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Authors: Jane Goodger

Tags: #romance, #historical romance, #romance historical, #victorian romance, #shipboard romance

If I Wait For You

BOOK: If I Wait For You
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If I Wait For You

 

Jane Goodger

 

 

Copyright 2011 by Jane
Goodger

Smashwords
Edition

 

 

 

 

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New Bedford, Massachusetts
1856

 

In the evening, when the western skies
held just a hint of sunlight, Julia would sometimes stand on the
balcony above the grand entranceway and listen to the sounds of her
house. She could stand there in the shadows, unobserved,
undisturbed and allow herself some peace. She would place her hands
on the smooth, polished rail and stand, quite still, so that she
might miss nothing—not the muffled sounds of seagulls coming from
the harbor, not the clatter of pans being washed in the kitchen,
nor the endless ticking of the hall clock.

It was that clock, she realized long
ago, that drew her to this spot more than anything. In her younger
years, it was a reminder of time, a quiet marking of the years of
having her husband blessedly at sea, the pendulum swinging its
joyous reminder: a million times will you hear this sound before he
returns.

Now, it was a reminder that her son
would soon be home. West’s ship had arrived earlier that day and
she knew he would come home as soon as he could get away from his
duties as captain. She’d kept his arrival a secret from the other
members of the household, holding it close to her heart, waiting
with the anticipation of a child at Christmas for the moment her
son would walk through the door. She wanted to be here, at her spot
on the balcony, when he strode through the door, when he took his
first look around his childhood home. The house once filled with
gloom was now a place of happiness. She smiled at the sound of
Gardner’s chuckle and the answering music of Sara’s laughter coming
from the parlor below and prayed West would return home before the
two of them went off together.

Sara and Gardner. One could
scarcely say one name without saying the other, so often were the
two paired. They enjoyed each other’s company immensely, two young
people filled with the joy of life and celebrating the discovery of
another soul so much like their own. Julia had no doubt, not a
single one, that when Gardner joyfully headed out to sea after
the
Julia
was
outfitted, Sara would be on board as his wife. Her heart was filled
with contentment at the thought that at least one of her sons would
be finally happy.

Jared, dear, dear Jared. She feared
her oldest son would never be happy again, having lost the essence
of his life when his lovely wife and baby died at sea. He’d been
gone for four years, now. Four years with scarcely a letter. West,
as prolific a letter-writer as a captain can be, had written that
he had met up with Jared in the Arctic. “He is not the same man,
mother,” he’d written. No, he wouldn’t be, for he blamed himself
for the death of his wife and child.

Of all her sons, West was the one
she’d worried about the most. He was not meant for the life as a
whaler. As big and strapping as he’d become, she’d always thought
West would be far more content using his brain in the counting
house than using his brawn on a ship. He was the only of her sons
to seek a more traditional path, for he was engaged to marry a
wonderful girl from an influential family.

Thank goodness his days as
a whaler were over. She had a special place in her heart for West
and her heart would weep every time she saw him, so strong, so
stern. So very much alone. She would never forget his expression
looking down at her from the deck of the long-lost
Bedford
when his father
had forced him to sea. He’d been twelve years old and so dreading
leaving his mother and his home that he’d vomited for a week prior
to sailing. Never had he said a word, not to her, and certainly not
to his father. He bore it silently, only his expressive eyes
telling her, pleading with her: I want to stay home.

She’d watched the seamen ready the
ship, willing herself not to run to the deck to drag West down the
gang plank, and she’d smiled encouragement. It was West’s valiant
attempt at a smile that tore at her heart the most, that little
chin coming up, those hands clutching the davit fiercely. He was
trying to comfort her with that smile, her brave little
boy.

And now he was coming home for
good.

She stood there on the balcony,
knowing he would appear any minute, and was soon rewarded for her
patience. The door opened and he stepped in. She did not rush down
to see him, but stood silently, watching as his eyes swept around,
drinking in the sight of his home. It had been more than three
years since she’d seen him, and still she found herself amazed that
this man, this grand, handsome man, had come from her
womb.

A shriek startled her from her
perusal.


West!” Sara ran to the
door, a blur of mint-green silk, and threw herself against West,
her arms wrapping around his waist in the guileless way that
surprised Julia. West looked stunned to find himself enveloped by
this girl, and his arms were held out to his sides, as if he were
unsure exactly what had attacked him. And then the oddest thing
happened. He pushed his cheek against her hair and brought one
large hand to the back of her head, fingers moving almost
convulsively, as if they moved against his will.

Sara pushed away, but kept her hands
at his waist as she looked up at West.


West, good to have you
home, brother,” Gardner said heartily. Only then did Sara move away
and only then did Julia see her ward’s face—it glowed with
happiness. Never had Sara look so beautiful as she did at that
moment, turning toward Gardner, one hand still touching West at his
waist. Julia’s instinct told her to remain a silent observer, and
she watched with interest as the two brothers met, Sara standing
between them, treating both men with a beaming smile.


Oh, I wish we did not have
to go,” Sara said to Gardner. “But you’re home for good, now, and
we’ll have forever to talk.”

West had yet to utter a word, had yet,
even, to smile a welcome.

Gardner seemed undecided, torn about
whether to stay or go. “Hell, Baxter would choose tonight for his
damned prenuptial party. I’m the best man and haven’t got a choice
of whether to go. Damnation.”

Julia fought the urge to chastise her
youngest son for his colorful language.


Go on,” West said. “I’ll
see you tomorrow. I’m hellishly tired as it is.”

Sara turned to West as they were about
to depart. “It’s good to have you home, Mr. Mitchell,” she said,
again the proper young woman Julia knew so well. West nodded and
closed the door behind the pair.

Julia was about to announce her
presence, when West slammed his back against the paneled wall, his
face ravaged with some strong emotion Julia didn’t immediately
recognize. His fists were clenched by his sides, his eyes closed as
he ground the back of his head against the smooth oak paneling. He
pushed the heels of his hands against his eyes, letting out a sound
that Julia would have thought was a sob if it had come from any
other man.

West rubbed his eyes, and
Julia’s gaze became even more intense. He
was
weeping. Her son, whom she
hadn’t seen shed a tear since he’d been a child, was crying. She
looked away, unable to bear seeing her son this way.
My God
, she
thought,
it must be Jared. Jared must be
dead.
She wanted to scream a denial, she
wanted to run down the stairs and beg West to tell her Jared was
well.


Thank you.” She heard his
ragged whisper, and her gaze again snapped to her son’s face.
“Thank you, God.”

It was then she realized it was not
despair she saw on her son’s face, but fierce joy. At being home?
Her finely arched brows came together in thought, then smoothed as
she recalled West’s hand clutching the back of Sara’s head, his
cheek rubbing against her hair. Her heart began aching anew, for
she believed she now knew what had brought about her son’s rare
tears. Sara.

Gardner’s Sara.

Chapter ONE

 

Three years
earlier
, 1853

 

They thought her a murderess.
Neighbors she’d known since she was a baby crawling about her
stoop, thought she had murdered her parents in their sleep and
watched as flames engulfed her house.

Sara Dawes couldn’t stop
shaking, even with the oppressive heat of the ship’s small cabin
suffocating her. She squeezed her eyes shut, still seeing the two
shrouded shapes of her parents’ bodies lying in the alley, glowing
wickedly in the light of the fire. The stench of smoke coated her
skin, hair, and clothes, making it impossible to drive the horror
of the previous night from her weary mind. She had run to the only
place she could think of where she would be safe, to her brother,
third mate on the whaling ship
Julia
.

She’d spent an agonizing two hours
hiding from a mob who thought they searched for a murderess,
cowering in thick brambles and waiting for the eastern sky to
lighten. Throughout the long night, she tried to gain the courage
to go to the police, to explain why she had not been in her own
house even though it was long past midnight, a time when all good
girls were fast asleep. But each time she thought she could, she
remembered their faces, the anger, the hate when they spied her in
the crowd and began shouting, “Murderer. She murdered her parents.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, she’d backed away, stunned and more
frightened than she’d ever been. She ran when one man shouted, “Get
her.”

With dawn, she skirted her own street
making a long and nerve-rattling detour around New Bedford’s
bustling center, her heart jumping with every sound she’d heard. In
her terrorized mind, each person she saw was a hunter, each sound
she heard, evidence of their pursuit.

When she finally reached
the
Julia’s
berth, it was full day and the wharves were already busy with
workers. Sara had boldly stepped aboard the ship, thankful it was
only the cabin boy who saw and led her to her brother. It took only
a single look at his sister for Zachary to know something was
horribly wrong. His usually fastidious sister looked dirty and
ragged. He’d nearly not recognized her.


Sara. What’s happened?” he
asked, pulling her deeper into his tiny cabin.


Last night,” she choked
out. “Mother and Papa were killed in a fire. The house is gone,
everything is gone. And, oh, Zachary, they think I set the fire,
that I killed them.” Sara collapsed onto his bunk and covered her
face with her hands before managing to tell Zachary what had
happened.

It all started two days before when
their quiet neighborhood had been disturbed by the gruesome death
of a young man no one knew. A milkman had discovered the body in
their alley, blood pooled around him. The constable had visited and
questioned them, but no one in her house knew the young man or had
heard a thing the night before. How odd, the constable remarked,
that the young man had been murdered on their property. He’d given
her a searching look, one that Sara found distinctly odd at the
time. Surely, he didn’t think she could have killed the young
man?


Do you see? The police
already suspected I murdered that boy, and now they think I’ve
killed mother and father.” Her tears left clean streaks in her
sooty face as she twisted her skirts in her hands.


Sara, girl, you’ve got to
calm down. Why would anyone think you killed mother and father? I
think it best we go to the authorities. You can tell them what you
told me. Surely they will believe you.”

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