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Authors: Arianna Eastland

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BOOK: Too Far to Whisper
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She momentarily considered feigning a swoon to gain additional time, but finally surrendered. “I am prepared to tell you all that occurred.” She looked directly at Elias. “But I beseech you, sir, to have patience, for this shall not be easy for me.”

“Take all the time you need,” Elias said with a nod. “I may, however, interrupt you to ask questions.”

Rosalind quietly, methodically, began to recite her false tale of being taken hostage at knifepoint, of spending days in the forest with Shadow and finally, of being abandoned near Adam Stoddard’s house.

Elias scribbled on the parchment as she spoke, pausing only to dip the quill into the inkpot he had set on her night table. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Tell me more about your journey to Portsmouth. Were your hands bound? Was the Indian’s knife constantly at your throat or back? Did he deprive you of food and water? Did he threaten or beat you?”

Rosalind’s head reeled from his many questions. “While in the forest,” she carefully explained, “I neither was bound nor beaten, and I never was deprived of food.” She suppressed a bittersweet smile as she recalled how Shadow had tried to convince her to eat the raw fish. “I made no attempt to escape him because I knew it would be futile.  I knew not where I was nor how to get back home, and even if I had tried and succeeded in gaining a lead on him, I knew he too easily would catch up with me.”

Elias appeared disappointed with her response. “Did the savage never attempt to assault you in any way?”

“He never laid a hand on me,” Rosalind answered.
Not until I encouraged him to.

Elias’s forehead creased as he absently tapped the point of the quill against the parchment. “Well, we all agree that he murdered Jonathan, and ‘tis obvious he did the same to Roger Beckford.”

“Nay,” Rosalind said. Although she had little recourse other than to remain silent about how Jonathan had died, she was not about to allow Shadow to also shoulder the blame for Roger’s death. “As I said before, Mr. Beckford was not murdered. The man had a weak heart. The strain of the journey while carrying a heavy pack proved to be too great for him. I witnessed his last breath and I can assure you, it was not caused by anyone’s hand.”

“Describe what occurred immediately prior to Beckford’s death,” Elias said, his eyes boring into hers.

“I was awakened by his gasping for breath. I discovered the poor man clutching at his chest, unable to breathe and suffering great pain. Within minutes, he was dead.”

A trace of a smile curved Elias’s lips. “The man already was gasping and in pain when you awakened? How can you be certain then that the savage had not assaulted the man as you slept? Did you check his body for wounds or marks?”

Rosalind shook her head. “Nay, I did not.”

“Then for all you know,” Elias reasoned, “the Indian very well could have directly caused Roger’s death.”

The assumption was so absurd, Rosalind found it difficult to hold her tongue and not lash out at Elias.

Elias interpreted her silence as an admission of Shadow’s guilt. “Tell me,” he persisted, “how you came to get that bump on your head.”

“I assume I struck my head when I swooned,” she said.

“’Tis it not possible that after you swooned, the savage attempted to ensure you never awoke again by hitting you with a rock? ‘Tis my strong belief that the savage was about to inflict a second, perhaps fatal blow when Nathaniel’s timely arrival halted the action and saved your life.”

Rosalind was forced to bite back an angry response. “I know not what occurred after I swooned,” she said tightly. “I know only what Nathaniel told me when I awoke here.”

Elias gave her a smug look, obviously confident he had gained another small victory in his efforts to portray Shadow as a crazed killer who surely would have murdered her, had Nathaniel not come to her rescue.

“I am very tired,” Rosalind said, closing her eyes. She was eager to be rid of Elias and his ridiculous accusations. “Have you all the information you require?”

“For now,” the magistrate responded, scanning what he had written. “I shall copy this over more legibly, then return it for your signature. In the meantime, if I have any further questions, I shall let you know.” He stood and turned to face his son. “Come, Nathaniel,” let us leave the young lady to her sleep.”

“I crave a word alone with her first.” Nathaniel spoke for the first time all evening. “I shall be along directly.”

Elias gave him a brief nod. “Join me downstairs for a drink when you are through.”

Rosalind glared at Nathaniel, resenting him for not having had the courtesy to ask her permission to remain, especially when he knew how much she wanted to rest.

“Rosalind,” he began as soon as the chamber door had closed behind his father, “earlier today my mother informed me we must set our wedding date as soon as possible.” He sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand in his.

“Why would Abigail wish us to rush so?” she asked. “Surely she is aware I need to regain my health ere I can even consider becoming a bride?”

“Your health improves daily, so she sees no reason to further delay making plans.”

“You speak as though I have been outside running races,” Rosalind said tersely. “When in fact, I barely am able to walk. What I need is the courtesy of everyone’s patience.”

Nathaniel tightened his grasp on her hand and leaned forward until his face was but only inches from hers. “How can I be patient when every part of me aches to possess you?” he breathed. “Have you no idea how difficult is for me to be so near to you, sleeping beneath the same roof, stealing glimpses of you in your nightdress, when I crave you to the point of distraction?”

“I
do
understand how you feel,” Rosalind said, because for the first time in her life she truly did. Too vividly she recalled how her aching need for Shadow had caused her to lie awake on more than one occasion, craving his kisses…his touch.

Nathaniel misinterpreted the longing in her eyes. “My love,” he whispered. He lifted her hand to his lips and delivered a kiss to her palm. “You feel it also.”

His words snapped Rosalind’s attention back to the present and sadly, away from her passionate memories of Shadow. “Feel what?”

“The longing. I can tell you are as impatient as I am for us to become one. The desire I just witnessed in your eyes plainly revealed it.”

Embarrassed that her private thoughts about Shadow were so transparent, Rosalind clamped her eyes shut and released a long sigh.

“The color in your cheeks is most becoming,” Nathaniel said, smiling. “Mother has informed me that if we do not select a wedding date, she will set it for us and proceed with the plans, with or without our approval.”

Rosalind groaned and opened her eyes. “Again, I must wonder. Why such haste?”

“She is as eager to make you a Corwin as I am. Perhaps she fears you might be snatched away from us again.”

“That is highly unlikely.”

“Even so, I do not plan to let you out of my sight. I think we should set our wedding date for the third Friday in July.”

Rosalind’s eyes grew wide. “But that is less than six weeks away!”

“Aye, more than sufficient time to prepare for the event. And by then, you should be fully recovered and feeling fine again.”

“But I would much prefer an autumn wedding,” she said. “The colors are so lovely then, and the air so crisp. July is much too hot and the insects are unbearable.”

Nathaniel shook his head. “As much as I would like to grant your wish, my love, I refuse to consider waiting another three months to make you my bride. ‘Tis out of the question.”

“Do you not wish to please me?”

Nathaniel chuckled. He released her hand and reached out to twirl a lock of her hair between his fingers. “Oh, indeed, my love. I wish to please you, and I fully intend to…in ways you cannot even begin to imagine.”

Rosalind did not have to imagine. She knew all too well what he had in mind, and she did not appreciate the direction in which he was attempting to lead the conversation.

“Nathaniel, I am desperately craving sleep,” she said. “So I pray you will not think me rude if I insist that you take your leave now.”

“Not at all,” he said. “We shall continue this discussion on the morrow.” He fastened his gaze on Rosalind’s mouth. “But I do not intend to leave this chamber until you allow me the pleasure of a goodnight kiss.”

“’Twould not be proper!”

Nathaniel shrugged. “’Tis not proper for me to be alone with you in your chamber, either, but that has not stopped me.”

Before Rosalind could respond, Nathaniel leaned forward and covered her mouth with his, his lips demanding as they crushed hers. Not wishing to give him even the slightest bit of encouragement, she lay as still as a corpse, her eyes wide open and her arms lying limp at her sides.

Nathaniel lifted his head and frowned at her. “Perhaps ‘twould have been more satisfying had I kissed the wall,” he said dryly.

“You already have demonstrated what occurs when a woman responds to you,” Rosalind said, narrowing her eyes at him. “Or have you so soon forgotten your behavior at Mr. Stoddard’s?”

Nathaniel stiffened and sat up straight. “I do apologize for my actions that night, Rosalind. But the blame was not entirely mine. You led me to believe you desired me.”

“And when I attempted to stop you, you continued to force your affections upon me!”

“Do not concern yourself further.” Nathaniel’s tone was icy. “I shall make no attempt to kiss you again…until our wedding night.” He grasped her hand and squeezed it. “And then, my love, you shall be mine to do with as I please.”

Rosalind glared at the door long after Nathaniel’s departure. “I shall
never
be your wife!” she whispered, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand to erase his kiss.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

“The dressmaker I have engaged to make the dresses for the wedding should be arriving from Boston within the hour,” Abigail announced as she stood just inside the doorway that connected Rosalind’s chamber with hers. “There are sketches and fabric sample she wishes you to choose from.”

When Rosalind only nodded, Abigail added, “I also have sent for Nellie and Elizabeth, seeing they are to be your maids at the wedding. There is no reason why they should not look as lovely as their sister.”

The latter statement gained Rosalind’s attention. “You sent word to my sisters to come here?”

“Why, of course,” Abigail responded, acting as if making wedding plans behind the bride’s back was perfectly acceptable. “No need to disturb you with such trivial matters.”

Rosalind made a poor attempt to look appreciative, for the truth was, she resented Abigail for ignoring her request to delay the wedding until autumn, and for setting the date in July, caring naught about her wishes.

Although Abigail’s health had much improved during the two weeks since Rosalind’s return, the woman still was weak, and the fact she was grasping the door frame to support herself as she stood in the doorway, did not escape Rosalind’s notice. Rosalind, however, had fully recovered from her injury, although she was in no hurry to divulge that information to anyone, most especially Nathaniel.

“You should have informed me of this sooner,” Rosalind said, immediately taking a brush to her hair. “I really am not prepared for visitors today.”

Abigail eyed her knowingly. “Nor will you ever be if the visitors have anything to do with your
wedding, am I right?”

The hand that held the brush froze in mid-air. “What do you mean?”

“I am not blind, child,” Abigail said. “You could not possibly care less about this wedding.”

Rosalind turned to look at her. “’Tis just that it is difficult for me to share your eagerness to plan my future when the memories of the recent past are still so fresh.”

“Perhaps if you would make a genuine effort to accept all that is being offered to you,” Abigail’s tone turned uncharacteristically cold, “you would not be so inclined to dwell on the past.”

“All I require is some time,” Rosalind said. “Why must you and Nathaniel insist upon rushing this wedding? You even set the date without consulting me. Is it too much to ask that I first be allowed to heal – not only in body but in mind?”

Had Abigail not overheard Rosalind’s conversation with her brother, she might have been inclined to postpone the wedding and allow the girl more time to recover from her ordeal. But Abigail was well aware of Rosalind’s plans to stall the wedding and rid herself of Nathaniel, and for that reason, she could ill afford to be accommodating.

“Being surrounded by people who care about you will do wonders to improve your health and spirit,” Abigail said. “Weddings are festive occasions that bring people together in love and joy. All of us here, as well as your own family, are elated about the wedding, Rosalind, yet you act as though we are planning your funeral.”

Rosalind wanted to tell her she might be happier is they
were
planning her funeral, but before she could respond, the chamber door burst open and Rosalind’s mother and two sisters spilled inside.

“Oh, Rosalind!” Nellie gushed, rushing to embrace her sister. “Is this not exciting? The Corwins are having gowns made for Elizabeth and me to wear at your wedding!”

Rosalind’s mother smiled and shook her head. “Where are your manners, Nellie? First you enter without the courtesy of knocking, and now you have not even asked your sister how she is faring.”

Nellie hastily assessed Rosalind’s appearance and said, “She looks well to me. May I have a blue dress with lace on it?”

“Now, Nellie,” Rosalind answered. “You know that such lavish attire is frowned upon by the court.”

“Not if you are a Corwin,” Abigail, who still was standing in the doorway, said. “I intend to make this wedding the event of the year. Your gowns shall rival those worn by queens and princesses.”

Both Nellie and Elizabeth gasped at that announcement, their eyes widening with excitement.

“I assure you, ‘tis not necessary to go to such lengths,” Rosalind said. “Plain linen dresses shall be just fine.”

“Oh, come now,” Abigail said with a wave of her hand. “You will be made a bride but once, and it should be a memorable occasion. I intend to spare no expense.” She turned to look at Rosalind’s mother. “All three of your daughters are so lovely, Mrs. Chandler, they cannot help but make this wedding an event to remember. You must be very proud of them.”

“I am,” the woman responded without hesitation. “But I must confess that at this moment, I am most proud of Rosalind. She is so strong – a true survivor. Not only did she survive being lost in a raging blizzard six years ago, she has made it through yet another terrifying ordeal and emerged even stronger for it.” She smiled at Rosalind, then added, “I am so looking forward to this wedding, my child. You deserve only happiness from now on. My own happiness is hampered only by the fact that your beloved father cannot be here to share in our joy.”

“On Rosalind’s wedding day, I am certain he will be smiling down on us all,” Abigail said. “Which is all the more reason why we should strive to make it a day to rival all others!” She looked directly at Rosalind. “Right, my dear?”

Rosalind smiled stiffly and nodded.

“Well, now, if you will excuse me,” Abigail said, “I shall take my leave. Unfortunately, I am still a bit weak. I have instructed Grace to send Mistress Ross, the dressmaker, directly upstairs upon her arrival. She will have sketches and samples of fabric from which you may make your selections. I trust you will choose wisely, Rosalind.” She smiled at Rosalind’s family. “’Twas so nice to see you again.” Slowly, she made her way back into her chamber and closed the door.

“What a pleasant woman!” Rosalind’s mother said, clasping her hands together. “You are truly blessed, Rosalind.”

“Just think!” Elizabeth added. “In a month’s time, you shall be Mrs. Captain Nathaniel Corwin! ‘Tis such an honor!  Think you that you might be able to encourage Matthew to court me?”

Rosalind’s head snapped in her sister’s direction. “You are too young for Matthew!”

“I am nearly ten and six. Matthew is but four years older.”

“You barely know the man!” Rosalind said, her tone more harsh than she had intended. “How can you speak of him courting you?”

“Because his brother Nathaniel is so wonderful,” she breathed. “I have met Matthew but once, but I think he is equally as charming.”

“Matthew and his brother are as different as the moon and the sun,” Rosalind said, thinking that of the two Corwin brothers, Matthew was the lesser of two evils. “Matthew is more scholarly, while Nathaniel is more…adventurous.”
And perverted.

“I think a scholarly man would make an interesting suitor,” Elizabeth remarked. She smiled wistfully. “Perhaps when Matthew sees me in my elegant gown at your wedding, he will be unable to resist me!” Grasping the skirts of her faded green dress and holding them out, the dark-haired beauty twirled around the room.

Rosalind’s mother rolled her eyes. “She has such silly romantic notions. I fear all of these starry-eyed dreams of hers will lead her to naught but disappointment.”

“Aye, for most dreams never come true,” Rosalind softly said. She quickly turned the topic. “So how are Faith and Ben?”

“Both are well,” her mother answered. She was unable to conceal a proud smile. “Since you last saw Ben, however, there has been a bit of exciting news.”

“They think Faith is with child!” Elizabeth cut in, stealing her mother’s glory and earning a frown from the woman.

“Are you certain?” Rosalind gasped. “I am to become an aunt?”

“Well, ‘tis still a bit too early to tell for certain,” her mother said, “but each day that passes, they become more hopeful.”

“Oh, I hope she
is
with child!” Rosalind’s eyes sparkled. “They must be so excited!”

“As am I!” her mother added. “I am most eager to be made a grandmother and hold a babe in my arms again. Perhaps within a year’s time, Rosalind, you might also bless me with a grandchild. How wonderful it would be to have two little ones so close in age!”

“Please, Mother. ‘Tis much too soon to be discussing such matters. I am not even wed yet.”

“’Tis never too soon. Your brother was born barely ten months after your father and I were wed.”

Rosalind tensed at the mere thought of such and occurrence. Although she had not yet been able to discourage Nathaniel from marrying her, she still clung to the hope she soon would find some means in which to prevent the wedding from taking place. She knew all too well that each passing day brought her one day closer to becoming Nathaniel’s bride…and that greatly disturbed her.

“Smile!” Elizabeth’s voice sliced into Rosalind’s thoughts. “Brides are supposed to look happy!”

“Some brides are much too nervous to be smiling,” Rosalind said flatly. “My stomach feels as if it has been filled with live eels.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “’Tis certainly not the sort of feeling I had anticipated.”

 

* * * * *

Mistress Ross, the dressmaker, was a tall woman with straight black hair marbled with gray and, in Rosalind’s opinion, a much-too-thin figure. The woman spoke rapidly and moved about the chamber like a nervous bird, her hands punctuating her every word. Rosalind, Elizabeth and especially Nellie, stared wide-eyed at the woman’s collection of gown sketches, all of which looked more appropriate for a coronation than for a wedding in Eastwell. The samples of rich silks, brocades and laces were nothing like the girls ever had seen before.

“The deep rose color will look lovely against your dark hair,” Mistress Ross said, holding a swatch of fabric against Elizabeth’s fair skin. “And Nellie, I do believe blue is your color.”

“I told you my gown would be blue!” Nellie cast a smug look at Rosalind.

Rosalind was unable to share her sisters’ enthusiasm. “I prefer something more plain,” she said. “Have you a simple linen dress?”

The woman appeared genuinely offended by the question. “My dear woman,” she said, her chin rising, “I, Penelope Ross, have created exquisite fashions for the finest ladies from London to Boston. A ‘simple linen dress’ is something best left to the sack makers!”

“Well, ‘tis
my
wedding,” Rosalind reminded her. “So I should be allowed the courtesy of choosing whatever I wish to wear.”

“Indeed,” Mistress Ross said with a faint smirk, “but only from the sketches to which Mrs. Corwin already has given her prior approval. After all
she
is paying for the gowns.”

“Aye and she is wasting her money!” Rosalind said. “After the wedding, where do you suggest my sisters and I wear your elaborate creations? To churn butter?”

“Rosalind!” Her mother cast her a warning glance. “Mind your manners!”

Mistress Ross, her lips tight, turned to Nellie and Elizabeth. “Come, let us pick out the styles you like the best.”

The two siblings excitedly pointed out their selections, chattering in unison about ruffled skirts and lace-edged necklines. Rosalind, having not even the slightest interest in their conversation, walked over to the window and gazed out at the sun-bathed summer scenery. The grass seemed greener and the sky more blue than she ever had seen them. Of a sudden, she desperately longed to be outside, far from her suffocating chamber – far from all talk of weddings and fancy gowns.

“And
your
selection?” Mistress Ross called to her.

Rosalind reluctantly tore her gaze from the window. “Anything you select for me shall be fine,” she said, shrugging. “I trust that your decision will be far superior to any I might make.”

“Fine!” The dressmaker seemed pleased. “I assure you, I shall transform you into the most magnificent bride this town has ever seen. Now please come here so I may measure you.”

 

* * * * *

“The fresh air feels wonderful,” Rosalind said, inhaling deeply as she fell into step at her mother’s side. Nellie and Elizabeth had wandered on ahead, searching for wildflowers and berries.  The sunlight filtered through the trees, and Rosalind felt the warmth of it on her face. She took another deep breath, allowing the fresh air to fill her lungs.

“Are you certain you feel up to walking?” her mother asked.

“I assure you, I am fine,” Rosalind said. “Besides, ‘tis not as if I intend to accompany you all the way back home…although I must confess I would love to do so.  I shall walk only a short distance with you and then turn back.”

They walked in silence for several seconds before her mother spoke. “Rosalind,” she began, not looking at her, “I found your behavior today with Mistress Ross most disturbing. Is something amiss?”

Rosalind tugged a leaf from a low-hanging maple branch as she walked past it, then twirled its stem between her thumb and forefinger. “I know I appear to be in good health now to everyone,” she said, “but I am not yet fully recovered. My head still aches and I suffer from terrible nightmares. How can I be pleased about becoming Nathaniel’s wife when I still feel so poorly?”

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