Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5 (6 page)

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
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“I’ve had more time to adjust to the news than you, Rissa. And, I must admit, I found the news freeing. My mother, who has always seemed so perfect and as though she’s never set a foot out of line, so much so that I was afraid of doing anything wrong, is a hypocrite. And it seems she was a hellion.”

“You come by it naturally at least,” I teased. I bit my lip, deep in thought.

“What worries you, Rissa?”

“I’ve been told since I was a child that my parents also married for love. Was that a lie too?”

“I don’t believe so. What Aunt Betsy told me was that your mother was irate at the grandparents for forcing the match between my parents and invited my mother to weather out the storm of scandal at her house with your father. It seems Aunt Agnes didn’t care much for social standing as long as she was with the man she loved. She thought my mother should strive for the same.”

I smiled, relieved. “That sounds like Mama.”

Savannah nodded, and we continued walking. Suddenly Savannah jerked beside me. I glanced at her to see Jonas standing next to her, one hand on Savannah’s arm.

“Jonas,” I said, as I attempted to maneuver Savannah away from him.

“Clarissa,” he said with a menacing lift of his upper lip. “I had hoped your reported return was erroneous.”

“As you can see, I’m healthy and happy to again be in the company of my cousin.” I tugged on Savannah but she grimaced as Jonas’s hold on her arm tightened further.

“My wife will be returning home with me,” Jonas said. “I have endured quite enough speculation and gossip surrounding your absence from the house.”

Savannah pulled on her arm again before yelping in pain. “I will not. Unhand me this instant.”

“Do you want me to make a scene? Call over that policeman and have you in jail for accosting me?” I nodded toward a policeman watching us. “I can, Jonas, and with no regard to my reputation. For those who really matter to me realize it is meaningless when it is based on the standards set by the likes of you.” I glared at him as I leaned toward him as I spoke.

“If you think that I’ll allow my wife to spend one more moment in your company, you’re mistaken,” Jonas said.

“You have no right to decide what you will or will not allow me to do,” Savannah snapped. She raised her booted heel and kicked him in the shin. Jonas grunted and released Savannah, who massaged her wrist.

I stepped toward Jonas. “Do you believe that you’re impervious to justice?” I asked. “You aren’t. You’ll pay for what you’ve done, and then you’ll wish you could repent.”

“Do you dare to threaten me?” Jonas asked.

“No, Jonas, for I’ll never be your physical equal. But I know, someday, you’ll need someone to help you, and there’ll be no one eager to come to your aid. Such is the measure of you as a man.”

I turned away, and we continued our walk. I felt Savannah shaking next to me, and I tilted my head to study her. “Sav, are you all right?”

“I’m better than all right. For the first time in my life, I’ve stood up to him. You can’t know how that feels, Rissa.”

I smiled at her before laughing. “It’s liberating learning to defend oneself, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yes, and it’s helped me see things in a whole new way.”

***

I STOOD OUTSIDE the McLeod house in the North End in the late afternoon and glanced around the alleyway. A group of men congregated on the steps at the mouth of the alley, waving arms and speaking in booming voices as they argued in Italian. I closed my eyes, remembering the times I’d visited this house, reminding myself that, when I knocked on the door, Gabriel would not answer. I turned back toward the door and rapped soundly with my knuckles.

I heard loud footsteps, and then the door opened. “Jeremy?” I asked as I peered up at him, noting the trimmed, attractive black beard that highlighted his bright green eyes.

“Yes?” He watched me with a curious expression, although he did not open the door farther to allow me inside.

“It’s me. Clarissa.”

“Clarissa?” He opened the door, and I flung myself into his arms. He grunted as I knocked him back a step and then chuckled. “Yes, it’s you,” he said as he leaned away, studying me. “You look very different. Not nearly as polished as when you left.”

I blushed. “Well, things are different in Montana.”

“Better, I hope.”

“For me they are, because I’m with Gabriel,” I said. He closed the door and led me down the hallway.

“Flo, look who’s decided to return to Boston,” Jeremy said as he entered the kitchen area, largely unchanged except for a few feminine touches. White eyelet lace curtains covered the back window and checkered red-and-white towels sat next to the sink. An emerald-green cloth covered the table.

Florence looked up from tallying a set of figures and dropped the pencil with a thud. “Rissa!” she screeched, and then rose as fast as her pregnant belly would allow her. “Oh, I never thought to see you again so soon.”

I held her for a moment before releasing her. “Oh, Flo! I’m so excited for you and Richard. In the midst of all the travel and worry, I forgot about the baby. How long until the baby arrives?”

She sat with an appreciative groan and rubbed to her lower back. “I’ve about two months to go. Although it can’t come soon enough,” she said with a smile. After a moment her smile faded. “Why are you in Boston, Rissa? Where’s Gabe?”

I saw her share a worried glance with Jeremy. “I thought Gabriel would have written you by now,” I said.

“You haven’t had a falling out,” Jeremy said with a glower.

“Of course not,” I said. “My da died.” Florence gasped, and Jeremy nodded his understanding as I blinked away tears. “Colin and I decided we had to come back. We needed to be here for the ceremony.”

“Of course,” Florence said, reaching out to take my hand. “I imagine the trip was expensive.”

“Gabriel and I had some money saved, but thankfully my aunt Betsy had given me money when I had traveled west. I’d saved most of it. I’m glad I did as it ensured Colin could travel with me.”

“I’m sure your family has been glad you’re here, Rissa,” Florence said.

“Not everyone. Aunt Matilda still believes I’m a bad influence on Savannah and wishes I’d remained in Montana.” I noticed Jeremy stiffen at Savannah’s name. “Mrs. Smythe was not happy to see us.”

“Well, we’re your family, and we’re delighted you’re here,” Florence said. “I’m just sorry for the reason for your need to travel.”

“Thanks, Flo.” I glanced around the room. “What time does Richard arrive home? I was hoping to speak with him too.”

“Why?” Jeremy asked.

“I’m worried about what Mrs. Smythe has planned for my father’s business. I doubt she’ll content herself with allowing Colin to run it. Knowing her, she has a different plan.”

“She is your father’s widow,” Florence said.

“I know. That’s what concerns me. I worry she has the right to do as she likes with the business. I wish Colin were the one to decide.” I tapped my fingers on the table top.

Jeremy laughed. “You surprise me, Clarissa. Here I thought you’d rejoice that a woman would have the right to decide what happened to her husband’s property upon his death, rather than having to rely on the counsel of men. Instead you’d like the laws to change to suit your desires.”

I flushed. “I know. Sophie would be appalled. I just can’t imagine Mrs. Smythe having Colin’s or Melly’s best interest at heart.”

“Nor do many men,” Florence argued. “It’s the way of things, Rissa. You’ll have to see what happens and then do what you can so that it is just.”

“Flo, I’m home!” Richard’s voice boomed down the hallway, and the sound of a door slamming shut reverberated.

“Good. There’s a surprise for you!” she yelled.

“I hope it’s your famous Indian pudding,” he said just before he paused in the doorway. “Or it could be Clarissa.” He beamed at me as he strode toward me. I had just enough time to stand before he enveloped me in a huge hug.

“Hello, Richard,” I said as I blinked away tears.

“I heard about your da today. I’m sorrier than I can say, Rissa,” he said as he swiped my cheeks with his thumbs, smearing away the scattered tears that had fallen.

“Where’s Gabe?” he asked as he looked around the room.

“In Montana.”

“Why wouldn’t he travel with you?” Richard shared a worried glance with Florence and Jeremy.

“Richard, sit and have a cup of tea, and we’ll bring you up-to-date,” Florence said.

After I repeated my reason for traveling east without Gabriel, Jeremy asked, “And the other one? That Cameron fellow? What happened to him? Gabe just wrote that he died, and you no longer needed to worry about him. Seemed to happen months after you traveled to Montana.”

“I forbade Gabriel from harming Cameron in any way,” I said.

Jeremy watched me, stupefied. “Are you serious? After the way he threatened and scared you? Following you halfway across a continent like a deranged lunatic? He deserved to suffer and at Gabriel’s hands.”

“Not if it meant I’d be separated from Gabriel. Nothing, not even some notion of justice, warranted that.” I sighed with relief upon realizing Gabriel had never explained to his brothers all that I had suffered by Cameron’s actions.

“And Gabriel agreed with you?” Richard asked, sounding equally surprised.

“I think he’d spent enough time alone to know he wanted no reason for further separation.” I paused. “And nothing he could have done would have changed what had happened.” Jeremy seemed unconvinced, although he appeared to be considering what I said.

“At any rate, he and Gabriel had sporadic verbal sparring matches. Sometimes at the bar, at other times on the boardwalk. I avoided him as best I could, although I couldn’t always evade him. Cameron began to woo a wealthy businessman’s daughter. Her family was ecstatic that a refined, eastern gentleman had taken an interest in their daughter, and they were determined to have him as a son-in-law.”

“Gullible fools,” Florence said.

I nodded my agreement. “Be that as it may, he worked at one of the local sawmills as his father-in-law-to-be owned it. There was an accident, and he died.”

“How?” Richard asked.

“Fire is very common in a sawmill, with so much sawdust and sparks, and a large fire broke out one day. He was trapped inside.”

“Poor man,” Florence said. She glared at Jeremy. “I know he was awful to you, Rissa. I can’t bear to imagine all you suffered due to him. Yet I still can’t envision dying like that.”

“Nor can I,” I admitted. “I had nightmares for days. We almost lost one of our best friends, the foreman at the mill. He ran into the mill, trying to save Cameron, but he couldn’t find him. He barely made it out alive.”

“Brave man,” Jeremy said.

“Yes, and a very good one,” I agreed. “Now Mrs. Wright believes I brought her son to an early death, all because I wouldn’t marry him. If I had done my duty and had walked down the aisle with him, none of this would have befallen either of us.”

“Well, she needs someone to spew her venom at, and you’re alive and present. She’ll never find fault in her dead, now sainted, son. She can’t look to herself for her failings, so she must look to blame others,” Florence said.

I nodded. “I’m just thankful there’s no chance of mischief in Montana while I’m away.”

“How long will you visit Boston?” Florence asked.

“I don’t know. A few weeks at the most, I hope. I promised Gabriel I’d be home for Christmas.”

“When is the funeral, Rissa? We’d like to be there to support you.” Florence poured more tea into my cup.

“Oh, I forgot. When Colin and I arrived yesterday, he read in the paper that it was all occurring as we were boarding the carriage to take us to Sophie’s. We had to rush to the cemetery. We barely made it there in time to hear the priest’s final prayers.”

“Surely you had telegrammed that you were coming and to hold the ceremony?” Richard asked.

“Of course. But Mrs. Smythe didn’t want us here. Wanted us unable to take part in the ceremony or the burial.”

“Vile woman,” Florence said. “How dare she treat you like that?”

“We caused quite a stir arriving in our traveling clothes rather than in mourning garb,” I said, chuckling before gasping in an attempt to swallow a sob. “Oh, Lord, why does any of it matter? My da is dead. That’s all anyone should care about. Not the color of my coat or Colin’s scarf.” I wiped at my cheeks as tears fell. Richard leaned toward me, and I welcomed his brief embrace.

“Well, you’ve shown society you care very little for their conventions a time too many. I imagine there were some quite happy to snub you for it,” Florence said as she patted my hand.

“I know you’re right. Thankfully, Sav was there, and she didn’t care.” I shook my head in amazement. “Which is extraordinary, as she had become the most rigid of them all before she married Jonas.”

“How is Savannah?” Florence asked with a quick glance toward Jeremy.

“Recovering from the trauma of a marriage to one such as her husband,” I said. “She continues to blame herself for marrying him.”

“No woman would ever imagine such a reality,” Richard argued. “We don’t know much of what occurred, but from what Florence told me of the day they rescued her from Jonas, it’s enough to know she was treated abominably.”

BOOK: Undaunted Love (PART TWO): Banished Saga, Book 3.5
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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