Imperfect Union

Imperfect 200The year is 1876. Living on the desolate English moors

since she was twelve, Abigail Benson feels she is no match for Clinton McLean, the suave but callous man she has to marry in order to get back to the states after the brutal murder of her father. The odd union between them is temporary – until she finds her relatives and until his uncle’s unusual will is finalized.
Back in her home town of Richmond, Virginia, the south is in turmoil, threatening to start the Civil War anew and break up the Union because of the North’s harsh treatment and the disputed election between Hayes and Tilden. This is a turmoil Abby’s temporary husband and his business partner are embroiled in.
Some mystery follows Abby’s return to the States: one she thought she’d left behind in England, and one that has her jumping at shadows and running from an unseen menace. A mystery that has its roots in the past and in the Civil War itself. Slowly she learns the truth, a truth that puts her in extreme danger.

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Excerpt

Chapter One

DARTMOOR, ENGLAND, November 1876:

A biting wind swept the moors, carrying winter in its teeth. It whistled over the desolate, brooding landscape, past a solitary cottage and out across the deserted hills. The sky, iron gray, hung low and heavy over the land. Two figures appeared on the horizon making their way on foot toward the dwelling, one a young woman of twenty-five, the other her maid. They hugged their cloaks against the punishing wind and trudged across the barren ground, dotted only with moor grass and gorse, their skirts whipping at their ankles.

The younger woman’s pace increased as they neared the cottage.

“Wait up, Miss Abby,” the maid cried. “What’s the hurry?”

Abby Benson couldn’t say, but an urgency drove her, making her move faster, some niggling fear that ate at her. “It’s getting late. I worry about Papa.”

An ugly premonition had worked at her ever since she’d seen that strange man out here on the moors the week before. And seen her father’s reaction when she told him. His face had drained of color and his hands had shaken. Since then he hadn’t acted the same. Her pace increased again, making it hard for Greta, tall and overweight, to keep up.

“Please, Miss Abby, do slow up a bit.” The young woman’s fear seemed to be caught by the older woman.

Day was almost gone now. Abby had stayed too long at the school and had been surprised when she looked up from her work to see how late it was. Slapping her books shut, she’d hunted up Greta in the village of Tavistock and started for home in a hurry.

Now with each step the fear grew. Up on the moor the cottage stood isolated. Why did they have to live so far from the village, she and her father? They could have rented the Widow Collins’ house by the posting office. But he wouldn’t have it, wanted as little to do with the village people as possible, had been like that since they came over from America thirteen years ago and gotten worse as time went on.

She traveled fast, heart pounding, side aching. Greta panted in an effort to keep up and her face mirrored her fright, but Abby couldn’t stop. Wind snatched at her cloak and swept it up behind as she hurried on. The hostile dark moved in on them.

The cottage stood just ahead now. Abby reached the gate and hurried through, then slowed trying to ease her foolish fears. Everything looked normal. No light shown at the window but her father usually napped in his chair at this time of day. Everything was right after all. Air seeped back into Abby’s lungs.

Greta sagged visibly from the release of tension. Abby knew the last week had been difficult with her and her father always on edge. She thanked God they’d gotten through another bad time and went in the door, finding the house settled in silent shadows.

Her father slept most of the time she was gone. Too bad. She would have liked to be welcomed by a light these cold days.

“Papa, we’re home,” she said, pulling off her cloak and hanging it on a peg. The lamp was on the shelf by the door and she lit it as Greta, shaking the cold off her, bolted the door against the howl of wind outside. The wick caught and the light grew, filling the entrance. Returning the shade to the lamp, Abby carried it into the room.

Suddenly her heart stopped. The room — something was wrong — the furniture was all crazy, the table shoved aside, the chairs overturned, dishes broken. “Papa?” she breathed. Greta, behind her, sucked in her breath.

“Papa?” she whispered, staring at the back of her father’s big chair. She eased around and there he was.

“Oh, God! Oh, my God! He’s hurt!”

She would have dropped the lamp if Greta hadn’t grabbed it. Immediately she went to him, gaping at what she saw. Blood! So much blood! He sat slumped, broken, bleeding — And his face, almost unrecognizable in its tortured state.

“Oh, Miss Abby! They’ve killed him!” the maid whimpered, backing away in horror.

“Greta, quick! Go for the doctor!” Abby fell on her knees before him. “Papa, what happened?” Horror, pain, pity, fear overwhelmed her. Her hands hovered over him, afraid to light for fear of hurting him further. There was so much blood, his body twisted sickeningly, his breathing shallow. Who had done this to him?

Greta gave a cry. Laying down the lamp, she grabbed her cloak from the peg and headed for the door. Wind wailed as she hurried out into the dark.

Abby ran to the kitchen for towels. She brushed aside broken dishes, found two, then soaked them in the basin and came back to her father. He moaned as she touched one to the blood near his eye. “Oh, Papa,” she sobbed. “They’ve hurt you so!”

“Ab–, Ab–” His body quivered from the small effort.

“Shh, don’t talk. Wait for the doctor.” She bit off a sob. Kneeling beside him, she dabbed at the blood. But there was so much! Cuts and bruises distorted his cheeks and mouth. And his nose — slanted at a sickening angle!

“Ab–, Ab-by — run — Run — for — li-ife!

“Don’t talk, Papa.” Tears gagged her. The fingers of his right hand were bent back almost double.

He seemed to shake his head. “No — time — Run!” The words from his swollen lips were garbled. But he was insistent. “Go — Am– Amer.”

Abby was frantic to know how to help him. With the clean towel she wiped gently at the blood oozing from his mouth. His left hand clutched her arm.
“Go — Dan–ger — Amer– ica– Find –”

“Please don’t try to talk.” She touched the towel to his right arm and he sucked in breath. “Oh, God,” she cried.

His swollen eyes opened and saw her. “Run — now –” His body shook with emotion.

“Who did this to you?” She unbuttoned his collar to give him air. “Who would do such a thing?”

“Mus — mustn’t — know –” Blood gurgled in his throat. He coughed and it came up.

With a wail, Abby dabbed at it, the towel already crimson. He grabbed her arm again, more urgent than before, biting into her flesh. “Gold — Tow-er — A– chur–” he mumbled. “A– chur–” insistently. “Go — Amer– Run –” Then his eyes rolled back and his body sagged as the pain left him forever.

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