1780 South Carolina
Stone lions the size of wolfhounds sat on either side of the imposing front door as if to devour unwanted guests. Perhaps Jeremiah enjoyed their significance. He seldom entertained and seemed happier seated astride a horse than in the company of most ladies and gentlemen. He turned the marble knob and led Meriwether out onto the crescent-shaped balcony. He leaned momentarily on the iron railing. “Feel that breeze.”
“Delightful.” The cool wind fanned her hot cheeks. Lifting her skirts, she walked arm in arm with him down the brick steps of the gracious Georgian-style home.
Pleasant Grove had been built by his grandfather on a bluff above the Santee River and fashioned after the manor in Kent that Lord Jordan had been forced to flee in 1647 after fighting with Charles I, who lost his kingdom and his head. Fortunately Jeremiah’s Royalist ancestor had fared better than the ill-fated king and escaped to America with his young wife and her jewels. But his near capture by Cromwell and the loss of everything else had given him a wariness he’d passed to his descendents. Was Jeremiah secretly opposing a different king?
She cocked her head at him a little apprehensively. “Is there anywhere in particular you’re taking me?”
He smiled as if to reassure her. “Just farther in.”
“As you wish.” Being out here alone with him was like being in a glistening Eden. A thrush warbled from high above them in the live oak. Green-gray moss hung from its far-reaching branches and blew in the breeze, reminding her of the McChesney, her father’s largest ship, its sails billowing.
Jeremiah held her back, the warmth of his hand radiating through her sleeve. “You’ll spoil those fine shoes.”
He led her around the sprawling puddle she hadn’t noticed and onto the green mat creeping over the path. The fragrant thyme scented the air as they trod on the tiny leaves and wound deeper into the garden. Newly washed hollyhocks, rosy balsam, and wine-red salvia gleamed. The glowing colors, heady fragrances, her arm tingling at his touch…stirred a pulsing awareness in Meriwether that she’d never felt in the house. There was so much she wanted to say, to ask, but couldn’t, and she darted glances at him.
He caught her eye. “What are you thinking?”
“Nothing of consequence,” she almost stuttered.
He quirked his left eyebrow at her; the narrow scar gave it a slightly crooked rise. “And earlier in the parlor?”
She glanced away from his searching gaze and focused on the toe of his boot. “Just chatter.”
“Are you truly worried?”
“Only as much as anyone these days.” Still evading his scrutiny, she bent and plucked a sweetly-scented nicotiana blossom.
He took the white flower from her hand as she straightened, setting her skin afire, and tucked it behind her ear. “I sense there’s much left unsaid. Why won’t you speak?”
Still battling the near irresistible draw of those blue eyes, she stared at his open neckline. “I prefer to listen.”
“Yet I would know what fills your fair head.”
“Perhaps you already do,” she said, hastily shifting her inspection from his bronzed chest back to the snowy blossoms.
His voice lowered even further. “No. You are not so easily read.”
Jeremiah grew silent and led her into the avenue, as he called it, strolling with her between rows of English boxwood that reached up over their heads. The clipped shrubs exuded the warm Old World scent Meriwether remembered from childhood.
“Stay a moment,” he said, stopping beside the fish pool. The statue of his father’s favorite spaniel sat on the pebble path beside the water, a whimsical touch. The brown stone was flecked with moss, as was anything that sat out of doors too long, but the cocker seemed as if he really were intent on the water.
She patted his granite ears and sighed. How could she confide her deepest longing and her fears?
“Such a weighty sigh. Has our walk overtaxed you?”
She lifted her gaze to his, bracing herself under the force of his study. “No. I’m much stronger now.”
“Good. You seem so. You were as weak as a newborn kitten when I first found you.”
“I only remember that you brought me here in your boat.”
He scooped up a pebble, tossing it into the pool. Goldfish scattered, and a little green frog plopped in among the lilies. “Charles Town is a graveyard. Thank God yours has not swelled the family plot.”
The intensity in his voice took her by surprise.
“Are you content at Pleasant Grove, Miss Steele?”
“Yes,” she answered in growing confusion.
She shied away from his inquiry and watched goldfish rippling through the water like orange silk. “Why doubt me?”
“I must know.”
His earnestness made her stomach churn. “For my part, I am content. I trust you don’t find my presence burdensome?”
“Not yet,” he said gravely.
Her eyes startled back to his. “Do you think I will become so?”
1780 South Carolina, spies and intrigue, a vindictive ghost, the battle of King’s Mountain, Patriots and Tories, pounding adventure, pulsing romance…ENEMY OF THE KING.
*These are royalty free photographs of historic Virginia and the deep South.
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