treachery.

As they begin their perilous journey, they hope and pray that their path is one of promise where love sustains them, courage builds faith, and forgiveness leads to freedom.

What People Are Saying!
"Jennifer Hudson Taylor weaves a delightful and endearing story of two characters who must fight their personal feelings and prejudices toward each other in order to follow their convictions. You’ll laugh and cry as Flora and Bruce face very real circumstances. Path of Freedom is a story not easily forgotten!"
Cindy Woodsmall,
New York Times best-selling author

"Jennifer Hudson Taylor has penned a heart-warming medieval romance full of mystery and intrigue with HIGHLAND SANCTUARY. This book grabbed my attention from page one and kept it as I prayed for Serena to recover from her mystery illness and find true acceptance and freedom." 

Laura V. Hilton, 
author of Patchwork Dreams

"I looked forward to reading a book about historical quilts. I liked the important part the quilt played in the story. The characters leapt off the pages and straight into my heart. I was sorry to see their story end." 
Lena Nelson Dooley, author of  
Maggie's Journey and Mary's Blessing 

Path of Freedom

Where to Purchase Path of Freedom
ISBN: 978-1426752636 

USA Bookstores
Abingdon Press (direct from publisher)
Amazon (print & Kindle editions)
Christian Book Distributors
Christian Post Books
Barnes & Noble

Google Books
LifeWay Christian Stores

Canada Bookstores

Amazon Canada
Ausberg Fortress Canada

UK Book Store
Amazon UK
Blackwell Online Bookstore
WHSmith Online Bookstore

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Read the First Chapter!

Path of Freedom

Chapter One
North Carolina, 1858

A shiver of excitement rushed through Flora Saferight at the thought of their upcoming trip to Virginia. It had been at least two years since she‟d seen her aunt and uncle, and even then they had traveled as a family by wagon. Now she and her younger sister would be making the trip by train.

“I think this is sensible for our journey.” Standing in Gilmer General Store, Irene held up a red shawl with a lining. Her blue eyes shone bright in the hope of Flora‟s approval. Blond curls framed Irene‟s heart-shaped face beneath her white bonnet. With a delicate nose and smooth skin heightened by a blush of enthusiasm, Irene was considered the beauty between them.

“Mother would prefer a sensible cloak,” Flora said. “Charlottesville can get awfully cold in the fall.”

Her sister bit her bottom lip and lowered her gaze in disappointment. A dramatic sigh slipped from her lips. Flora glanced around the general store and spied a rack of cloaks in the far corner by the front counter.

“Why not try one of those?” She pointed beyond a table displaying hats and bonnets, hoping to lift Irene‟s spirits. “Since we don‟t have time to make a new cloak and thee has grown out of thy clothes from last winter, I‟m sure Mother would approve.”

“True.” A bright smile lit Irene‟s face as she sailed over to investigate. “Now that I‟m taller than thee, I won‟t be inheriting thy clothes.”

The shop door opened, ringing the tiny bell at the top.

“Good morning,” Mrs. Edwards, the store clerk, called from where she stood on a small stepping stool, stacking bolts of fabric on the wall shelves.

“Morning.” Bruce Milikan stepped inside wearing a white buttoned shirt, tucked into a pair of black trousers. His reddish blond hair lay against his neck beneath his tall black hat. Heat pooled in the pit of Flora‟s stomach. She took a deep breath, eager to escape before he noticed her.

Bruce glanced back to ensure the door closed properly. Flora gulped and turned, taking advantage of his momentary distraction to hurry behind a shelf of oil lanterns.

“Flora Saferight!” His deep voice flowed over her like bittersweet honey before she reached her destination. She waited for the sting of a familiar insult. Other girls may have enjoyed his teasing and attention growing up, but she hadn‟t. She closed her eyes, cringing as his booted footsteps charged across the wooden floor.


She clenched her teeth and forced a smile as she squared her shoulders and prepared to greet him. Staring stared into his broad chest, Flora had to lean back to gaze into those amazing green eyes. When had he grown so tall?

The freckles she remembered had faded beneath a ruddy complexion and a slight tan. A smile eased his lips, revealing straight teeth—too perfect in her opinion. If only he would smile a little wider, then she‟d have the satisfaction of seeing the gaping hole on his left side. Too bad a fall from a tree had been responsible, for she would have dearly loved to claim the honor—especially after he‟d teased her about her two front teeth.

What was wrong with her? Guilt sliced through Flora. Her thoughts were much too bitter for a proper Quaker. They had been children. Still, all his barbed words had cut her to the core and continued to sting like a nasty bee buzzing around inside her soul. “Good morning, Bruce Milikan. I wasn‟t aware thee was back in town.”

It had been eight months since she‟d last seen him, but she did her best to avoid him prior to that.

“I arrived home a fortnight ago.” He blinked and his smile waned. “For a moment, I thought thee might be trying to avoid me.”

Flora lifted her chin and met his gaze. “Do I look like I‟m avoiding thee?” She folded her arms across her chest and glared at him with what she hoped was her best disapproval.

“Goodness, Bruce Milikan, thee acts as if I knew thee would walk right through that door. Since when has thee known me to back down from anything?”

His lips curled as two thin lines framed each side of his mouth into a smile. He shook his head in slow motion. “No, Beaver Face, no one could ever accuse thee of ignoring a challenge.” He shook his head with a reminiscing chuckle. “Thee is the most headstrong girl I‟ve ever known—and foolhardy at times.” He folded his arms and stared down at her as if she were still a wayward child.

“Foolhardy? Beaver Face? Really Bruce, one would hope thee would eventually grow up and leave the childhood name calling behind.” Flora bristled, heat searing through her boiling blood as it scalded her heart. “We may only be a year apart in age, but thee hasn‟t changed one bit.”

“Come on, Flora, I didn‟t mean it like that. It‟s more of an endearment now.” He stepped closer, leaning forward. “The rest of thy teeth have grown in and are now perfect.” He glanced behind him as if to see if anyone else was listening. “I‟m sorry. I wish I‟d never called thee that. I‟ve sure spent the rest of my days paying for it.”

She stepped back, too confused by his nearness and stunned by his apology. Flora swallowed, clearing her mind. The childhood taunts she could forgive, but the idea that he would insinuate she‟s foolish when she‟d worked so hard to become a proper young lady of eighteen, chafed her?

“Apparently, thee isn‟t sorry. For thee just called me foolhardy. I‟ll have thee know, there‟s a good doctor in Virginia who thinks very highly of me. As a midwife, he believes I‟ll compliment him his practice rather well.” Clint Roberts had only mentioned it once in a letter, but she chose to interpret his words to mean that. No need in letting Bruce know she exaggerated.

“What doctor?” The light left his green eyes and his lips dropped in a frown. “Is thee courting a doctor?” He shifted, placing his fists at his side.

Irene walked over with a dark purple cloak draped over her arm. The bell rang and a new customer walked in, greeting Mrs. Edwards.

“It‟s true,” Irene said. “Flora met him two summers ago when we were visiting our aunt and uncle. They've been corresponding ever since.”

Thrilled that her sister would come to her aide, Flora beamed at Bruce. “See? Perhaps thee is the only one who harbors such an opinion of me.” She stepped around him and joined her sister‟s side. “I‟m content to reside myself with the knowledge that I‟ll always be an ugly Beaver Face girl to thee, and thee will always be a mean-spirited bully to me—a childhood nightmare I‟m more than happy to forget.”

She linked arms with her sister and turned, leading Irene to the front counter. “For that dear sister, thee may have a purple cloak. Thee deserves something a little less…plain today,” Flora whispered in her ear.

“Flora, thee has an imagination to feed a pack of werewolves.” Bruce called from behind. “Thee is twisting my words. It isn‟t like that.”

“Indeed,” she mumbled loud enough for only Irene to hear. “The years have been much worse.”
* * *
It took three trips, but Bruce finally hauled all the supplies he‟d purchased to the wagon parked out front. He dropped the last twenty pound bag of flour in the bed and rubbed the dust from his hands.

An image of Flora Saferight came to mind. She wasn‟t as plain as she thought. In fact, she had grown into a beautiful woman, but he couldn‟t give her the satisfaction of knowing he thought so. Flora possessed blue-gray eyes that could captivate a man until he lost his senses. Her coffee colored hair matched her spirited personality, vibrant and alive.

Why had he called her foolhardy? He touched the palm of his hand to his forehead in disbelief. Now she had another grievance to hold against him in addition to his long list of past sins. While some of her decisions were impulsive, and she needed more time to mature, he didn‟t think of her as a child either. Flora was an enigma with the cunning ability to challenge and frustrate him. Yet, in spite of her annoyances, she intrigued him.

Wagons and carriages rolled by crunching pebbles and dirt in the road. Two women stopped to converse on the corner in front of the barber shop. He strained to see if they were Flora and Irene, but when they turned, he realized it was a mother and daughter.

Disappointment fueled his chest. He wanted to find out more about the doctor in Virginia. Was she serious about this man? Bruce strolled around the wagon and prepared to pull himself up into the seat.

“Good day, Bruce Milikan.” A familiar voice called from behind.

Bruce turned to see Pastor John Allred striding toward him from across the street. He had to dodge a rider before he reached Bruce. They shook hands in a firm grip, greeting each other with smiles.

“Glad to see thee back. When did thee arrive in town?” John asked.

“Almost a fortnight ago. I‟m sorry I missed meeting past week, but I plan to be there this Sunday. It was a long trip to Indiana. I‟ve been trying to catch up on some chores around the farm.”

“No need to explain.” John shook his head and waved his hand to dismiss the issue. “Thee is doing important work for the Lord. That‟s the main thing. Was the mission successful?”

“Yes, but I‟m looking forward to seeing everyone again and catching up on all the news. I just ran into Flora and Irene Saferight.”

“I heard they‟re about to leave on the train to Virginia.” John rubbed the back of his neck.

“Speaking of which, there‟s something I‟d like to discuss with thee. Would thee be willing to come over for supper tonight?”

Bruce rubbed his chin. What would Flora‟s trip to Virginia have to do with him? Curious, he nodded. “I‟ll tell Mother not to expect me for supper when I return. Flora mentioned a doctor she met up there two summers ago. Does thee know when they‟ll be leaving?” Bruce hoped his voice sounded casual. “I thought she was planning on being a midwife around here.”

“I don‟t reckon her plans have changed.” John shook his head, his brown eyes lit and a smooth grin spread across his face. “In fact, she helped Hazel Miller birth her latest child. I think Flora will prove to be one of our best assets to this community.”

Not if she moves away to Virginia. The sudden thought made Bruce‟s stomach churn. She was too young. What was she thinking? He‟d only been gone eight months. How could things change so fast?

“Well, Pastor John, I‟d better get these things home and put away so I can make it over to your place in time for supper.”

“Good idea, Bruce.” John slapped him on the shoulder. “I‟ll see thee in a little while.”

Bruce gave him a nod and climbed into the wagon. He took the reins, unset the brake, and guided the horse down the street. Bruce road past fields of tobacco and rows of tall corn until the two-story gray house came into view by early afternoon.

His mother came out on the porch, shielding her brown eyes from the sun. Her plump form was a welcome sight as she pulled her tan shawl tight around her and patted the silver bun on the crown of her head.

“Looks like thee brought the whole store back from town.” Her soft voice teased. She hurried down the porch steps toward the wagon and peered over the side.

“Just half of it.” Bruce winked, giving her a grin as he jumped down. When she smiled back, a ring of wrinkles encased her loving eyes, reminding him of how much she had aged in the last two years.

With two older brothers and a sister grown and married, his parents were now sixty. Only Bruce and Silas, his younger brother, remained on the farm.

“I ran into Pastor John while I was in town. He asked me over for supper. Said he needed to discuss something with me.” Bruce laid a hand on her shoulder. “So don‟t make a plate for me this evening.” He kissed her cheek.

“I hope he doesn‟t have another mission for thee so soon. Son, I believe in the work thee does for the Underground Railroad, but after so many months of traveling, thee needs a break. Can he not find someone else this time?” His mother wrung her hands as she followed him to the back of the wagon where he unhitched the latch and pulled down the gate.
“I‟m not sure, but I‟ll be fine Mother. Thee knows if I don‟t go, Father will. He‟s content to let me take his place, but he won‟t stand by and let the Milikan‟s miss out on what he thinks is an opportunity to save a life.”

“It‟s so dangerous!”

“Which is why Father should stay here. He can‟t handle the outdoor elements and the vigorous running and climbing over the mountains like he once did.”

“Holly!” His father rode his horse in a canter toward them.

Bruce and his mother walked to meet him where he slowed to a stop. His gray whiskers and side burns looked white rather than gray beneath his black hat with the sun casting him in a silhouette from behind.

“Some of the cows escaped.” He took a deep breath. “Part of the fence must have been weak”

“I‟ll help thee round them up,” Bruce offered.

“Thee can help after unloading.”

His father nodded toward the wagon. “Know where Silas is?”

“He was in the barn working on that harvest machine that Bruce made a while back.” Mother said. “Can‟t get it to work right.”

“I‟ll need his help. He can work on that later.” Father started to pull away, but she reached up and laid a hand on his arm.

“Eli, Bruce has another meeting with the pastor this evening.”

His father paused and his hazel eyes met Bruce‟s. “Do I need to be there?”

“He didn‟t mention it,” Bruce said.

“Well, all right then. Let us know if it‟s another mission.” His father rode away.

“I wish thee didn‟t have to go.” His mother sighed, watching her husband ride toward the barn.

“It may not even be about a new mission. Pastor John may only want a report on the last mission to Indiana.”

She grabbed his arm and smiled with relief. “Thee is right. I hadn‟t even thought of that. Perhaps that‟s all it is.”
* * *
Flora didn‟t slow until the post office was in sight. Her sister breathed heavy from their brisk pace, hauling her new cloak over her arm.

“I still don‟t see why thee wouldn‟t let me stop long enough to put my cloak in the wagon. Besides, I thought we had more shopping to do.” Irene glared at Flora while they waited for a buggy to pass before crossing the street.

“I promise. We‟ll go back and finish our shopping after I‟m sure Bruce Milikan is gone.” Flora charged into the street and stomped across the dirt road.

“Thee cannot avoid him forever. Forgive him for the past and let it go. He‟s right. It was a long time ago.”

“It‟s true that Beaver Face was a long time ago, but his calling me foolhardy this morning isn‟t.” Flora blew out a puff of air. If it were possible for a human being to explode, she‟d be in a million pieces right now.

She swung open the post office door and an elderly woman stumbled out.

“Oh! Pardon me.” Flora reached for the woman‟s elbow to steady her.

“Goodness!” The gray haired woman righted herself and smoothed her skirts. She lifted her chin and glanced up at Flora and then Irene with brown eyes of stone. “You young people need not be in such haste. I daresay, this post office won‟t grow legs and walk, you know.”
“Yes, ma‟am.” Flora pressed her lips together to keep from laughing.

Inside, Flora blinked, adjusting her eyes to the darkness. She strode toward the open window where Joseph Miller, the clerk, greeted her with a genuine smile.

“Howdy, Miss Saferight and Miss Saferight.” He nodded to Irene standing by Flora. “Hazel and the baby are doing very well. You did a fine job delivering my baby girl.” He rubbed the top of his bald head, a thin layer of brown hair stretched from ear to ear.

“I‟m glad to hear it. I hope to stop by for a visit before we leave on our trip to Virginia,” Flora said.
“Hazel would like that. I think the confinement is starting to get to her.”

“It won‟t be long before she‟ll be able to go out into society again.” Flora pulled out a folded letter addressed to her aunt. “I need to send this to Charlottesville, Virginia.”

“That will be one penny.”

Flora dug into her skirt pocket and handed him the required change. Once they finished their business at the post office, they stepped outside the small wooden building into the bright sun. She shielded her eyes. She loved North Carolina in the fall. Soon more color would fill their world and cooler weather would bring in the harvest.

“I promised Mother we‟d stop by the train station and find out the prices of the tickets,” Flora said, as they made their way toward South Elm Street.

“This is exciting!” In a sudden burst of energy, Irene caught Flora‟s pace as a smile tilted the corners of her mouth. “Just think, we‟ll be going through the capital city of Raleigh and then into Virginia in comfortable passenger seats. No slow, bumpy wagon with a hard wooden seat for days on end.”

The sound of a distant train whisle bellowed through the air. White smoke shot into the sky over the gray roof of the wooden train depot as they neared. A shiny black engine appeared beyond the building, hauling several linked caboose cars taking off in an eastward direction. More steam unleashed its power, hissing and groaning against the wheels as they churned over the rails. The massive iron machine started out slow, but gained speed and momentum with each thrust.

They reached the side of the depot and rounded the corner of the building to the front entrance. Flora collided into a moving object and gasped, straightening her bonnet.

“Oh dear, please excuse me.” a woman said.

Flora glanced up. Concerned green eyes met her gaze. Whisps of auburn hair framed the woman‟s young face beneath a white bonnet. Recognition gripped Flora‟s muddled brain as she took a moment to sort through her childhood memories for a name.

“Kimberly Coltrane?” Flora tilted her head and gulped, hoping she‟d remembered correctly.
“Yes.” She blinked and after a moment her eyes widened. “Flora and Irene Saferight?” Her mouth dropped open, before she covering it with a delicate hand. “How long has it been?”

“It seems like thee moved from Centre to New Garden four or five years ago,” Irene said. “Thee has turned into a beauty.”

Her rosy glow deepened and she looked down. While she wore a simple gray skirt and white blouse, Flora agreed that Kimberly could never be considererd plain.

“What brings thee to Greensborough?” She glanced from Irene to Flora, raising an arched eyebrow.
“Shopping,” Irene said, holding out her new cloak.

“It‟s lovely,” Kimberly ran a gentle hand over the purple garment. “I wish I was in town to shop. I came with my father. He‟s inside buying a ticket for a business trip to Raleigh. Earlier I had to wait on him in the hardware store.” Her eyes brightened, almost like sparkling emeralds. “Guess who we ran into?”

Irene and Flora exchanged knowing glances.

“Would it happen to be Bruce Milikan?” Flora asked, trying not to show disdain in her expression or tone.

“Exactly!” She grinned, blinking in surprise. “He‟s changed so much. He‟s as tall as my father now. They discussed farming methods in the hardware store.”

“Indeed, we saw him in the general store.” Flora shifted in discomfort as Kimberly‟s expression transformed to a dreamy daze.

“Who would have ever guessed that Bruce Milikan would turn out to be so handsome.”

Kimberly touched her hand to her chest. “He‟s such a gentleman and so attentive. I hope he meant it when he said I‟ve grown into a sophisticated woman and he‟d stop by and call on us when he‟s in town again.”

“He called thee sophisticated?” The question tumbled from Flora‟s tongue before she could hold it back. Disappointment stabbed her anew, twisting her heart.

“Yes.” Kimberly folded her arms as if hugging herself and her smile widened. “Father seems to be impressed by him as well. He‟s talked of nothing else since.”

Rare jealousy sparked a flame in Flora‟s wounded chest. She had always wondered if Bruce Milikan was incapable of tenderness and pleasant gallantry. Now she had proof. He was more than capable—just not with her. The realization brought anger and then a fresh wave of bitterness.