Authors: Kari Edgren
By Kari Edgren
Selah Kilbrid keeps a dangerous secret: she has the power to heal.
A direct descendent of the Celtic goddess Brigid, it’s Selah’s sacred duty to help those in need. But as the last of the Goddess Born living in the New World, she learned from an early age to keep her supernatural abilities hidden. The Quaker community of Hopewell has always been welcoming, but there’s no doubt they would see her hanged if her gift was revealed.
When a prominent minister threatens to try her with witchcraft unless she becomes his wife, Selah has only one hope—that her betrothed, a distant cousin from Ireland, arrives as planned. Marrying Samuel would keep her secret safe, preserve her sacred bloodline, and protect her from being charged as a witch.
But when news of Samuel’s death reaches the Colonies, Selah is truly on her own. Terrified, she faces an impossible choice—forfeit her powers and marry the loathsome Nathan? Or find an imposter to pose as her husband and preserve her birthright?
To Dale Miller, a true renaissance man and die-hard champion; Dan Edgren and Rebecca Jones, extraordinary parents and constants among the variables; Thomas Miller, who proofread everything I wrote and always asked for more; Tonya Bindas, my personal anti-depressant and the Flash in disguise; John Burt and Cindy Burt, best friends and enthusiastic readers; Kerri Buckley, super-sleuth editor who found the story’s weak spots and helped make it a gazillion times better; Grace, Connor and Elsa for the teen perspective; the Savvy Seven (less me if anyone’s counting) Sheri Adkins, Holly Bodger, Amy DeLuca, Kim MacCarron, Bonnie Staring, Darcy Woods, a collective life vest in the vast ocean of publishing; Francesca Miller and Betsy Ross, ABNA friends and sharp-eyed readers; Hailey Boren, Gwenaëlle Cattin, Carrie Fox, Katie LeFevre, Roxanne Owens, Virginia Deal Richins, Stephanie Svedin and Alexa Wilcox, who helped manage my brood so I had the time and energy to get the words out. Thank you!
Long ago in Ireland
the goddess Brigid married King Bres and had three sons.
Those children grew up
married mortals and had children of their own
for untold generations.
we are the Goddess Born.
Come Home Quickly
The air was still, the sky silent and empty over the wheat fields that ran undisturbed to the forest’s edge. Not yet noon, the late morning sun beat against my back, pushing me toward home. I hitched up my skirts and tried to walk faster despite a shortness of breath and the painful stitch gnawing at my side. Dirt and loose rocks crunched underfoot, each step echoing the frantic cadence in my head.
Over the past eighteen years I had traveled this road between Hopewell and Brighmor Hall at least a thousand times, but never before had these two miles been as onerous as they were today. Unable to go any farther without resting, I stepped off the road into the grass and leaned against a prodigious oak to catch my breath. Sweat coated every inch of my body, causing the skin to prickle wherever my shift brushed against it. Still a mile away, I was fraught with worry and more than a little inclined to slap Mary Finney senseless. Her note, clutched tightly in my right hand, held the promise of ill news.
Come home quickly.
That was all she had bothered to write before giving the note to a neighbor who happened to be passing by Brighmor Hall on his way into town. William Goodwin, older brother of my best friend Nora, tracked me down at the dry goods store and handed over the neatly folded paper. He then excused himself, leaving me to stare at those three ominous words.
Come home quickly.
And I would have done just that if Ben Hayes hadn’t taken the horse and shay out to the gristmill to discuss the expected wheat harvest after driving me to town. Not that I could blame him. As our family’s most trusted servant, Ben had been tasked with managing much of the farm since my father took sick. Any other day I would have gladly remained in the grass beneath the ancient oak and waited for Ben to bring me the rest of the way home. Staring ahead at the rutted, stone-strewn road, I didn’t know which I regretted most this morning—the closely fitted silk gown or matching brocade heels. Neither was meant for prolonged walking, nor capable of the slightest mercy. Flexing my toes, I winced from what felt like the start of a blister. The cloth and bone stays proved equally irksome, binding my ribs and not allowing for anything beyond a cramped breath.
Reduced to an anxious, hobbling mess, Mary’s thoughtlessness smoldered like a piece of hot coal inside me. I clenched her note even tighter in my fist, crushing the linen sheet into a sweaty ball.
It’s not as though it would have killed her to write another line.
My mind raced for answers, but there were only two reasons to justify such a panic and my hasty summons home: either my father’s health had grown alarmingly worse or a letter had arrived concerning my impending marriage.
These were my thoughts when I spied a man in the distance on his way into Hopewell. Having dallied long enough already, I readjusted my straw hat, making sure to tuck up any stray dark hairs, and continued on the road. It took no time for the distance to fall away, allowing me a clear view of his face.
“Ballocks!” I cursed under my breath.
Other than the Devil himself, Nathan Crowley was the last person I wanted to see today. Then again, the Devil hadn’t been pestering me for months to become his wife. For a split second I considered cutting across the Trumbles’ property for home, but navigating the road was difficult enough. I wouldn’t make it ten steps through a field without twisting an ankle. As I also lacked the means to fly or vanish into thin air, I heaved an irritated sigh and resigned myself to the inevitable encounter.
To be fair, most folks didn’t share my opinion that Nathan was the most annoying man in Hopewell. A Quaker minister, he exemplified plain living, hard work, and service to those less fortunate. All admirable traits, and for a time I had found his company rather pleasant, if a little overwhelming. Ordinary in both form and feature, it was the fierce intensity in his eyes that set him apart from other men. Although I was never at liberty to consider his proposals of marriage, refusing him had been no trivial matter. Even now, with my betrothed on his way from Ireland, Nathan continued to labor under the delusion that I would soon be his wife.
When we finally met, I nodded in greeting, and then took another step to continue on my way. No sooner had I attempted to pass by than he stepped directly in my path, forcing me to a dead stop. In his shoes he measured a hand taller than my five and a quarter feet, and though he appeared slight in his traditional Quaker garb of brown woolen breeches and coat, it was well known that he didn’t lack for physical strength. A black hat covered his cropped brown hair, the wide brim casting much of his face in shadow. It did nothing to hide his self-sure smile.
“Good day, Selah Kilbrid,” he said pleasantly.
. Crowley,” I said, placing particular emphasis on the “mister.” As a Quaker, Nathan did not abide the use of titles, and from the abrupt change of his expression, my insult had been noted. “You will please excuse me. I am expected home without delay.”
“I have just come from Brighmor Hall myself.”
Suspicion flickered inside of me. “Why were you at Brighmor? Did you have business with my father?”
“Yes, but he was indisposed and unable to meet with me. You may relay my best wishes for his improved health.”
“Thank you, Mr. Crowley. I will be sure to deliver your message.” I attempted to sidle past when Nathan moved in step, blocking me once more.
“You may also tell him,” he continued, “that it is time for us to openly declare our intent to marry. If we stand in meeting this Sunday we can be joined by midsummer’s day.”
I blinked several times, stunned by so forward a declaration. “Indeed, sir, you must be jesting.”
“On the contrary, Selah. I’ve no patience for such games and believe my intentions have been adequately clear for sometime now.”
“Then I am very sorry, for my cousin would never forgive me if I broke our engagement after he agreed to sail all the way from Ireland.”
Nathan stretched his thin lips into a patronizing smile. “Your cousin is not a Quaker. The Elders will never approve the match.”
“You forget, Mr. Crowley, that I am also not a Quaker. My name has never been read into the membership.” Though I tried to hide it, my voice shook with anger.
He shrugged indifferently. “I have spoken with the Elders, and they agree you are a member by right of birth.”
A sudden flush of heat burned my cheeks. “You know very well that I was baptized Catholic long before my father joined the Quakers. My mother only agreed to his conversion on the condition that I could decide for myself when I came of age.”
“And yet you turned eighteen in February and continue to attend meeting each week.”
“The nearest Catholic church is fifty miles away!”
“No matter,” he said impatiently. “Unless you stand up with me this Sunday and declare your intent to marry, I will petition the Elders to have you disowned.”
I glared at him, no longer concerned with even the pretense of civility. “Why are you trying to force me into marriage when I have no desire to be your wife?”
For a brief moment the intensity in his eyes surged. “Once I received the call to minister I sought inspiration for a suitable woman to assist me in my work. In a vision I saw your inner light and have been commanded to take you for my spiritual helpmate. It is God’s will for us to marry, to serve together in His vineyard.”
“But I am already engaged! My cousin will be here any day now!”
Nathan shook his head. “Your cousin is not a suitable match. Once the details of your conflicting faiths become known, any reasonable man would realize the marriage was failed from the start. As a gesture of goodwill, I shall even reimburse his return passage to Ireland to help compensate for any inconveniences.”
“You can’t honestly think my cousin would be so easily diverted.”
“If you believe him unreasonable, then we can marry before he arrives, to safeguard against any potential claims.”
Hell and furies!
What is wrong with this man?
Gritting my teeth, I spoke slowly, hoping to somehow penetrate his thick skull. “No, we cannot, not now, not in a thousand years. I would rather be disowned than marry you.”
Nathan leaned closer and I fought the urge to step back. “You are playing a dangerous game, Selah. Deny God’s will, and I shall request an official inquiry into that incident with Oliver Trumble. From what I heard the boy was near dead when you reached him.”
“Don’t be absurd,” I snapped. “He fell out of an apple tree and hit his head on a rock. Being knocked unconscious is a far cry from near dead.”
Nathan narrowed his eyes. “His older sister has a different story. She used the word
to describe what you did.”
“You are quite mistaken, Mr. Crowley. I can no more bring back the dead than you can.” I lifted my chin and forced a curt, derisive laugh. “Phoebe Trumble will say anything to get attention. I did nothing other than wait for Oliver to wake up before ministering to his scrapes and bruises.”
Nathan didn’t respond at once, and I thought the conversation over when he grabbed my arm, pulling me to him. “Be my wife, Selah Kilbrid, or I’ll have you charged for a witch.”
I tried to wrestle free, but he held tight. “Find one person who will stand against my father. Go ahead and cry witch. No one will believe you.”
“You foolish girl. Once your father dies, there is no one left to protect you. Even if you don’t hang, the wheat would rot in the fields from want of men willing to work for a suspected witch. Brighmor would be bankrupt within a year, two at most. Do you think your cousin would be so eager to honor your engagement under these altered circumstances?”
The initial shaking had spread far beyond my voice until I trembled from head to toe with suppressed fury. “Is this how you go about doing God’s work? By threatening to slander my name to force me into marriage?” Fight as I might, his grip remained steadfast on my arm. “Let me go!” Stomping down on his shiny black shoe, I dug my heel into the top of his foot. He grunted in pain, and I stumbled back a step, surprised by the sudden freedom.
Savage anger burned in Nathan’s eyes, turning his face an ugly shade of red. “I am prepared to do whatever it takes to have you for my wife. This Sunday we will stand and state our intentions to marry. Refuse and I’ll assume it’s because you’re a witch and unable to marry a man called of God.”
Despite my desire to say something more, like blasting him with every curse I had ever heard, my throat grew too tight for words. Silence pursued and he did not attempt to stop me a third time when I pushed by and started again toward home.
The remaining mile was nothing short of torture. Replaying our conversation in my head, I no longer heard the words of a true believer, but rather the pious twaddle of a fanatic. How else could he have come to such conclusions? And what right did he have to decide God’s plan for me?
The threat of being disowned by an entire group of people, nearly half of Hopewell’s two hundred residents, gave me pause. Over the years I had come to love my Quaker neighbors and friends and did not wish to be banished from their presence. If this happened, I still had ample acquaintances among the Lutherans, Baptists, and Presbyterians, which made up the other half of Hopewell’s population. But all these girls put together could never replace my dearest friend, Nora Goodwin. The daughter of good Quaker parents, she would be strictly forbidden from seeing me until I made my way back into the Elders’ good graces.
And from Nathan’s threats, disownment would be only the beginning if I refused to marry him. The humiliation of a witch trial and subsequent tests would ruin my reputation. Regardless of the outcome, people would never forget my being tied to the dunking chair or weighed against the scriptures, forever linking me with witchcraft in their minds. No longer would they seek me out to tend their sick and wounded, nor set foot on my land out of fear of any lingering evil. Everything my father had built would be for naught. Once he was gone, I would lose Brighmor and with it, all security in this world.
These worries had to be temporarily pushed aside the moment I reached the drive and found a red-eyed Mary Finney waiting for me. “Oh, miss,” she cried. “It’s yer father—”
“Tell me what happened,” I demanded.
“Ye know how he’s been feeling so poorly and not getting around too good on his own anymore. Well, when ye and Ben left for town I got worried with him not ringing for breakfast and I went to his bedchamber to see if he needed any help.” Her shoulders began to shake. “I’m sorry, Miss Kilbrid, but there was nothing I could do.”
My heart jerked violently.
please don’t let him be dead.
Mary snuffled loudly. “I tried to help him but he had no more strength than a newborn babe. He told me to leave him be and to send for ye at once.” She drew up her apron to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I’m so sorry, miss.”
Relief coursed through me. “Thank you, Mary. You did well.”
There was still time, but only if I acted quickly. Kicking off my shoes, I hiked up my skirts and ran toward the large stone house. Within minutes I knelt at his bedside, heart racing and lungs fit to burst from the exertion. Staring at his damp gray hair and ashen skin, I couldn’t believe the stark change that had occurred since last night. Except for the slow rise and fall of his chest, he looked like death itself.
I hated acting contrary to his wishes, but I couldn’t let him die, especially after Nathan’s egregious threats. Four years ago I had lost my mother in an accident and, wrong or not, I needed my father.
Reaching out, I placed my hands on his sternum. The sickness was easy enough to find as it had spread throughout most of his body, but so much healing would take a great deal of focus and strength. I closed my eyes to better concentrate, relaxing a little when a small fire sprang to life behind my ribcage. The flame strengthened, and its familiar warmth flowed down my arms into the very tips of my fingers. With a deep breath, I willed the power forward, anxious for the healing to begin.