Read Faith Online

Authors: Deneane Clark

Tags: #American Light Romantic Fiction, #Historical romance, #Man-woman relationships, #Fiction - Romance, #Historical, #Romance - Historical, #Fiction, #Romance, #Romance: Historical, #Inheritance and succession, #American Historical Fiction, #Romance & Sagas, #General, #Love stories

Faith

BOOK: Faith
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Faith

Deneane Clark

LEISURE BOOKS   
   NEW YORK CITY

A Chance Encounter

“Do you think he’s out there somewhere?” All the girls looked out into the shadowed gardens, where dozens of daring couples had already disappeared.

“Well, he has to be somewhere. He’s not in the ballroom anymore.”

Someone opened the doors, allowing the noise of laughter, music, and conversation to escape the ballroom. The girls turned as a group, disappearing first from view, and then from hearing, the sounds of the ball dimming to a dull but welcome roar in the background as the doors shut again behind them.

Above on the balcony, Faith rolled her eyes, again looking out into the garden. She knew, without question, that Roth was the “he” to whom the gaggle referred. Laying one hand on her heart, she reached the other out into the inky blackness. “My lord Gareth,” she said in a voice laced with exaggerated pleading. “If you’re out there, anywhere, please reveal yourself to me so that I can also bask in your noble glow.”

“Actually, Miss Ackerly, I’m a bit closer than you might have thought.”

For Mama and Daddy, who, no matter how often I have tested it, always had faith in me. Together, you are my inspiration, my foundation, and the reason I will always, always believe in forever.

I love you both so much.

Prologue

Summer, 1800

S
it down and be still, Grace,” admonished Marie Ackerly, exasperation sharpening her typically gentle voice. She took her wriggling seven-year-old daughter’s hand and drew her back to the worn velvet seat of the family coach. “Faith has been quiet and well behaved this entire journey, and she’s not even five years old yet. Certainly if she can manage, so can you.”

Grace, chafing at being confined for even the hour-long drive to visit some of her mother’s relatives, reluctantly settled down. As soon as Marie looked away, however, she stuck out her tongue. Faith stared quietly back. Fortunately for both of them, they were finally arriving at their destination.

The house they were visiting, a large, rambling country home, was just perfect for entertaining young children. It had an attic filled with trunks of unusual, old-fashioned clothes and musty outdated furniture, and a basement that contained boxes and boxes of toys cast off by the five Ackerly children’s older cousins. Outside, in the garden, was a wildly sprawling and overgrown hedge maze.

The two girls’ youngest cousin was a boy named Milton, who was a year younger than Grace and a year older than Faith. The three children, excited to see one another, immediately ran off to play in the attic, trying on clothes and having an imaginary tea presided over by Faith, who, even at such a tender age, was already showing signs of becoming rather prim.

Grace, on the other hand, was quite a tomboy, and the sedate play in the attic was doing nothing to satisfy her sense of adventure. She quickly grew bored and convinced Milton it would be much more fun to play in the basement. Somewhat reluctantly, Faith followed them downstairs.

Milton had only older brothers, who had long since outgrown the things kept in the cellar. He and Grace managed to find trea sure after treasure, however, while Faith, who had much preferred playing tea and dress-up in the attic, began to complain. Grace and Milton largely ignored her, intent on setting up a widespread battlefield with a box of wooden soldiers that had seen much better days. Faith sat on a nearby barrel and pouted at being snubbed until finally, in a rare fit of anger, she hopped off the barrel and stomped right through the scene of carefully erected carnage, kicking over soldiers as she went.

“I do
not
wish to play in the basement any longer,” she stated in the haughty, imperious tone that usually drew looks of amusement from adults.

Grace and Milton both leapt to their feet, but it was Milton who managed to speak first. Remembering all the plots his brothers had devised to keep him from trailing about after them, he winked at Grace over her sister’s blonde head. “What do
you
want to do, Faith?” he asked, his tone solicitous.

Grace’s mouth dropped open. She was just about to hotly protest when she caught her cousin’s warning wink. She tried her hardest to wink back, but couldn’t quite manage it, so she blinked both eyes hard at him and put an arm around her younger sister. “Yes, Faith, what
do
you want to do?”

Faith was surprised at the unexpected show of conciliation from the two older children, but nonetheless pleased. “Play outside?” she suggested a bit timidly. She hadn’t at all expected to be asked for an opinion.

Milton smirked. “All right,” he said. Up the stairs they went, smiling disarmingly as they passed the grown-ups assembled in the parlor on the main floor.

Admonished to keep close to the house, Milton led Grace and Faith outside to the gardens, stopping rather dramatically before the entrance to the shaggy hedgerow maze. “Do you know what this is?” he asked Faith.

She shook her head because that seemed to be the answer he expected, although she was reasonably certain she knew what lay spread out before her.

Milton drew himself up importantly. “This is where I keep my giant pet spider.”

Faith was instantly skeptical. “There aren’t any giant spiders,” she scoffed. “You’re making that up.”

“No, I’m not,” insisted Milton. “You wanna see?”

Although the notion of seeing a real giant spider was rather frightening, logic still told Faith that the story simply couldn’t be true. So she nodded.

“Well, come on then,” said Milton, and took off running into the maze. Grace followed, and so did Faith, trying with her shorter legs to keep the two older children in sight.

Finally, they stopped. Faith looked around at the small open space they’d reached in the center of the maze. “Where’s your spider?” she asked.

Milton looked triumphantly at Grace. “He must be hiding,” he said, giving a meaningful look to Grace. “Wait here and I’ll go find him.” He took the older girl’s hand and they started off.

“Wait!” cried Faith. “I’ll come, too.” She started after them.

“No, you wait here in case he comes back,” replied Milton. He glanced sideways at Grace and added, “Just don’t move if he does. You might startle him, and then he would wrap you up in his silk, take you to his web, and eat you.”

“But…,” Faith began.

“You’re not scared, are you?” Grace suggested.

Faith knew then that she had to stay, or her sister would tell all their friends at home what a fraidycat she was. So she lifted her little chin and looked at them as disdainfully as she could. “Of course not,” she answered, in a voice that only trembled a tiny bit.

“Good,” said Milton. He and Grace turned and disappeared.

For the first ten minutes after she was left alone in the maze, Faith was fine. She prowled restlessly around the small space until she realized that the only sound she could hear was that of birds chirping in the nearby trees. Ten minutes stretched into twenty. Still Faith said nothing, certain Grace and Milton were hiding just around the first corner, waiting for her to be scared so they could pounce and make fun of her.

Finally, a few minutes later, she heard voices, whispering voices, and then the musical sound of a young woman’s laughter. Faith stood and looked toward the nearest opening in the hedgerow, her head tilted inquisitively to the side.

“No, Duncan, we mustn’t!” the girl’s voice said, then fell silent for a long moment. Faith frowned at the curious wet smacking sounds and crept closer to the opening. She stopped as the girl sighed. “Mmmmmmm,
Duncan
.”

Duncan. Milton’s oldest brother. He was seventeen years old and, to the young Ackerly girls, seemed nearly grown. They viewed him with an almost fearful sort of awe during family visits, which only occurred a couple times a year. He mostly ignored the smaller children, so Faith didn’t really know him, and would not under other circumstances have initiated a conversation with him. Now, however, he presented an opportunity for rescue.

Relieved, Faith walked forward into the maze, following the noises. At the first turn she rounded the corner, then drew up short. Her mouth fell open and her eyes grew round. Lying on the ground not five feet away was Duncan. Underneath him was one of the chambermaids. This, although in itself a rather unusual sight, was made even more shocking by the fact that the chambermaid’s rather ample breasts had spilled from her bodice…and Duncan had one of them in his mouth.

Rendered speechless for the moment, Faith stood rooted in place, unable to tear her eyes from the scene. While she watched, Duncan released the girl’s nipple from his mouth with a popping sound. The maid closed her eyes and smiled when his fingers caught at the hardened morsel and squeezed. With his other hand, he pushed up her skirts until Faith could see the tops of her stockings and then, of all things, lifted the layers of material and dipped his head beneath them!

Faith gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. Startled, the chambermaid’s eyes flew open and landed on Faith, standing in shock at the end of the row.

“Duncan,” the servant hissed, pushing at his head. “Stop! There’s a little girl here!”

Duncan’s head popped up. He looked over his shoulder, saw Faith, and scowled. Beneath him, the young servant was scrambling to a sitting position, pulling at the bodice of her uniform. “My God,” she breathed. “I’ll be turned out without wages for certain.” She tried to stand.

Duncan put a restraining hand on her shoulder. “Stay here.” He fixed Faith with a glare, his eyes narrowing. “The brat won’t tell a soul. Will you, brat?”

Her heart pounding, Faith shook her head.

“Oh, leave the poor child alone.” The chambermaid retrieved her mobcap from the hedge where it had snagged and pulled it over her hair. “I’m going back to the house before I’m missed.” She pulled herself from Duncan’s grasp, stood, and almost ran down the hedgerow toward the exit.

Duncan watched, then turned back to Faith. He knelt so that his face was even with hers. “How decidedly inconvenient, brat. What are you doing here alone?”

“W-waiting for M-Milton and Grace,” she stammered. “They w-went to find Milton’s big spider.”

Duncan’s dark eyes gleamed with malice. “Milton’s spider, hmm? Well, then. I suggest you continue to do just that—wait. And if you ever tell anyone what you saw here, I’ll make sure Milton’s spider eats both you
and
your sister. Understand?”

Wordless, her gray eyes huge, Faith nodded, then turned and ran back to the center of the maze. She stopped and watched to see if Duncan would follow, but he did not. She blinked and waited and tried her best to forget what she had seen.

After an hour, Faith began to suspect her sister was not coming back. Still she did nothing, didn’t even call for help; she didn’t want to make a noise. She simply placed her back securely against a hedge and sat down to wait, her fertile imagination taking over: Grace and Milton hadn’t come back because the monstrous spider had eaten them. Worse, if the spider found out she was here, he would eat her, too. So Faith sat as still as she could, watching all four paths that exited the center of the maze for the terrifying creature to appear, silent tears of terror slipping down her dirty cheeks.

The shadows lengthened and still she sat, her heart jumping in renewed fear every time a squirrel rustled through the hedges or a bird fluttered near, but she did not make a sound, and she did not move. By now, Duncan and the spider had merged in her fertile little mind into a single entity. After all, she had seen him actually beginning to eat the chambermaid, hadn’t she?

It was only as full darkness neared that she again heard voices—those of her father and her mother and her older sister Patience—calling her name from outside the maze. But Faith didn’t answer, because she was still in the spider’s lair and knew that if he heard her, he would be able to get to her long before her mama or papa. Just as he’d gotten Grace.

The voices continued to move, surrounding her now as her family worked their way through the maze. Faith squeezed her eyes closed and prayed that the spider wouldn’t eat them, too. And then she heard Grace.

“She was in the middle, Mama,” sobbed her sister. “I wanted to go back and get her, but Duncan came out of the maze and chased Milton away. Then, when I asked Duncan if he’d seen Faith, he got a mean look on his face and told me he saw the spider chasing her! So I came to get you and Papa.” Grace hiccuped. “I’m sorry, Mama. The spider must have eaten her by now.”

Faith opened her eyes. The spider hadn’t gotten Grace? She rose slowly to her feet. “Grace!” she screeched. Starting to run, Faith hurled herself through the nearest exit and around corners, crying as she went and calling her sister’s name. She rounded one last corner and saw her father and Patience, but Grace wasn’t with them, so she barreled past, still looking for her sister, still calling her name.

And then there she was, holding Mama’s hand, crying as they walked along the overgrown path. And then she and Faith were in each other’s arms, laughing and crying and safe once again from their mean cousins and the horrible spider.

It was dark when they finally left the garden, Faith holding tightly to her sister’s hand as they followed their parents. But she looked back once at the shadowy entrance to the maze and shuddered at what might have happened. Her mind returned to those moments with Duncan and the chambermaid who had run off in shame. She thought about what she’d seen, and remembered how Duncan had ordered her never to discuss it. Which meant, of course, that what he was doing to that poor servant when she came upon them could only have been bad and wrong.

With firm resolve, Faith decided she would never end up in the same shameful situation as that servant girl. But just to be on the safe side, she did not merely comply with Duncan’s order…she put the incident completely out of her mind.

Of course, some things never really go away.

BOOK: Faith
10.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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