The camp was noisy and crowded, and as John Sheppard looked about he longed to be anywhere else. In Boston the weather would not have been much better, in all likelihood, but summer in the South was a horrible prospect. The air was so thick and muggy that even breathing felt like a chore sometimes. His heavy woolen uniform was no help, except that it protected his arms against a tiny, swarming nuisance. With water standing all around, mosquitoes filled the air.
There were men who had not bathed in weeks, and their stench mingled with that of the hastily-dug latrine, too close to camp and often upwind from it. Horses were everywhere. John was used to the city and its various odors, but the army had been encamped in this place for too long, and it was showing in many ways. The men spent much of their time drinking and gambling, when they were not out harassing the countryside in pursuit of carnal pleasures. No woman in the surrounding area was safe as far as John could tell.
Having been summoned by his commander, John walked through camp to the man's tent, trying to block out what was going on around him. He desperately wanted to be moving on, for the raucous behavior of the men whenever they were forced to stay in one place for long was hardly a shining example of their moral superiority over the Patriots.
The war had been going on for six years now, and John, who had volunteered near the beginning to fight alongside the British, was growing weary of it all. The colonists had suffered terrible losses in battle, and from disease and starvation at whiles, yet the war seemed no closer to its conclusion than it had at the beginning. Though the British had won battle after battle, nothing seemed to clinch the victory they all wanted. England's regular army and forces of Hessian mercenaries could not gain a decisive upper hand, and John found himself questioning whether they ever would. And if that were the case, then he wondered how profitable it was to continue to prosecute this war. Surely there would come a point where the honorable thing to do was to admit defeat.
John entered his commander's tent, grateful for the shade, and found Colonel Gilchrist with a man whom he did not recognize. He came to attention, however, for the man was a lieutenant colonel. "At ease, Captain Sheppard," his own colonel said.
He relaxed, and the stranger rose and handed him a small glass of brandy. "Good evening, Captain," he said, raising his own glass in toast. The lieutenant colonel was British.
John nodded and drank. It was better drink than he'd had in a long, long time. "Good evening, sir."
"Sheppard, this is Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton," Colonel Gilchrist said. "Tarleton, Captain John Sheppard. One of our finest American officers."
John was now supremely surprised by the summons. Tarleton was widely reputed to be a capital commander of the light cavalry. He also held a reputation – which was probably not unwarranted – of being ruthless, even cruel, but John recognized that his being summoned here probably had nothing to do with being social.
"Captain," Gilchrist said, "Colonel Tarleton here was in Charlottesville several days ago."
"I took my men to Charlottesville, in Virginia, where the colony's seat of government was residing," Tarleton interrupted. "Our mission was to apprehend Thomas Jefferson and the colony's legislature. However, despite the speed with which we crossed the countryside, someone warned Jefferson of our approach."
John raised both brows. He had heard of the attack on Charlottesville, but knew nothing of these details. "I have reason to believe that a captain under my command was responsible for this," Tarleton continued. "I believe that Michael Kenmore has betrayed us. The Americans are using him to gain knowledge of our plans in order to thwart us, I am sure."
"I am not sure how I can help you, sir," John replied. "I do not know the man. Why do you suspect him?"
"He has opportunity," Tarleton said. "He is a requisitions officer, and has a fair amount of freedom to travel about. In the last several months he has not been himself either."
"And – forgive me, sir, but what have I to do with this?"
"Colonel Tarleton wants you to investigate the matter," Colonel Gilchrist told him. "Captain Kenmore is known to be in Virginia often, either in Jamestown or Williamsburg. We are not sure which. We also cannot be sure of whom he may be contacting, so you must take great care what you reveal about yourself and your purpose. Anyone could be the enemy."
Though John seriously questioned his ability to perform the task, he found himself nodding anyway. He was desperate enough to get away from the army for a little while that he would take even this assignment. "When do you wish me to go?"
"Now," Tarleton said, but he got a look from Colonel Gilchrist.
"At daybreak," the man corrected. "You will report back to us when you have learned enough of Kenmore's habits and associations to draw a conclusion. I would suggest you begin in Williamsburg."
"Elizabeth, I know not how you can work so patiently with such tiny needles!" Laura Beckett, née Cadman, exclaimed, setting her needlework aside and huffing out a short breath.
Elizabeth Weir looked up from the little stockings she was knitting and smiled. "The baby will need warm stockings in the winter, will he not?"
"Or she," Laura said.
"Besides, look at your own needlework! I hardly have the patience for such delicate work."
Laura looked at the fine patterns she was stitching on the baby's gown. Vines and pretty little birds adorned the hem and collar. "It is easy to do such work when one has nothing else to do." She sighed and rested her head against the wooden headboard. "But my dear Doctor Beckett is nervous about the baby, no matter what the midwife tells him."
Outside it was sunny and hot, but inside Laura's bedchamber the open window let in a refreshing breeze. Laura and the doctor had been married for just over a year, and for some time now she had not left her house, being with child. In recent weeks she had not left her bed, and now the midwife thought she was only days from giving birth. There was much left to get ready for the baby's arrival, and Elizabeth spent nearly every afternoon with Laura now, helping with the sewing and embroidery and knitting. Kate Heightmeyer, Laura's best friend, spent most of her mornings doing the same.
Needing to rest her fingers for a few moments, Elizabeth set her knitting down and walked to the window. "It looks like it will rain," she said, pulling the curtains aside. Though the afternoon was still bright, there were clouds gathering in the distance. "I should go home. Father will be worried."
"Give him my love," Laura said. "I miss all of you so much."
"Only a little while longer," Elizabeth replied, coming back to the bed and kissing the top of her friend's head. "We will all be glad to have you among us again. Things are dreadfully dull without you."
Laura laughed a little and squeezed Elizabeth's hand.
Elizabeth took her leave, tying on her wide, straw sun hat and setting out into the June afternoon. Not wishing to be stopped by neighbors or friends this evening, she cut through the garden of the old Governor's Palace.
The beautiful building of red brick had once been the center of Williamsburg. In its elaborate gardens and stunning rooms there had been many dances and parties. Elizabeth, as the daughter of a respected tradesman, had many fond memories of invitations to tea and to balls with the other young people in the town.
Now, the Palace stood vacant.
It was 1781, and the war had been moving in and around Virginia for more than six years now. Amid growing fears of Williamsburg's vulnerability to the British, Governor Thomas Jefferson had urged that the capitol be moved to Richmond in April of the previous year. On the day Governor Jefferson had left town, along with the State Assembly and much of the militia, Elizabeth had been left feeling more endangered and afraid than she ever had before in the whole of her life. Certainly the government of Virginia was important and in need of protection, but were not her citizens the government? Were they not as worthy of protection as their elected representatives?
June had become quite a hot, humid affair, and every time Elizabeth ventured out of doors she longed to be home again, with the shutters open to let in the breeze but keep out the harsh sunlight. But Laura needed her company and help, and there were always little errands to be run here and there.
She was coming down her street when she saw that two men were entering the back door of her house. One she recognized immediately as her father. He had had exceptionally poor vision for as long as she could remember, so bad that spectacles did little to help, but every afternoon when it was not raining he would take a walk through the fields outside town. Sometimes Elizabeth would go with him, but today he had not waited for her.
The man with him was tall, wearing a bulky great coat and a tricorne on his head. Elizabeth could not make out any other details from this distance, but he seemed to be leaning on her father and limping.
She hastened into the house, casting off her large, round hat once she was inside and making sure her white mob cap was still straight upon her head. Then as quickly as she could she walked the length of the main corridor in the house to open the back door. "Father!" she called. "Please, hurry!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming," her father called back.
Elizabeth ushered the two men inside once they'd reached the threshold. While she helped her father out of his coat, he said, "Let me introduce my daughter, Miss Elizabeth Weir. Elizabeth, this is Mr. Sheppard."
She nodded to the man; he took off his hat and gave a slight bow. "Mr. Sheppard," she said, "are you injured?"
"What? Oh," he replied. "It's nothing serious."
"I'm afraid I spooked his horse, Elizabeth," her father explained. "Mr. Sheppard lost his seat and had a tender ankle."
"Your father insisted that I come back with him until I was no longer limping," Mr. Sheppard said. "I tried to tell him that I did not think it was a serious hurt."
"Let me have your coat, Mr. Sheppard," Elizabeth said gently. It was very warm, and after riding for any length of time the man must have been dreadfully hot.
He hesitated, which puzzled her a little, until he had unfastened the first few buttons of his coat and Elizabeth spotted bright red underneath it. She gasped and then looked at her father accusingly. "Father, you brought in a redcoat!"
"What?" her father exclaimed. "Mr. Sheppard, explain yourself!"
"Please, Mr. Weir, Miss Weir," Mr. Sheppard stammered, "do not be so hasty. I was sent here –"
"To spy on us?" Elizabeth interrupted. "Really, Mr. Sheppard, to take such advantage of a man's kindness!"
"I am taking advantage of nothing, Miss Weir," Sheppard snapped. "I was sent here to investigate something, and at this point the only way to cross through to Williamsburg is to pass through British lines."
He unfastened the rest of the buttons on his great coat and pulled it off, revealing a full British uniform beneath. A little of his white stockings showed above his tall black boots, and the white breeches coming down to his knees were not mud-spattered like his boots. He wore a brilliant red coat, lined in white and trimmed in black with silver buttons, and he wore a sword. A white sash crossed his chest, and an epaulette on his right shoulder indicated that he was an officer. Elizabeth recoiled, taking a step back involuntarily.
"Please, madam," Sheppard said, softer this time. "You must trust me."
"I must do nothing of the sort, sir." The story seemed too much to be believed.
"Elizabeth," her father said gently. "Whether he is telling the truth or not, we owe him Christian kindness."
Elizabeth pursed her lips and locked eyes with Mr. Sheppard. "'He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without consent of our legislature,'" she said, quoting from the Declaration which Governor Jefferson had written. "'He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: for protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.'"
Mr. Sheppard seemed surprised to hear those words coming from her mouth. Whether that was a good sign or a bad, she could not tell. They stared at each other a few moments longer, until she felt she had made her displeasure sufficiently known. "Come into the parlor and I will see to your ankle, Mr. Sheppard," she said, turning and walking down the corridor again. "But only if you remove that ridiculous coat."
When he limped into the room after her, he had removed the offending coat, and Elizabeth saw her father behind him taking it upstairs. "Please sit, Mr. Sheppard."
While he got to a chair, Elizabeth gathered up some cloths and retrieved some warm water from the kitchen, where there was a small fire. In a few minutes she had everything ready, and she had to help remove his boot from the foot he had hurt. Elizabeth knelt before him. "Forgive me," she murmured as she touched his ankle.
Impropriety was forgotten as he hissed loudly. But though it was obviously tender, Elizabeth did not think it was broken. "Can you move your toes?" she asked, and he did so. "Does it hurt to move them?"
"No," he said, his voice a little tight. At her skeptical look, he gave her a sheepish smile. "No more than it already hurt."
Mollified by his answer, Elizabeth dipped a washcloth in the warm water and set it on his ankle. "'Tis not broken, as far as I can tell," she told him. "I suspect that in the next day or two we will know if it is sprained or if you have only twisted it."
She expected him to ask her to fetch the doctor, but when she looked up again she only found him watching her. "Why do you stare, sir?" she asked, somewhat shortly.
"Forgive me," he said, his ears and neck getting red. "It's not often I meet a young lady who can recite Thomas Jefferson and tend a twisted ankle."
Again, she thought she knew what he would say, that he would make a remark about her looks, trying to flatter her, but he said nothing on that subject. Elizabeth cast her eyes down, trying not to blush anyway. "You know I don't believe you, Mr. Sheppard," she told him.
Elizabeth sighed. The options before her were limited and she liked neither of them, but conscience dictated her choice. "I cannot hide you here," she said. "But my father is right. You deserve a place to stay until your ankle is back to normal. In the meantime we must find some reason to tell people why you are here."
"Tell them he is your late mother's nephew from – where are you from, son?" her father said, coming into the parlor at last.
"Boston, sir," Mr. Sheppard replied.
"Your mother's nephew from Boston, then, Elizabeth." He settled down into a chair. "Though I can't see why we couldn't tell people the truth."
"Father," Elizabeth chided, getting to her feet, "having a stranger in the house would be highly improper."
"'I was a stranger, and ye took me in,'" her father quoted from the Bible. "I would say there is nothing more proper. But if you insist, call him your cousin. No one will think that improper."
"Well," she said, yielding to the inevitable, "if I am to introduce you to anyone, I must know your Christian name, sir."
"My name is John, cousin Elizabeth," he replied, clearly enjoying this. At her glare, he amended, "Miss Weir."
John stayed in the chair, resting his ankle, until supper was ready. The meal was subdued, but he did not mind, as the food was far superior to anything he'd eaten since he'd joined the army and the company far more genteel than rowdy soldiers, for all that the Weirs were clearly devout believers in the Patriot cause.
After supper they went back to the parlor, where Elizabeth helped him with his ankle again before settling down to read for a while. John found himself listening more to the soothing sound of her voice than to the words she read. He also found himself looking at her more than was proper. If she was a day over nineteen he would be greatly surprised, but she clearly had a keen mind, probably developed through reading to her father as she did now.
She was also very beautiful. John imagined that she was probably much taller than her fellows. Her pale yellow gown was lovely against her fair skin. Dark curls framed her pretty face under her cap, and her hair was pulled up into a bun under the white lace. Her eyes were such a striking shade of green that John had been caught staring more than once already.
The evening waned, and they all went to bed. Elizabeth showed him to the chamber where he would stay, but to his surprise she followed him in. "Miss Weir?" he said, genuinely confused.
"We were lucky that no one called on us tonight and saw you," she said quietly. "The buttons on the cuffs of your breeches have a regiment marked on them, as did your coat's buttons. You must have something else to wear tomorrow."
"You're very kind, Miss Weir," he said as she walked to the clothes press in one corner of the room and opened it. "Do you have clothes here that would fit me?"
"My brother's," she replied, pulling clothes off the shelves. "He was killed almost a year ago, at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina."
"I am sorry." He truly was. Though he was in no doubt that the young man had been fighting for the other side, he had seen too much of death these last six years to feel anything but regret. And he was somewhat relieved to know he had been nowhere near the battle that had taken her brother's life. As she handed him a stack of clothing, he looked at her closely. "Are you sure you want me to wear this?"
"I think I would rather burn your uniform, sir," she told him darkly. "Good night."
She left him quietly, and John slowly changed into the nightclothes she had provided him and got into bed. He was tired, but his mind would not let him rest, and his ankle throbbed occasionally, reminding him of the accident which had landed him in the household of fervent patriots. If he was to catch Michael Kenmore in treason, it was a good situation to gain insight into the activities of Williamsburg. As long as the Weirs remained uncertain about his true loyalties.
As the night wore on, he remembered the intensity of Elizabeth's eyes and wondered how long he could maintain this charade.
Early in the morning, after breaking fast, Elizabeth and Mr. Weir went to their shop. Such had been Mr. Weir's custom since he'd opened it nearly thirty-five years ago, and Elizabeth's for as long as she could remember. Even when she had had formal lessons with Miss Campbell along with Laura Cadman and Katherine Heightmeyer, learning the etiquette of serving tea, the art of needlework, and how to play the pianoforte and the guitar, she had first come to her father's store to help as she could. As a very young girl she had loved to count out coins and give change to customers. She remembered many a gentleman and lady expressing pleasant surprise that a little girl like her was so good at figures.
When they reached the store, it was already open. Mr. Evan Lorne had been her father's apprentice some years ago. When war broke out he had been one of the first volunteers to join the Continental Army, but a wound received a few years ago had prevented him from continuing further in military service. He returned to Williamsburg as soon as he was recovered, and he had arrived just when Mr. Weir's health was beginning to fail him. Mr. Lorne was above all else loyal and trustworthy, and Elizabeth had been gratified beyond the telling by his sudden arrival in town.
The young man smiled brightly when the Weirs entered. "Come in, come in!" he said. "Take your ease while I finish with these new bolts of fabric."
"There is new fabric?" Elizabeth asked, helping her father out of his coat and encouraging him to sit by the fire. "When did we order that?"
"Six months ago," Lorne said, rolling his eyes. "I had given up on ever seeing it, but last night it was delivered at last."
"You should have told me," she scolded as she removed her own cloak. "I would have come to help with inventory."
"You were sitting with Mrs. Beckett yesterday afternoon, and then I heard you had company in the evening," he replied. Then he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial volume and said, "A young man, from all accounts. May I take it that Miss Weir has a new admirer?"
With anyone else she might have blushed, but Mr. Lorne was like a brother to her in many respects, and he was forever teasing her. "He is my cousin on my mother's side, come from Boston," she said.
"I did not know you had family in Boston."
"Apparently I do." Elizabeth sighed and picked up a couple bolts of fabric to move to the other end of the shop. "At any rate, his name is John Sheppard, and I believe he may prove to be as trying as you are."
"I find that difficult to believe," he told her with an impish look.
"Be that as it may."
The first customers of the day arrived, Mrs. Cadman and her young son. "Good morning, Miss Weir, Mr. Weir, Mr. Lorne!" the lady greeted.
They all greeted her in return, and as was not uncommon, the pair walked up to the stove to talk with Mr. Weir for a while. Elizabeth took some time to finish straightening the fabrics and ribbons and threads before joining them. When she reached the fire, Mrs. Cadman was talking about her daughter, which surprised Elizabeth none whatsoever. "I do think my daughter would run mad now if she did not have such good friends," she was saying. "Your own daughter is so kind to spend so much of her time with Laura now that she cannot venture out of doors."
"Oh, it is no trouble at all, Mrs. Cadman," Elizabeth protested. "I cannot remember a time when Mrs. Beckett was not among my friends, and to be absent her company now feels most unnatural."
Mrs. Cadman laughed. "Indeed it does!"
Mr. Weir clasped her hand with both of his. "Now, my dear Mrs. Cadman, how may we help you today?"
Her smile turned wry. "Patrick here has been growing so quickly that his clothing cannot keep up," she explained. "He must have new breeches, I'm afraid."
Elizabeth smiled at her friend's mother and escorted them both to the area she had just been tidying. There they selected three different fabrics, one for Patrick's school clothes, one for his Sunday clothes, and one for chores and play. Elizabeth carried the fabrics over to the cutting table and they decided how much Mrs. Cadman would need of each. As she was cutting fabric, Patrick asked for Mr. Lorne's help. He came, looking amused to be asked to help in the area which he usually left to Elizabeth's care. "What can I do for you?" he asked.
"I want buttons like a soldier's on my new breeches," the boy said.
"Patrick, the buttons on your old breeches will do very well for you," his mother chided.
Mr. Lorne smiled anyway as Elizabeth cut cloth for Mrs. Cadman. "Perhaps you should ask Miss Weir," he said. "I know she knows a great deal about soldiers."
Elizabeth shot Mr. Lorne a look for that, but upon seeing the boy's hopeful look she softened. "A soldier wears brass buttons," she told Patrick, pulling a few from a jar and scattering them in front of him. "But they do not look like these."
"Then what do they look like?" Patrick asked, wide-eyed.
"Every button has a symbol on it," she explained. "A symbol for a state's regiment, or a symbol for an artillery unit. 'Tis how units are identified."
"Do you have any like that?"
As it happened, Elizabeth did, but she was not going to part with those precious Virginia regimental buttons for anything. She shook her head. "We do not have such buttons in the shop," she said. "Nor will the other shops in town."
Elizabeth scooped up the plain brass buttons again despite Patrick's disappointed look. "Well," said his mother, "if we cannot manage real soldier's buttons, at least I can find you some brass buttons at home, Patrick."
Elizabeth finished cutting the fabric for the Cadmans, and then took them to the counter to figure their bill before sending them on their way. The morning passed in that pleasant way, with townspeople in and out, some to buy and some to talk. More than once she found herself answering questions about the young man they had in the house with them. Around dinnertime Mr. Lorne finally asked why Mr. Sheppard had not come with them to the store, and Elizabeth had had to tell how her father had spooked Mr. Sheppard's horse and the man had hurt his ankle.
Mr. Lorne only chuckled. "Perhaps when his ankle is recovered, you may take him for rides outside of town and teach him how to be a proper horseman outside of the big city."
"Perhaps I shall let you have the pleasure, Mr. Lorne," Elizabeth said dryly, earning herself another laugh.
She spent the afternoon with Laura again and went home for supper. When she entered the parlor to call Mr. Sheppard in for supper, she found her guest straining in his seat, peering out a gap in the curtains. "Mr. Sheppard, may I ask what enthralls you so?" she asked.
"I thought I recognized someone in the street," he said.
Elizabeth crossed to the window and discreetly looked outside. "The one riding the brown horse? 'Tis Michael Kenmore," she told Mr. Sheppard. "I believe he emigrated from Scotland a few years ago and settled in Charlotte. How would you know anyone from North Carolina?"
"Perhaps I know a relative of his," Mr. Sheppard offered. "It is not important."
Elizabeth felt instinctively that he was lying, but she held her tongue. Instead, she helped him to his feet and then asked him to join her and her father for supper. "Your ankle seems to be doing somewhat better today," she remarked as they made their way to the dining room.
"Yes," he replied. "I feel certain it will be mended entirely in another day or two."
She held in a sigh of relief, but only barely. It would be a great thing to have this man out of her house and have her life back to normal once more.
Michael passed through Williamsburg more often than he ought, and less often than he wanted.
His presence always caused alarm among the citizens of the fair city. As he was a requisitions officer, many thought that his arrival heralded bad news. If supplies needed to be brought here, then the war must be coming here, they thought. There was a palpable level of tension in the air anyway, with the war seeming to be closing around them like a noose. This time, sadly, they would guess correctly.
Michael made his way through the town, to the home of the one person who never thought his presence was the herald of some ill tiding. The curtains at the small window moved, and a moment later the door opened. Michael stepped inside as quickly as he could. Then a lady's arms wound about his neck, and her soft lips pressed against his eagerly instead of offering words of greeting.
"Teyla," he muttered, pulling her into a tight embrace as he kissed her with a fervor to equal hers.
It had been six weeks since he'd seen her, and it seemed like every night had been filled with dreams of the beautiful woman he'd met nearly a year ago. Teyla was usually more restrained than this, so Michael flattered himself to believe that she had been suffering from the separation in much the same way. Her small body seemed so warm against his, and the damp cling of a Virginia storm seemed to melt away within him. As he moved away from her lips and kissed her neck, she shuddered and whispered his name.
"Oh, Teyla," he sighed, settling his hands at her waist and resting his forehead against hers, "how I have longed to see you."
She touched his face, and Michael fought against the urge to close his eyes at the gentle gesture. "I am glad to see you safe."
Every time they were reunited, Teyla spoke those words to him. That was as close as they ever came to acknowledging the very great danger Michael lived in every day. He had told her, almost from the beginning, the truth of his service, something he would not dare tell anyone else in Williamsburg. The atrocities which had driven him to turn his back on his countrymen had been so fresh in his mind then, but baring his soul to Teyla had lessened the sting of those memories. She had soothed him when nothing else could.
They moved to sit in her tiny parlor. She offered him supper and he accepted, but to be near her again seemed to have driven thoughts of hunger and exhaustion from his mind and body. "How long will you be here?" she asked, as he ate at her table and she sat with him.
Michael shook his head, swallowing the food in his mouth. "I cannot yet be sure," he replied. "Teyla, Lord Cornwallis is coming."
"Cornwallis is coming," he repeated. "With his army, and Hessian mercenaries with him. The Marquis de Lafayette follows with a force of his own."
Teyla said nothing, and Michael picked at his food, knowing he needed to come to the purpose of his coming to Williamsburg. "I want you to leave," he said quietly. "Cornwallis is advancing to the sea. If you made your way up the river -"
"Michael, will you have me run away every time an army comes too close?" she asked.
"I believe there will be a battle nearby. I believe they will attempt to quarter troops here," he pressed. "You would be safer elsewhere, Teyla."
They spoke nothing more as Michael finished eating. When he was done, Teyla washed the dishes and then emptied the dishwater outside the back door. Michael moved his chair back and turned, but did not rise as Teyla approached him.
She leaned down and kissed him fiercely. It was like this that Teyla acknowledged her fear of never seeing him again, and it was like this that Michael tried to reassure her of his safety. Her fingers toyed with his hair, and he could not tug her close enough to satisfy the deep longing within him.
When she broke away, gasping for air, Michael kept her close, his hands on her hips. "I would not wish to be separated from you for the world," he said, his lips ghosting against her dark skin, down to the hollow of her throat. "But I dare not stay long."
"I only ask that you stay a little while," she whispered.
Her eyes were dark but warm, and Michael had no words with which to reply. Instead, he stretched up and kissed her most earnestly.
On the next morning John dressed himself and came downstairs to the dining room to find Elizabeth and Mr. Weir already having their breakfast. The meal passed pleasantly enough, as Elizabeth read items from the newspaper to the men as they all ate. There was news of the war, both inside the state and outside of it.
The discussion turned to the attack on Charlottesville, several miles up the York River from Williamsburg, which had taken place earlier in the month. John kept his head down, not wanting to betray the fact that Tarleton had sent him here to discover how Thomas Jefferson and the other great Virginia Patriots, including Patrick Henry, had eluded him, escaping the city with just minutes to spare. A few legislators had been captured, but there were no great prizes among the prisoners. Tarleton had failed in his larger objective.
If Boston was the heart of sedition in the colonies, then Virginia was its mind. The man who had penned their Declaration of Independence, those words which Miss Weir had recited so defiantly to him on the day of his arrival, was of course a Virginian. Tarleton seemed to understand that. Though John thought he was as capable of being cruel and inhuman as his reputation among the colonies would suggest, he also thought that Tarleton was right in thinking that Thomas Jefferson had to be removed from the sphere of influence before the war could turn in favor of the British. If it could be turned at all.
"It is ironic," Miss Weir said when she finished reading the article about Charlottesville and Jefferson's escape.
"What do you mean?" John asked her.
"The capitol was moved to Richmond last year because Governor Jefferson thought Williamsburg was too vulnerable," she explained, wiping her fingers delicately on her napkin. "Yet Richmond was set ablaze, and now Charlottesville has been attacked as well."
"Perhaps he made Williamsburg safer in the end," John mused.
She looked at him with a perplexed expression, but then tilted her head to one side. "You may be correct, sir," she replied.
Before the meal was quite completed, a fine rain settled over the town, and Elizabeth began to insist gently that her father stay at home. Mr. Weir objected at first, saying that he would have nothing to do and no one to see at home, but his objections were quickly overruled as John offered to keep him company as best he could. "I can escort Miss Weir to the store," he said, "and then come back straight away. Perhaps if the weather clears, we may venture out together."
Miss Weir looked none too happy with that proposal, but acquiesced upon her father's agreement to the plan, and together they set off. They had made it a few feet in silence before Elizabeth spoke. "I would wish you would keep my father in the house today, Mr. Sheppard," she said. "Such weather cannot be good for his health."
"If this rain persists I will not thwart you," he replied. "But if it clears?"
"He will want to come to the shop," Miss Weir conceded. "Be sure he does not overtire himself."
"I will." They crossed the street then, coming into the main road in town. "Your father is lucky to have a daughter who is so solicitous of his good health."
"I suppose it is only natural," she replied. "His health was good when he was younger, but his eyesight has ever been poor. When I was very young I began to help him with ledgers during the day and to read to him at night."
"Your brother did not?"
She looked a little surprised that he remembered she had had a brother, but John had not forgotten, given that he was wearing the clothing which had once belonged to the man. Awareness that he was clothed in the carefully preserved garb of a fellow soldier who had died for his cause was hardly something John could just put from his mind, and that the young man had been Elizabeth's brother was even more difficult to forget. "When we had no apprentice, and sometimes when we did have one, William was often busy in the more laborious aspects of running the store. He was quite strong, and liked being useful in that regard. And he had little use for reading, while Father could not have kept me from his books if he had wished to do so."
They slowed to a stop, and John realized they must have reached the Weirs' shop. It was one of the larger buildings on the street. A man who looked to be about his age was inside already. John assumed him to be a Mr. Lorne, whom Elizabeth and Mr. Weir had both mentioned more than once. "Will you be able to find your way back to the house, and back here should you decide to bring my father?" she asked.
"I believe so," John replied.
They stood there awkwardly for a moment. "Well, good day to you, Mr. Sheppard," she said.
She was hurrying into the store almost before he could bid her a good day too. John turned to head back to the Weir house. On his way he met with a man about his age, shorter than him and with lighter hair.
John tipped his hat to Captain Michael Kenmore, and had the satisfaction of seeing that Kenmore did not recognize him at all.
The rain kept people indoors most of the morning, and Elizabeth and Mr. Lorne whiled away the hours by rearranging the shop and playing chess. He beat her in several matches, as usual. Elizabeth was not very good at the game, but she enjoyed the mental exercise anyway.
It was near to dinnertime when the bell hung on the door rang and two young ladies walked in. The first was Miss Kate Heightmeyer in a fresh white dress, and Miss Teyla Emmagan followed, wearing a plain but pretty purple gown. "Miss Heightmeyer, Miss Emmagan," Mr. Lorne greeted. "How may we help you?"
Kate smiled at Mr. Lorne and began to chat with him amiably while Elizabeth drew Teyla aside. Mrs. Heightmeyer had been widowed as a relatively young woman, when Kate was just a baby, and she had elected not to seek a new husband. Instead she had set herself up as a seamstress in order to provide for Kate and herself. A few years ago, she had needed help in order to keep up with all her business, but Kate had little interest in following her mother in the trade. Despite the haughty looks of some in the town, Mrs. Heightmeyer had hired Teyla Emmagan.
Teyla had lived among them for some years now, but Elizabeth could not say she knew the young woman very well. She had been born to a free mother and father, and now lived alone in a modest section of Williamsburg, on the other side of town from Elizabeth and her father. She was not given to outbursts of emotion, but still managed to demonstrate great empathy to those in need when such was called for. Elizabeth had often observed her walking through town on errands for Mrs. Heightmeyer and thought her like a queen, gracious and beautiful and dignified above all else.
"Is your father well, Miss Weir?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Elizabeth said. "He decided to stay at home today due to the rain."
Teyla gave her a brief, friendly smile. "Mrs. Heightmeyer heard you have had a new shipment of fabrics. She wondered if one she had ordered has arrived."
"Yes, at last. I'm afraid we are quite out of season for a heavy wool like this."
"I know Mrs. Heightmeyer understands the delay," Teyla said while Elizabeth went behind the counter to retrieve the bolt for her. "She had been hired to make winter coats for the McKay boys. They had to make do with their old coats, and Mrs. Miller has agreed to postpone the contract until next winter."
Rodney McKay lived just outside the city proper, on a large estate where his friend Radek Zelenka, whom McKay had known when they studied together at Oxford in England, bred and trained horses. They also designed bridges and dams and other structures, and were much sought after as engineers both before and during the war. Also living at the estate was McKay's widowed sister, Mrs. Miller, and three young boys orphaned by the war whom they had taken in. Elizabeth had always supposed that their presence was due to Mrs. Miller's kindness, as the men seemed rather indifferent to children in general.
"You should take the fabric anyway," Elizabeth said to Teyla. "Mrs. Heightmeyer has waited so long for this, and there is no guarantee of when we might get more if we were to sell this bolt."
"Mrs. Heightmeyer did not send me with the money to purchase it, Miss Weir," Teyla protested.
"Nonsense," Elizabeth replied. "You and Mrs. Heightmeyer are both trusted customers here. I should have informed you of its arrival yesterday, anyway."
"You're very kind," Teyla said.
Elizabeth had just finished wrapping the fabric in brown paper to protect it from dirt when Kate came up to the table. "Oh, Elizabeth, I have news for you," she said.
"Mother says your new gown will be ready tomorrow," she said, smiling brightly. "You shall have it in time for the dance next week."
"I shall come by tomorrow afternoon before I go to Mrs. Beckett, then," Elizabeth replied. "It will be a small party, will it not?"
"Yes, of course," Kate said. It had been some years since anyone in the town had hosted a very large party on account of the number of men who had gone into the army, but an effort was still made to provide some entertainment for the young people who remained. "Oh, you should bring your cousin, Mr. Sheppard. Captain Kenmore says he will come, and if Mr. Sheppard comes as well, we might have enough partners to go around."
"I will ask him, but I do not know if he will come." Truthfully, Elizabeth was hoping that Sheppard would be long gone by the party next week.
"Tell him half the town is eager to meet him," Kate pressed.
"Only half, Miss Heightmeyer?" Lorne asked, walking behind the ladies with a large bag of flour on his shoulder.
"Mr. Sheppard is rumored to be quite handsome," Kate said coolly. "I assume most of the men in town would be more than happy to see him stay home."
"I saw the gentleman in question this morning when he escorted Miss Weir to the store," he replied, setting the flour down with a resounding thud. "I did not think him so handsome as reputed."
"I think I shall refrain from trusting your judgment on such matters, Mr. Lorne."
Elizabeth glanced at Teyla, and they both had to suppress an undignified giggle.
"Is he so very handsome, Miss Weir?" Teyla asked.
Caught off-guard by the direct question, Elizabeth almost stammered her reply. "Why, I – that is, he – yes, he is rather handsome."
"Look at how she blushes!" Kate said laughingly.
"I thought I was the only one who could bring that color to your cheeks, Miss Weir," Mr. Lorne teased.
The ladies departed after Elizabeth had again given her assurances that she would visit the Heightmeyer home the next day. Once they were gone out into the rain, all was quiet again in the store, until Mr. Lorne spoke up. "I suppose you will be engaged to dance the first two dances with your handsome cousin," he said, making Elizabeth flush again, "but should you wish to have a partner secured for a later set as well, I would be happy to stand up with you."
"I am surprised you have any dances at all not committed by now."
"I always save at least two for you."
Teyla returned with Kate to the Heightmeyer home, talking with her comfortably all the way. Kate went back to the Becketts' house after dinner, and through the rest of the day Teyla stayed busy with her work. Miss Weir was not the only one who was getting a new garment soon, so Teyla and Mrs. Heightmeyer were much occupied with urgent orders that were wanted before the dance.
By the time Mrs. Heightmeyer insisted she go home, Teyla's fingers were aching from so much sewing. Normally a light meal and an early bedtime would be her solution to that, but Michael was in town. She knew he could not come to see her every night or suspicions all through town would be roused, but he had not stayed long the previous night. Nor had they actually spoken much, and Teyla had something of grave importance to tell him.
It had been almost a year since they met. He had come into the shop needing a repair on his blue uniform coat quickly, and while Teyla sat stitching a rent seam back together, Michael had talked with her. He was not like most of the white men she interacted with. While there were some in town who were indifferent to the darkness of her skin and treated her with the same cordiality they would anyone else, Michael had gone beyond mere polite attentiveness. Indeed, he was so interested in her that Teyla wondered if he were some sort of spy.
She had not been wrong, but it was some time before she knew the truth. He began to seek her out discreetly, happening upon her in odd places around town and offering to escort her home. Teyla took the difference in his behavior to be the result of him having more recently emigrated from Scotland. It was not until his third visit to Williamsburg that she discerned the reason that he treated her with such regard and respect.
He was in love with her. It was lucky for her, for she returned the sentiment with equal fervor.
Michael had never said the words aloud, but Teyla knew them to be true regardless. It had been on that third visit that he had told her that he was not, as she had supposed, a recent immigrant. He was British. In halting words he had told her that he had come to the Americas to quell the rebellion. He had considered himself loyal to the king, and there were still many aspects of the Loyalist cause with which he sympathized.
Though half her mind was recoiling from him as he spoke, something compelled her to stay her tongue and her feet and to listen to what he had to say. In May of the previous year, Michael had been with Banastre Tarleton's men at the Waxhaws, in South Carolina, when the Massacre had happened. This was not like the Boston Massacre, where five had died at the hands of British soldiers. This had been an open conflict among soldiers. While Michael said that he knew there had been fault on both sides of the battle, when American soldiers tried to surrender, the British had hacked them down anyway.
Teyla could see the pain in his eyes, still raw, as he spoke of the battle. It was that event which forced him to concede that he could not stand and fight with men who committed or condoned such brutality. Before week's end, he had slipped away and offered his service to the Americans.
That night, after telling her all this, Michael had kissed her for the first time. It was some time later that she connected the story and the kiss, realizing that he was telling her the truth – coming clean about everything – because he loved her and wanted to be honest with her. Teyla had been glad to know, and glad to know that he trusted her so much, but it had increased her fears for him a thousandfold.
Now, though, there was another complication, one which filled Teyla with dread. Even though she thought she had a good understanding of Michael, this news might change everything.
On this evening, he let himself in without knocking. Teyla had just finished her supper, and he had already dined. "I heard you are to attend an assembly here next week," Teyla said, once the pleasantries were done.
"Miss Heightmeyer told you?" he asked, knowing of her friendship with her employer's daughter. Teyla nodded. "I told her I would try." He hesitated a moment before adding, "I wish you –"
"Michael, don't," Teyla interrupted, almost snapping at him. The one thing they never, ever spoke of was the fact that he was white and she was black. There would always be this divide fixed between them, where he would be invited to parties and she would not. From Kate she could endure such complaints and remonstrations, but not from Michael.
"Forgive me," he murmured, lifting her hand and kissing it in apology. Teyla suppressed a shudder at the tenderness of the gesture, but then he turned her palm over deliberately and kissed her fingertips one by one. His lips almost closed around her smallest finger entirely, and Teyla could not hold back a little moan.
He relinquished her hand immediately but seized her head, kissing her wildly. She was far from resisting him. It was improper, she knew, to allow a man to take such liberties with her, but with Michael all such concerns were forgotten. Even as he pushed her down to her back on her small sofa, his hands roaming and his mouth suckling on the skin just below her ear, she craved more.
He seemed to remember before long their precarious position, both in that someone might come to visit her and find them thus entangled, and in that they were on a very small piece of furniture and one false move could send them both to the floor. He propped himself up, looking down at her with a fire in his eyes which still made Teyla tremble with its intensity.
"Oh, Teyla," he said, "what I would not give..."
The sudden, fervent words made her freeze, somehow thinking she knew what he meant and where this was going. "Michael..."
"I love you," he said, and there it was. She had known this for months but the confession still made her heart swell. Yet even as his mouth trailed down her throat, she could not keep silent.
"Michael, there is something I must tell you."
He drew away from her, looking at her in some confusion. "What is it?"
Teyla pushed at him gently, getting him to sit up so that she could too. "Michael, I am... carrying a child."
For several long moments there was a dreadful silence between them, and Michael's face was blank with shock. He did not move at all, and Teyla was not certain he was breathing. Then all at once he exhaled heavily and shot up to his feet. "You are certain?" he said.
"Yes. The child will be born early in the winter. And there is no one else who could be the father."
"I was not questioning that," he snapped. Teyla fought the urge to recoil, but she had thought the point valid. Surely he had realized the first time he slept with her that she was no virgin. She was no man's whore either, but she had learned with great pain that the choice to share a bed with a man could be taken from her.
They had shared a bed a few times, and every time Teyla became more and more convinced of his love for her. By the time she realized that she was pregnant, she was already having a hard time imagining what she would do if he were killed in battle or discovered to be a traitor, or simply left her and never returned.
She looked up at him, seeing the tension in his body and wondering what was going through his mind. She did not need to wonder or worry long, however, for he turned back to her and knelt before her. He looked quite serious, but there was a kind of recklessness in his eyes as well. "We must marry, Teyla," he said, changing everything in the world in just a few words.
For several long moments she could not think, could not breathe, could not do anything but stare at him in amazement. Of all the things he could have said, that was perhaps the last thing she had expected. While she tried to conjure the words to give him an answer, she watched as the hopeful expression on his face faded to something akin to shame, and he stood up and turned his back to her again.
"Forgive me, madam," he said tersely. "This mistake was mine."
"Michael," Teyla protested, sitting up.
"What?" he snapped, whirling around. "Will you not give me the dignity of an answer to my question?"
"A question I had no idea of entertaining!" she retorted. "You cannot expect me to have a ready answer."
"Are you saying that the thought had never crossed your mind? Teyla, you are carrying my child! Did you not think that I would wish my child to be born legitimate?"
"I have had such thoughts, yes, but I seem to have a better understanding of the laws in these States than you do," she replied crossly. "We cannot marry anywhere in this country. I thought you knew that."
"Teyla, I am not American," he reminded her. "I am not tied to Virginia, nor any part of the colonies."
She shook her head, although she was not entirely sure why she was arguing with him. "It would not be recognized by the church."
"Show me any part of the Bible that says we must be married by a pastor, or that men must approve of our marrying, or that we who have never been married before cannot be married to each other," he retorted with rising passion.
"We have broken God's commands already. I would not think you so concerned about it."
"Right or wrong, what we have done is not unusual," he protested. "How many brides have you known who were with child on their wedding day? The only difference here is the color of our skin, something neither you nor I can help."
"Michael," she said again, and he knelt before her again, this time clutching her hands in his so tightly that it nearly hurt.
"We'll go away," he almost whispered. "We'll go somewhere far from the prying eyes of bigots and busybodies." He touched her face gently. "I want to be your husband, Teyla. I want to have this child with you. A beautiful child, for such one surely must be with you as its mother."
His soft entreaties were almost enough to melt her resistance, but some part of her remained rooted in the earth. "Michael, give me time," she said, just as softly. He started to protest, but she silenced him with a finger against his lips. "Please, Michael. I will not hasten into a marriage, even for a man I love so well as you."
Michael's whole face seemed to light up with the confession of her own love for him, and she smiled a little. "What you ask of me is no small matter," she concluded. "Please, give me time."
Though it obviously pained him to do so, he nodded. Then, quickly, he bent his head and kissed her knuckles. "But you must promise me something else."
"That you will leave Williamsburg, as I asked you last night," he said. "I would not have my child in danger."
"Michael," she said, shaking her head. "I do not think that I can."
"Hard as it may be to believe, there are some here whom I care about," she said. "How can I leave them in danger?"
"I wanted you to leave before I knew about the child," he reminded her.
She replied in kind. "I was taking care of myself long before you entered my life, Michael."
He did not seem happy about it, but he did not make another protest. "I will try to give you a few days to yourself, in order to think over my requests," he said, "but I give you no promises. I do not know how long I can stay away."
"I would be greatly alarmed if you did not come here soon," she teased him.
He shook his head as he got to his feet. "Good night, Teyla. Sleep well."
She followed him to the door where, before opening it to leave, Michael turned and kissed her once more. For a long time after he was gone, she stood there, marveling at what had happened and wondering what she would do.
As she might have predicted, had she been thinking that far in advance, that night Teyla slept not at all.
Elizabeth called on the Heightmeyers the next day, as promised, and tried on her new gown. It was very pale green, with a lovely, delicate lace trimming the neck. The sleeves came snugly down to her elbow, but then were ruffled below her elbow in two layers of lace which were short near her body and longer away from it. She had new white slippers to wear with the dress too.
The last time she had had a new dress was just after the war broke out. Elizabeth was careful with all her clothes and nothing had worn out, but a few weeks ago her father had urged her to get something new for herself after six years of abstinence and restraint. She had given in to a little vanity and decided to have Mrs. Heightmeyer make it for her. She had made clothes for herself for years, but her own work never looked quite as fine as the seamstress' work.
Elizabeth was letting her father look at her new dress when Mr. Sheppard found them in the parlor. "Oh, I did not know you were home," he said, nodding to her.
"I only just arrived," she told him.
He walked up to them, his limp now barely noticeable, and looked appreciatively at the dress, which was mostly folded and inside its paper wrapping. "Is there an occasion for this, Miss Weir?"
"Mrs. Henry is giving a party at the inn next week," Elizabeth explained. "Father thought I should have something new."
"You're such a good girl, Elizabeth," her father said, "and you never complain about working in the store or not having the fine things you used to. You should have this pretty new gown, and you will look well at the party next week."
She blushed and looked down, folding the wrapping back over the dress and lifting it from her father's lap. "But speaking of the party," she said, turning her attention to the other man in the room, "you have been extended an invitation to it as well, Mr. Sheppard."
"Me?" he said, looking rather surprised.
"Yes, it seems there is quite a good deal of curiosity about my cousin from Boston," she said, emphasizing the story she was telling people about him. "Miss Heightmeyer asked me to tell you that you are more than welcome to come. We are normally short on dance partners at these events."
"Well," he said, not committing to anything.
"It would, of course, depend on whether or not your ankle will be up to the exercise," Elizabeth continued. "Not to mention, whether or not you will be in town. You still have not told us how long you intend to stay."
The man started, as though her words were completely unexpected, and Elizabeth began to wonder if he had become so comfortable in this house in the course of a mere three days that he had forgotten his supposed mission. He recovered his composure tolerably, however, and answered, "By next week my ankle should be more than ready for an evening of dancing. As for how long I will remain here, it will depend on several factors."
Elizabeth fought the urge to roll her eyes at his evasion, but she did not get to speak before her father said, "Mr. Sheppard, you know you are welcome to stay here as long as you need a bed in Williamsburg."
"That is most kind of you, Mr. Weir," Sheppard replied. He then smiled tightly at Elizabeth, whose jaw had dropped, and exited the room.
"Father!" she said, as soon as she was sure that Mr. Sheppard was out of earshot. "What are you thinking, inviting that man to stay as long as he likes?"
"I like him, Elizabeth," he said. "He spent all day with me, reading and playing draughts with me and going for a walk in the afternoon. He is a very intelligent gentleman, though he would like you to think otherwise."
"But he is a Loyalist," she pressed. "How can you endure having him here?"
"I doubt that he is, but even so, he has done nothing to warrant such behavior from you. I am as fervent a Patriot as you, but sometimes I think you forget that Loyalists are our brothers, not some sort of monster," her father told her, a hint of reprimand in his voice which Elizabeth had not heard in years. "I have told you already and I should not have to tell you again. He is our guest. You should treat him with the respect you would afford to anyone staying under our roof."
Elizabeth closed her eyes and blew out a long breath. Then she took her leave of her father and left the parlor, only to find Mr. Sheppard had come back and was standing just outside, a dark look on his face. He had obviously heard enough.
Silently, he grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her down the corridor despite her sputtered protests. "Miss Weir," he said, "you dislike me. I am aware of that. But have you been spreading this opinion that I am a Loyalist around the town?"
"Of course not," Elizabeth said, pulling her arm free from his grip. "I have told them that you are my cousin, my mother's nephew from Boston, as we planned. But I will hold my opinion until I am presented with adequate proof that you are not lying through your teeth."
She walked away from him, and she was halfway up the stairs when she heard him call after her. "Miss Weir."
She stopped, but did not look back at him. "Yes, Mr. Sheppard?"
"What kind of proof would satisfy you?"
Elizabeth had not expected that question, and she had no ready answer for it. After a few seconds of silence, Mr. Sheppard quietly said, "I thought so," and walked away, leaving Elizabeth feeling prodigiously uncomfortable, but this time more with herself than with anyone else. Then, as she stood there thinking about what he had said, discomfort turned to irritation, and irritation to anger.
Before supper she went back to the store to help Mr. Lorne close it, fuming all the way. She barely acknowledged the nods and waves of her acquaintances as they passed. How could Mr. Sheppard think her so petty and mean?
Once inside the shop, Elizabeth untied the ribbons holding her hat on her head with more force than was strictly necessary. "Miss Weir," said Mr. Lorne in mild alarm. "Miss Weir, whatever is the matter?"
"That insufferable man!" she exclaimed.
"Who? Has Mr. Branton renewed his addresses again?" Mr. Lorne pressed, looking angry. "Really, Miss Weir, I wish you would let me deal with him."
Elizabeth almost shuddered at the mention of that man. She had spent a horrid six months last year rebuffing Michael Branton's advances. All through the spring and summer he had called on the Weirs at least twice a week. Elizabeth had been civil to him while being careful not to give him any encouragement, but it seemed that nothing would deter him. On the rare occasion that a dance was held in town, he had tried to monopolize her time in a scandalous manner.
It had reached a point where, rather than endure another moment of his most unwanted advances, Elizabeth had preferred to appear to everyone to be violently in love with Mr. Lorne instead. Lorne had understood immediately, and pretended an affection to strong that for a day or two she wondered if it was actually felt.
"Believe me, Mr. Lorne," Elizabeth said, composing herself, "though I might enjoy seeing such a sight at another time, Mr. Branton is not the man who has caused me distress this morning."
"Who, then? For I have not seen such a violent temper from you since you were a little girl."
"Mr. Sheppard," she bit out.
"Yes, my cousin." Elizabeth sighed. "I am sorry, Mr. Lorne, but I really do not wish to discuss it."
"Very well," he said, dropping the subject even though he was clearly bewildered and concerned about her. Together they finished cleaning up the store and getting it ready for Monday, and then he walked her home. Elizabeth invited him to stay for supper, but he would not, saying he had a prior engagement.
Elizabeth exerted herself to sit through supper, but excused herself immediately after, not wishing to spend more time than she absolutely had to in John Sheppard's company. She did not believe him. She had no reason to believe him, for he had given her none. So she spent the evening trying to read a book, and when that was insufficient to distract her she went to bed, hoping to sleep and forget about it.
It was not to be, of course. Half the night she lay awake thinking about what she had said. Was she truly so unforgiving as he had implied? Was there nothing he could do which could convince her of his loyalty to the Patriot cause? In truth, the only evidence Elizabeth had that he was a Loyalist was that he had arrived at her door in a British uniform. Damning evidence, indeed, but he had had a ready explanation for his attire. Could he not be forgiven the imprudence of arriving in Williamsburg dressed as the enemy?
Elizabeth sighed and pulled the curtains of her four-poster bed more snugly closed, trying to keep the light out. She still did not think she could believe his story, knowing that the simpler explanation for his attire that day was that he was indeed a Loyalist. But in other respects her father was right. He seemed to be a good man despite his politics. She would win no friends to the Patriot cause by treating John Sheppard so poorly.
Resolved that she would try to make amends as soon as she could be alone with him in the morning, Elizabeth finally managed to fall asleep.
The next day being Sunday, there was no work, aside from those chores which absolutely had to be done. There was no perusing the newspaper, no reading books aside from the Bible, no playing draughts or chess. Yet the day passed pleasantly enough for John. The church service was neither too long nor too short, ending just in time for John to be accosted by several young ladies who wished to know if he was the famous cousin to Miss Weir. To his great amusement, Elizabeth seemed to hold her tongue only with much exertion.
After Sunday dinner, Mr. Weir dozed off in his chair, and Elizabeth looked rather restless. John had decided the night before that he had been too harsh with her, and he decided to show her some pity. He asked her to take a walk with him, as the afternoon was clear.
She was surprised but did not refuse his offer. Silently they left the house. They wandered through the grove behind the house aimlessly for some time, speaking only of the weather and of the things around them. John could sense that Miss Weir wanted to say something to him, but he would not prompt her. If she was going to say something, she would have to do it herself.
Finally, Elizabeth stopped walking, and John stopped to face her. "Mr. Sheppard, I want to apologize for my behavior yesterday evening," she said quietly. "I still cannot say I believe you, but that is no excuse for what I said."
John's heart sank as she spoke. He was grateful for the apology, to be sure, but the fact that she still did not believe him bothered him greatly. He had not thought that the truth of his loyalty should be so plainly etched upon his character as it seemed to be with Miss Weir. How was it that she understood him so perfectly, in a matter of mere days?
"I am sorry," Elizabeth continued, softer still. "I shall try harder in days to treat you with the dignity and civility which we all deserve."
"Even though you believe yourself to be aiding the enemy?" John asked, unable to resist.
"'Love thine enemy,'" she quoted. "My mother taught me enough of those verses when I was a child. I think she might be ashamed of how often I have failed to practice them."
It was not pride, John realized, which was causing her discomfort. She was truly ashamed of her behavior. Her change of heart brought an awkwardness to John which he had not expected. He knew well enough that he might someday have to confess the truth, and he did not want to hurt her in any way. The thought that he would be caught and forced to tell her that she had been right all along and he had been leading her into falsehood was troubling indeed.
On Monday morning, business in the store was exceptionally slow, and Mr. Lorne and Mr. Weir both encouraged Elizabeth to take the morning to herself. She was reluctant to, but together they managed to convince her to leave the shop. She had a great deal to do at home, but upon her arrival, a whim struck her and she decided that she would take the morning to ride her horse, something which she had not had time to do in ages.
In her bedchamber, she changed into her riding habit. The petticoat was plain, a rich blue with widely set, narrow stripes of tan. Above that she wore a white blouse and a tightly-fitting jacket which matched the blue in her skirt. It was trimmed with gold braid along all its edges and around the buttons. Like a soldier's uniform, the cuffs were folded back a few inches and the lapels were wide. With it she wore a tricorne of the same tan of the stripes on her skirt. It was tremendously comfortable, something rather desirable when riding a horse.
Elizabeth hastened to the stable, not wishing to waste any of her morning, but upon entering it she was surprised. Mr. Sheppard was wearing his great coat and hat, and he was saddling his own magnificent horse.
"Miss Weir," he said, looking up. "I did not expect to see you here."
"I came home upon my father's urging," she explained. Still she did not feel wholly comfortable with this man, but after their discussion the previous day she was willing to try again with their acquaintance. "Is your ankle better?"
"Yes, I believe I am fully recovered, so you may throw me out of your house as soon as you choose."
Elizabeth opened her mouth to retort, but a moment before she said something, she noticed the knowing smirk on his face and she calmed herself. Walking over to her own horse and preparing the mare to ride, she remarked, "Mr. Sheppard, I begin to think you do not like me."
"On the contrary, Miss Weir," he said, "I like you very much."
For reasons beyond her own understanding, she blushed.
They finished readying their horses in silence, and when they had both led their horses out of the stable and had mounted them, Mr. Sheppard said, "May I be so impertinent as to join you? I have wanted to see the countryside, but I believe such an exploration would be more valuable with a guide."
Elizabeth nodded, and together they set out slowly. Mr. Sheppard was a better horseman than she had anticipated, since she had met him because he had lost his seat. The poor beast must have been truly frightened to come upon her father so suddenly. As they rode, Elizabeth pointed out various places of interest around the town.
They had encircled Williamsburg before long, and quite without any premeditation, they followed the York River on its way southeast to Yorktown. Mr. Sheppard's horse pulled toward the water, so they both dismounted and led the horses over to let them drink. As they did so, Mr. Sheppard said hesitantly, "Miss Weir, may I ask you something?"
Perplexed, she nodded.
"I have been wondering something since the day I arrived, almost since the moment I met you," he said. "I have seen a great deal of patriotic fervor at home, but not even in Boston could I find such depths of passion for the cause in a lady."
"I think you underestimate the ladies of Boston, Mr. Sheppard," she said with a smile.
"I do not think I do," he replied seriously. "What incites such passion, Miss Weir? What drives you to step so far beyond what is normal for young ladies?"
Elizabeth thought about it for a long time, watching her pretty white horse drinking next to Mr. Sheppard's brown horse. "I think," she said at length, "the answer lies within your question." At his puzzled look, she tried to explain herself. "I have been reading aloud to my father since I was eight years old, when his sight grew so poor that reading was too much of a strain for his eyes. I read what he asked me to. Newspapers, books, tracts, everything. When I did not understand what I read, he encouraged me to ask questions. By the time the war was started, I was already familiar with virtually all the literature of both the Patriots and the Loyalists. And that knowledge inspires a hope in me, Mr. Sheppard."
"That someday, when this country is established, we as Americans will stand up and say that God is no respecter of persons, so neither should we be," she explained. "That it is not only all men who are created equal."
Mr. Sheppard looked at her, not seeming particularly surprised. "You realize that is unlikely," he told her.
"Yes," she replied, "but what is the worth of hoping for something that is likely to happen?"
"You are an unusual lady, Miss Weir," he said.
"I have been accused of such before."
With merry smiles at each other they mounted their horses again and turned back toward town. On the way they encountered Captain Kenmore, who was an occasional visitor in Williamsburg. He tipped his hat to Elizabeth and said, his accent lilting like Doctor Beckett's, "Miss Weir, good day to you."
"Captain Kenmore, hello," Elizabeth replied. "How do you do?"
"Very well, thank you." He nodded at Mr. Sheppard. "I don't think we've been introduced, sir."
"Captain, this is my cousin, Mr. John Sheppard of Boston," Elizabeth said, gesturing to John. "Mr. Sheppard, Captain Michael Kenmore."
"Good day to you," Mr. Sheppard said.
"Of Boston, you say?" Kenmore replied, nodding politely.
"Yes, have you been there?"
"Aye, more than once. I met a blacksmith named Morgan Sheppard there several months ago." The captain's eyes narrowed. "But I would assume he is not a relation of yours."
"Why?" Mr. Sheppard asked.
"He was a staunch Loyalist, and I must assume that such opinions tend to run in families. And I imagine that Miss Weir could not tolerate it if her cousin supported the tyrant King George."
Elizabeth glanced at John quickly. "I am not entirely sure I follow you, sir," he drawled, "but such questions of loyalty and patriotism have been known to divide families."
"But of course," the captain said. "Miss Weir, will you be at the party tomorrow?"
"Yes, Captain," Elizabeth replied. "Miss Heightmeyer told me you would be there."
"I will. I hope you will save me a dance."
She smiled serenely. "Of course."
Captain Kenmore nodded to them both and took his leave. All the way back to the Weir house, Mr. Sheppard was quiet and withdrawn, until Elizabeth pressed him to know what was bothering him so. "Do you like Captain Kenmore?" he asked.
"I do not know him well," she replied. "He first came to Williamsburg just last year. He has been here perhaps half a dozen times that I know of. But he has a gentlemanly manner and seems to me to be well-educated. I cannot say I object to his company, if that is what you are asking."
Mr. Sheppard made a noncommittal noise, and Elizabeth decided not to press the subject. Earlier in his stay in Williamsburg, she had found him observing Captain Kenmore through a window in the parlor. She had thought little of it at the time, but now she wondered if the captain was the man whom Mr. Sheppard claimed he had been sent to investigate.
She thought about what Captain Kenmore had said and turned a question on her companion. "Is Morgan Sheppard your cousin?" she asked.
Mr. Sheppard looked at her for a moment, his face growing dark. "Yes," he said gruffly. "And yes, he is a Loyalist."
Elizabeth chose not to comment on that. His manner was warning enough on the subject. But still, as she and Mr. Sheppard returned to the house and stabled their horses, she could not shake the feeling that there was something about these two men which she did not know or understand.
For his part, Captain Kenmore came away from the encounter with a greater understanding of the situation than Miss Weir did. He had been concerned for some time that his activities with the colonists might eventually become known to the British, for he knew that he could not maintain the façade of loyalty forever.
It was with this knowledge that Michael rode away from her and Mr. Sheppard. Sheppard he had seen in town once or twice before, and in those passing moments Michael had thought he imagined some interest on Mr. Sheppard's part. Now, having formally met the man, he had no doubt that Sheppard was curious about him to a degree which was not normal for strangers. But he did not know Mr. Sheppard's loyalties. Either was plausible.
Michael knew that the Americans did not fully trust him, any more than the British fully trusted Benedict Arnold. It was the plight of the traitor: even though Michael had turned to the Patriots because he could no longer uphold the British and their cause, the Patriots would never completely trust him. Having turned once, he would always be suspected of turning again.
And he was growing weary of playing to both sides. If he had slipped in his demeanor, someone on the British side would surely have begun an investigation into his actions.
The only question now, of course, was which side John Sheppard was on.
The answer, he suspected, lay with Miss Weir. While Michael did not know her very well, he knew her reputation in Williamsburg. She was widely reputed to be an exceptionally intelligent woman, and one of the most knowledgeable in the Patriot cause for many miles around. Such a reputation was laudable indeed, given the number of famous Patriots who made their home in Virginia, including Thomas Jefferson himself.
He could not imagine that Miss Weir, such a staunch Patriot, would be giving shelter to a Loyalist fighting with the British, even a cousin of such description. What Mr. Sheppard had said was true. The war had divided families most cruelly. While Michael had no doubt that Miss Weir was normally generous and forgiving, he could imagine her digging her heels in on this point and refusing to associate herself with a family member whose opinions on this subject were so decidedly opposed to her own. But even as he considered this, he was bothered by Mr. Sheppard's reluctance to own a cousin in Boston who was a Loyalist. To Michael's recollection, Mr. Sheppard's resemblance to that man he had met months ago was strong enough to remove all doubt. So why would he not admit to the relation openly?
But more than likely, the man was a Patriot, perhaps not as fervently as Miss Weir, but a Patriot nonetheless. And if that were the case, then Michael was under investigation by the Americans. He doubted that they would ever accept him as one of their own.
It was just one of many things in his life now that would never be accepted by the world outside.
His mind moved inevitably to Teyla, who would at this moment be at Mrs. Heightmeyer's house, probably helping to get some wealthy girl's gown ready for the dance tomorrow evening. He had thought for some time that he wanted to make her his wife, if they could only find a way. Now, with Teyla's news of the child she carried, that desire was met with certainty and urgency. He would not have his child born out of wedlock. He simply could not endure the idea.
Feeling a shaking in his limbs, Michael dug his heels into his horse's flanks and urged him faster. When he had first slept with Teyla all those weeks ago, he had not considered the consequences. He had been so reckless. She bore some of the guilt, to be sure, but he had been the one to seduce her, the one to coax her into letting him into her bed.
And now he was to be a father. The thought would have been overwhelming under normal circumstances, but he was to be a father to a child whom he could not acknowledge in public. The unfairness of it all struck him all over again. Were Teyla fair-skinned, he would have been courting her openly and might have married her by now. Instead, because she was black, he had to skulk around her door, sneaking in and out to avoid being seen.
He was sick and tired of it, being caught between two worlds and wanting just to escape them both, taking Teyla with him so that their child could be born somewhere away from the awful judgment and hatred they would find here.
If he had had it to do over again, Michael felt quite certain that he would have resisted the temptation and would not have yielded to his baser desires. But at the same time, a rebellious part of his spirit was beginning to feel hopeful about it all, knowing that in the winter, he would be able to hold the child he and Teyla had conceived, and that if he were very lucky, perhaps by then he would be her husband, and their child's birth would be a joyous day.
Miss Weir stayed only long enough to change out of her riding habit and to eat a light dinner with John. Afterward she left to sit with her friend, Mrs. Beckett, and John was left quite alone until she and her father returned for supper.
He decided to make his way into the city, stopping briefly at the Weirs' shop and meeting Mr. Lorne, whom Miss Weir spoke about frequently. He was about John's age, and seemed to be affable and charming with everyone. John had thought briefly that Elizabeth, speaking so warmly of him, was perhaps harboring affection for her father's former apprentice, but after meeting the man John realized that his concerns had been for naught.
Williamsburg was a handsome place, he decided, with wide streets and buildings set a good distance apart. It was not much like Boston, though likely more prosperous even after having lost the colony's capital. At one end of Duke of Gloucester Street stood the old capitol building, and on the other was William and Mary College, an institution nearly a hundred years old. The town was well-situated and was probably a wonderful place in which to live, but John thought that absent the colony's rebel government, there was probably little about the town to attract the British army here.
The thought left John somewhat relieved, and yet puzzled that he should feel that way.
When the Weirs had returned home, they ate a pleasant supper together, and afterward they retired to the parlor, where Elizabeth sat near the fire with a lamp and sewed. Mr. Weir, on the other hand, gave a volume to John and asked him to read. The book was quiet new, its spine still stiff. John opened it to the beginning and started to read an essay on the Patriot cause.
It was an unusual experience. He had read to Mr. Weir before, but not to him and his daughter. The two liked to interrupt, to discuss things as they went, and frequently a quarter of an hour went by in which John read nothing but listened to the father and daughter debate the merits of the essay. He read no more than twenty pages in the hours they sat together, but he felt more thoroughly educated at the end of the evening than he ever had coming home from school. Miss Weir was a brilliant woman, truly, and John felt a little sad to think that it was so unlikely that anyone outside her close circle of friends and loved ones would ever have the pleasure of listening to her speak on any subject with such adroitness. He had rarely spent an evening more comfortably, even though he was listening to a discussion of a subject with which he disagreed, for the most part.
Eventually the conversation came to an end, and the three retired to bed. Standing in the bedchamber of Miss Weir's late brother, John removed his boots and tested his ankle. It was as he had said to her earlier in the day. It had recovered adequately, and now John began to feel a little guilty for continuing to trespass in the Weirs' home. Elizabeth, somehow able to discern the truth about him from the very beginning, could not feel at ease with him in the house even though her father was. Despite her apology the previous day, John felt he must sincerely offer to make her more comfortable.
In the flickering candlelight, he began the process of undressing himself, sitting at the foot of the bed to remove his shoes and stockings. He tossed aside his wig as well, running his hands through his short, wild hair until it was sticking up in every direction. After that he went to the clothes press and put away his coat and waistcoat. As he took off his cravat and began to unbutton his shirt, there was a knock at the door. Thinking it would be Mr. Weir's steward, he said, "Come in."
John turned and saw Miss Weir. In the candlelight her delicate features were softened, and now at the close of day some of her hair had fallen loose around her face. She gasped at the sight of him, and her cheeks turned rosy as she stared. He felt himself get a little embarrassed to be seen in such a state of undress by a lady, but there was little he could do about it, short of lunging for a dressing robe. "Can I help you, Miss Weir?" he asked instead.
"I –" she began, staring at him. "I wanted to know if there is anything you will need for the dance tomorrow."
"If I may use what is here," he replied, gesturing to the clothes press, "I will have no other needs."
Elizabeth nodded, still blushing. "Very well."
They stood there awkwardly, and John decided he would take this opportunity to fulfill his resolve of just moments ago. "Miss Weir, I meant what I said this morning about my ankle," he said. "I know you are ill at ease with my presence in your house. If you wish it, I can remove to other lodgings in town."
Some of the high color left her cheeks, and she sighed. "I had been hoping you would make such an offer, but I fear it is impossible," she said. "I have told half the town now that you are my cousin. To have you leave the house but stay in town would raise too many questions uncomfortable for us both. It will be my punishment for lying. I should have listened to my father's instruction in the first place and told everyone the truth."
John shook his head. "After the party tomorrow night, I will remove myself."
"What will we tell everyone?"
"That I snore too much and neither you nor your father can get an hour's rest?"
She laughed, and before thinking to check himself, John gave her a shy smile, and she blushed again. He felt tremendously relieved to know that, despite her better judgment, she did not see fit to throw him out of the house. Still, he knew she would be easier without him there, and if it was within his power, he would do everything he could to make her more comfortable.
"Forgive me," he said, "for inviting you in when I was already getting ready for bed. I thought it would be your father's steward."
"I should have announced myself before entering," she answered. "Please, do not distress yourself on my account."
She was still staring at him, though, in a way that was at once self-conscious and confused. Finally John looked about himself. "Have I grown another arm, Miss Weir?" he teased.
Elizabeth closed her eyes in exasperation. "No, Mr. Sheppard," she replied. "If you must know, I find myself rather perplexed by your hair."
John grinned at her and ran his hand through the mess. "Why do you think I wear a wig?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "I have not spent a great deal of time thinking about your hair, Mr. Sheppard," she said dryly. "Though I must admit, it does seem to defy the very laws by which nature is governed."
John chuckled. "I will try to keep it concealed from now on, Miss Weir."
She moved toward the door. "Good night, Mr. Sheppard."
When she had slipped out, John let out a long breath and continued getting ready for bed. His relief now was considerable. As he blew out the candle and climbed into bed, pulling the curtains of the four-poster tightly shut, he thought to himself that the dance tomorrow evening would be most pleasant, secure in the knowledge that he would have the first dance with Miss Weir, and would not have to compete with the likes of Mr. Lorne and Captain Kenmore for that honor.
With the assembly on Tuesday, Mrs. Heightmeyer and Teyla had a great deal to do, and Kate was persuaded to assist them all day Monday and most of Tuesday morning. Teyla knew that Kate had never really enjoyed sewing, but she had learned the craft well enough to be a great help on a day like this. On this day, Kate was quiet, as she normally was when she was not around Mr. Lorne. Neither party would admit to it, but Teyla was quite convinced that Mr. Lorne was courting Kate in a roundabout manner, and he tended to bring out a side of her which few ever saw.
That might have been why Kate was being so particular about her gown for this assembly. She was always dressed beautifully, and with her mother a seamstress her clothes always fit her just right. But this time she was quite determined to have it perfect.
The gown was made from white cotton printed with rich blue flowers and vines. A white stomacher finished the bodice, with a line of gold buttons down the center to the bottom point. The gown was open below the stomacher, and underneath she would wear a blue petticoat which matched the blue on the cotton print.
Kate was busy hemming the petticoat while Teyla sewed the last of the tiny buttons on the stomacher. "Well, what do you think of this new gown?" she asked.
"I think it is very becoming on you, Kate," Teyla replied, securely tying off her thread and starting to sew the next button down. "I am sure Mr. Lorne will agree."
Kate narrowed her eyes at Teyla, but she was still smiling. "I am sure I will not care what he thinks of it."
Teyla looked back down at her work, but couldn't keep from smiling. "Oh, I know what you think," Kate said. "He only pays attention to me because I am a friend of Elizabeth's, and he was her father's apprentice." When Teyla did not respond, Kate said, "What?"
"I think you are dramatically oversimplifying the situation," Teyla replied, highly amused.
"Most of the town thinks he will marry Elizabeth one of these days," Kate went on, her cheeks having a little more color than usual. "But I think if they were to marry, it would have happened by now."
Teyla made a noncommittal noise and finished with the final button. These days Kate's denials were rather unconvincing, but Teyla almost envied her friend. Even with all the secrecy she and Michael had been confined to, those early days when they were just falling in love had been sweet indeed.
She suppressed a sigh as she thought of the days since. She did not regret anything of this relationship, even now that she was pregnant. There had been a moment, though, when Michael had first tried to seduce her, that she had been shocked and dismayed by his actions. It was not the first time a man had taken an interest in her, not even the first time a white man had taken an interest in her.
She had been raped, once. At other times she had not been forced, exactly, but she had compromised, knowing it was easier to give in. Some men had no reservations about using a black woman, free or slave, to amuse themselves. Teyla was not a real person to those men, so her feeling of degradation was of no consequence to them. In those cases, the men had lost interest in her after sleeping with her, which was what she had guessed would happen.
So that night when Michael had reached for the laces of her dress, it had hurt her a great deal. He had seemed so different, and now to have him trying to bed her made him seem just like every white man who had taken an interest in her. Teyla had allowed it, thinking it was for the best that she knew then what he was after and why he was paying her such attention, before her heart was too far gone. She had misread him. That was all.
But then he surprised her. As a lover he was as attentive as he was persuasive, and when all was said and done, he did not dress himself again and go his way. Instead, Michael had lain down beside her and wrapped her in his arms.
"Teyla?" Kate said, drawing her out of her thoughts.
"You seem distracted."
"Forgive me," Teyla replied. "I was just thinking."
"You've been quieter than usual lately," Kate said. "Is something wrong?"
Teyla shook her head and reached for the other side of the petticoat, intent on helping. "I am only tired," she said. It was somewhat true; she was very tired.
"Well, after this rush is over perhaps Mother will give you a day or two of rest," Kate remarked. "I know she is looking forward to peace and quiet for a little while as well."
Smiling politely, Teyla concurred. But in her mind, as she worked around the full skirt with meticulously even stitches, she kept pondering Michael's requests of her. She would miss this kind of time with Kate, and with a few others in town whom she considered friends. But the truth of the matter was that she was lonely in Williamsburg. Free blacks were not at all common in Virginia, and sometimes she felt that she was even ostracized from other free blacks because she had been born free. What she knew of the travails of slavery was entirely secondhand. In a way, she, like Michael, was caught between two worlds and would probably never be accepted into either one.
Perhaps that was what she had missed most of her adult life, ever since her parents had passed on. Perhaps that was why when Michael had shown such an interest in her, she had not tried to shun him.
Perhaps with him, she could find a better life than anything the States had to offer.
Elizabeth spent Tuesday feeling unusually excited about the party to come. She spent the morning with Laura before Laura shooed her away. Elizabeth was not so vain that she needed to spend the entire afternoon getting ready, but she did want to help Mr. Lorne close the store, which he was doing a few hours early so that he too would have time before the assembly.
Having pressed her new dress very carefully, Elizabeth donned it after a light supper with her father and Mr. Sheppard. The soft green silk looked well with her pale skin, dark hair, and green eyes. Hoops held her petticoats out, and her stomacher, the wide section of her bodice which ran from the low edge of the neck to her waist, was covered in delicate embroidered flowers. Elizabeth wore white slippers, and a string of pearls adorned her neck. Her hair she had pulled up and secured with pins and a white ribbon, but she let a few curls fall around her face.
Her father was waiting for her when she came down the stairs. "Come, Elizabeth, let me look at you," he said, and she came close enough that he could see her a little better. "You will be the prettiest lady there," he judged upon observing her.
"I must concur," said Mr. Sheppard from behind, and Elizabeth turned to see him enter the house again. "I am not sure I am dressed finely enough to accompany you, Miss Weir."
Elizabeth smiled at him, for he was looking handsome enough. His white breeches and stockings were spotless, his black shoes shining. He wore a blue waistcoat under a fine velvet coat of the same hue, and his white shirt underneath was finished off with a cravat. He held his hat in one hand and nodded to Elizabeth. "I do not think you will be embarrassed by your appearance, Mr. Sheppard," she told him.
"That is very good news." With a nod at her father, John offered her his arm. "May I escort you, ma'am?"
Elizabeth took his arm, and quietly they set out. Mr. Sheppard had come outside already and hitched the horse to the buggy, and he helped her up before joining her on the seat. Then they set off, talking pleasantly all the way to the inn where the party was being held.
She wondered several times about her ease with this man. Just three days ago she would have considered him a great enemy. Now, after her offer of reconciliation, he was easy around her and lively enough. He loved to tease, she now knew, but he could be dreadfully serious when the situation warranted it. He liked to listen to what she had to say, too, something Elizabeth had not encountered in many men. Her prejudice against his political inclinations seemed to be weakening. In fact, at times she was starting to doubt what exactly she believed his inclinations to be.
They arrived just as many others were arriving, and John hopped out of the buggy to tether the horse to the hitching post. Elizabeth waited for him to return, and he held his hand out to help her down. She smiled at him when her feet touched the ground, and the smile she got in return was almost bashful.
Together they entered the brightly-lit parlor of the inn, announced by an older gentleman as they arrived. Immediately they were accosted by several young ladies, some of whom were Elizabeth's friends and some who were not. Mr. Sheppard was affable and charming as ever with them, but every once in a while he would give a saucy look to her. Elizabeth was not quite sure what to make of it, except that he was a shameless flirt and should not be encouraged in such behavior. Even so, she could not help a few small smiles.
When the small ensemble of musicians began to tune their instruments, the crowd began to disperse around the room, setting up for the first dance. Elizabeth let Mr. Sheppard guide her amid the couples to one end of the room where they would join them.
The violinist played the central conceit of the song they were about to play, and then it was begun. Mr. Sheppard was an excellent dancer, not too talkative nor too morose, never making a misstep as they danced through the room. Elizabeth was flushed and smiling when their first two dances were over and Kate joined them, on Mr. Lorne's arm.
"Miss Weir, you are looking lovely tonight," the man said, and then he nodded at Mr. Sheppard. "Good to see you again, sir."
"And you, Mr. Lorne," Mr. Sheppard replied.
It took Elizabeth a moment to realize why he and Kate did not speak to each other. "Oh! Kate, you and my cousin have not yet been introduced, have you?" she said. "Miss Katherine Heightmeyer, Mr. John Sheppard."
"It is a pleasure, of course," Kate remarked. "You had become an object of some considerable curiosity in town."
"So I understand from Miss Weir," John said, laughing. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Heightmeyer."
At that moment they were approached by Captain Kenmore, who was dressed in his uniform, as an officer in the Continental Army. Elizabeth could not help but notice how Mr. Sheppard stiffened upon seeing him. "Good evening," the captain said, bowing to them all. "Miss Weir, if your cousin will relinquish you, may I be so bold as to claim your hand for the next two dances?"
Elizabeth glanced at Mr. Sheppard, whose expression was now completely closed off. But he was not her cousin nor did he have any sway over her actions or affections, so she smiled brightly at the captain. "I am not engaged for the next set," she told him.
The next dance was starting, so Captain Kenmore offered her his arm and she followed him to the floor. The captain, though pleasant, was less vivacious in his dancing, speaking less than Mr. Sheppard did and seeming to focus more on the steps than on her. Elizabeth did not mind, for the dances were ones with which she was less familiar and she was grateful that she did not have to speak to him often.
At the end of the second dance, Elizabeth sought out Mr. Sheppard's face, wondering if he had found a partner from the array of young ladies always left sitting out due to the dearth of gentlemen at these gatherings. She spotted him standing alone by the room's large fireplace, watching her and her partner intently. In vain she told herself that she imagined the jealousy and animosity in his eyes, but as the evening progressed, even when they both had other partners, Elizabeth found his eyes often upon her.
John was sincerely shocked to see Kenmore in a Continental uniform. He knew that Miss Weir had introduced him as a captain, but somehow seeing him in uniform was another matter. His superiors had simply said that the captain was a requisitions officer. They had said nothing of him spying on their behalf, and John could think of but one conclusion to draw. Michael Kenmore had betrayed the British and the Loyalists.
He did not yet know if Kenmore had been responsible for the situation in Charlottesville, but he felt quite certain that when Tarleton learned that Kenmore had been seen in the uniform of a Continental officer, he'd have the man hanged for treason. It was the highest crime a man could commit, and was worthy of the harshest punishment man could devise. Rationally, John knew he needed to get back to his commander with all haste to impart this discovery, but as the evening progressed, he felt a strange hesitation.
After a time, when neither of them was engaged in dancing, John moved through the room, following his prey to the table with the refreshments. While Captain Kenmore got a glass of wine, John approached him, intending to ask about his regiment and what his mission was in Williamsburg. But before he could do so, there was a commotion in the foyer and the door burst open. The musicians ceased playing, and John pushed his way forward to see what was going on.
The foyer was filled with rough-looking men, and even without being able to see their clothing well John knew they were soldiers. Then he heard something that made his blood freeze.
They were speaking German.
John whirled around and saw Kenmore hurrying out through a side door. He couldn't say he blamed the man. He wouldn't want to be caught by Hessians while wearing that uniform either.
"What is going on?" Miss Weir said, her voice carrying over the murmuring of the crowd and reminding John of the problems that were about to be unleashed on Williamsburg. He hastened back to be close to her side, even though Mr. Lorne glared at him for it.
"Mr. Sheppard," she began, taking his arm, but she was cut off by the deep voice of a man whom John had dearly hoped never to see again.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen," the man said, his English lightly accented. "I am Colonel Augustin Kolja. Regrettably, I must break up this little gathering. You are all to return to your homes immediately."
"Why?" Lorne called. "We are here peacefully and with the permission of the city's government."
Kolja's eyes fixed on Lorne, and John felt Miss Weir's hand tighten on his arm. "This afternoon the colonist forces made an attack upon British and Hessian troops, some six miles from town," the man explained. "They were easily beaten back, of course, but now Lord Cornwallis has decided to quarter here in Williamsburg."
John could feel hair standing up on the back of his neck even though his wig was firmly in place. The one grievance among the many which the Patriots had raised that John agreed with was the forced quartering of troops in civilians' property, whether inhabited or not. It was not right. Ironically, it was the grievance which seemed least important to most Patriots, but John suspected that the Patriots in Williamsburg would agree with him on that point after this.
While Kolja resumed his orders that everyone was to leave the party, John leaned down to speak softly to Elizabeth. "Fetch our things," he said. "I will get the buggy and drive up to the door. Be as quick as you can about it."
Eyes wide, she nodded and hurried away from his side. John went the other way, fighting through the crowd to get to the hitching post to untie the horse and hop in the buggy, whipping the horse around and driving to the door.
Miss Weir stepped out as he reached the exit. John stood and extended both hands to her, one to take their hats from her and the other to help her into the buggy. She climbed in with one fluid motion, and within just a few seconds they were off.
Neither of them spoke while John urged the horse faster down the streets to the house. There were soldiers everywhere in the streets. As they neared their destination, he looked at her and saw a face which might have seemed serene were it not for the way her lips were tightly pressed together. "Everything will be all right," he blurted out, quite without thinking.
"Mr. Sheppard," she began.
"When we get to the house, go inside and let me see to the horse and buggy," he interrupted. "If your father is not abed already, tell him what is happening and try to persuade him to retire to his bedchamber. Let me deal with them."
"Do you have a plan?" she asked, sounding surprised.
"Will you need me out of the way?"
"No, when your father is in his bedchamber, come back down to the parlor. I may need your presence."
To his surprise, Elizabeth did not question him or his decisions. She simply sat with her hands tightly folded in her lap until they reached the house, where she left the buggy without a word to him. After seeing that she got into the house safely, John slapped the horse with the reins to hasten him to the stable. He had not a moment to lose if he was to protect her, and for right now, all other concerns fell to a distant second in his mind.
Michael ran as fast as his legs would carry him, up the stairs to his room so he could cast off his Continental uniform. He did not believe the Hessians had spotted him, but he could not be too careful.
Having put on plain clothes, he packed up his belongings and left the room with the same haste with which he had entered it. Through the back streets of Williamsburg he went with all confidence, not veering from his path when Hessians appeared in his way, the better to appear nonchalant.
He arrived at Teyla's door, and she opened it for him, startled. "Michael, what is going on?" she asked.
Michael came into the house and shut the door behind him before answering. "There was a battle outside of town this afternoon," he explained. "The British and Hessians are here demanding quarter."
"Oh no," Teyla breathed. "Are you sure?"
"Colonel Kolja himself broke up the assembly tonight to send everyone back to his home that they could prepare for the arrival of soldiers," Michael replied. "Teyla, I want you to go somewhere else. Take anything that is dear to you, but please, I do not wish to have you alone in this house with soldiers if they decide to enter private homes. With your permission I will stay here. I am sure the soldiers have already filled the inn."
In the back of his mind he was mildly surprised that she did not object. Instead, visibly composing herself, she nodded. "I will go to the Heightmeyers'," she said. "Mrs. Heightmeyer will not turn me away."
Relieved, Michael helped her pack up some belongings in a satchel and escorted her through the town to the Heightmeyers' back door. There he pressed a kiss to her hand and left before Mrs. Heightmeyer or Kate could open the door. From a distance, he watched as the door opened and a woman beckoned her into the house. Only when he saw her safely inside did he return to her house, where he stayed up for several hours watching as soldiers flowed through the town, and he wondered what he was to do, to protect Teyla and their child and make sure the babe did not come into the world without a father.
Mrs. Heightmeyer was surprised to see Teyla at the door, but ushered her in quickly and without a question. Kate, still dressed in her fine clothes, embraced her briefly. "Mrs. Heightmeyer," Teyla said, "I am sorry to intrude upon you, but the soldiers -"
"I know, Teyla. I do not blame you in the least," Mrs. Heightmeyer replied. "I was of half a mind to send the maid for you. I did not like the idea of you being alone in your house even if they do not attempt to quarter soldiers there."
Teyla nodded, but there was a thump coming from above stairs, and startled, she hugged her satchel to her torso as though that would provide her some protection. Michael's sudden appearance had unsettled her, and his news and the rush away from her house only made her that much more uneasy. "There are three soldiers in the house," Mrs. Heightmeyer added. "They will sleep out in the stable, but they must have blankets and some other provisions."
"Teyla, you can sleep with me in my bedchamber," Kate said. "I will feel more comfortable with the company."
"That is an excellent notion," Mrs. Heightmeyer replied. "I may bring my maid up to sleep in my room."
The three ladies ascended the stairs then, and Teyla followed Kate to her bedchamber. The windows were open, letting in a light breeze, and the room was lit by a single lamp. "We can share the bed," Kate was saying, helping Teyla undress for bed. "'Tis too big for one person anyway, and I would rather not have to go back out to get enough blankets for a comfortable pallet."
Teyla objected only a little. She was very tired, and Kate was so talkative that she thought her friend was tired as well. She helped Kate to undress as well, and they got into bed quickly. "This will probably last only a few days," Kate said. "Mr. Lorne managed to find out that they are on their way to the coast. I do not think they will stay long in Williamsburg."
Teyla only nodded, lying on her back and staring at the ceiling. She was feeling a little nauseated, but not badly.
"How did you find out about the situation so quickly?" Kate asked.
It took Teyla a long time to answer, not knowing how Kate would react to the full truth, even though the two of them were sleeping in the same bed tonight. But somehow the desire to be truthful overcame her worries. "Someone came and warned me," she replied.
Teyla took a deep breath. "Captain Kenmore."
"Captain Kenmore?" Kate repeated, turning her head to look at Teyla. "I did not even know that you knew the man."
Teyla nodded. "We met some months ago in your mother's shop."
"But why would he –" Kate stopped herself, her eyes going wide. "Teyla, has he..."
She could not even get the words out. Teyla had to look away. "I am hard-pressed to tell what happened between us, exactly," she said quietly. "He paid his attentions to me discreetly when he would come to town. It took me a long time to realize that he... that he loves me."
Kate was silent for a long time. Teyla simply lay there looking at her hands and waited. "I know not what to say, Teyla," she finally said. "I would not have expected this of you or Captain Kenmore."
"I would not have expected it either," Teyla admitted. "But there is..."
"What?" Kate asked. "Is there something else?"
"I hardly know how to own it," Teyla murmured. "Kate, I am carrying his child."
This silence was a terrible one. Kate said many things which some would consider downright heretical regarding love and marriage, but Teyla knew that saying things and acting upon them were entirely different matters. What could one say about this situation, anyway?
"Oh, Teyla," Kate said at last, her voice full of sympathy rather than judgment. "What will you do?"
Kate's acceptance melted her last bit of reserve and she confessed the rest. "I do not know. He – he has asked me to marry him."
Kate looked quite shocked by this admission. "But that is against the law!"
"I know. He wants me to leave Virginia with him, to go somewhere where it will not be illegal."
"Where would you go? Further west? Or to Canada?"
"Maybe." Teyla sighed. "I don't know what I will do."
Kate looked up at the ceiling in silence for a moment. "I do not want you to leave Williamsburg, but if Captain Kenmore is willing to take care of you and the baby..."
"I know," she said, quietly. "I know there are men in the States who have married black women, but those men are slave owners. It would not be possible for us to hide our relationship here and still be together. Besides, I think he wants to get away from all of this. The war, the States, everything."
"He would desert?" Kate asked.
"Who knows how long the war will last? And if he were to be killed..." Teyla did not add that desertion from the Americans probably did not seem like such a crime after having betrayed the British.
"Then you are set on going with him."
Teyla shook her head. "Part of me wants to be with him, but I cannot choose between staying and going."
Kate didn't say anything more, and eventually she put out the lamp beside the bed. In the darkness, as Kate eventually went to sleep, Teyla could not keep track of her thoughts, and her deeply buried worry for Michael's safety, now that the redcoats had come.
Elizabeth's father was deeply distressed when she and Mr. Sheppard returned so early. It was with great difficulty that she explained to him what had happened and that Mr. Sheppard had a plan which might keep them from having to quarter Hessian mercenaries. Somewhere during the tale she heard Mr. Sheppard enter the house and run up the stairs two at a time. Persuading her father to retire to his bedchamber and leave the situation in Mr. Sheppard's hands was no easy matter, but eventually she convinced him.
Elizabeth returned to the parlor, unable to calm her anxious nerves, and waited. To her relief, Mr. Sheppard entered first, dressed in the red and white uniform in which he had first come into her house. But this time, the sight did not repulse her. Instead, she was strangely happy, guessing what his plan was and hoping it would succeed.
There was a knock on the door, and Elizabeth struggled not to jump out of her skin. Mr. Sheppard nodded to her, and she walked slowly to the front door and opened it a little. "May I help you?" she asked.
The first man outside was the tall, thin man who had spoken to the assembly earlier. Elizabeth swallowed hard as he said, "Let us in, madam."
She did as she was told, and showed him and two officers into the parlor. There the Hessian colonel stopped in his tracks in surprise. "Captain Sheppard," he said.
Elizabeth was glad to be behind the three Germans, for she shot Mr. Sheppard a startled look. While she had initially suspected that he was lying about his loyalties, those suspicions had weakened. She had not expected to find her first instinct confirmed in this manner. He was not only a Loyalist, he was an officer in the British army!
John, for his part, replied with venom in his voice. "Oberst Kolja."
"No need for the German here," Kolja replied. "Miss Weir, I was going to settle these two officers on your property, but I see you are already quartering a Loyalist officer."
Elizabeth did not have a chance to ask how the Hessian knew her name already, nor to point out that what Kolja was doing was illegal, for Mr. Sheppard replied for her. "Miss Weir is doing what any loyal servant of the crown would do," he told Kolja. "With that in mind, I believe we may forgo placing any more troops in this house."
"Surely she would not mind," Kolja said, looking to her for affirmation. His eyes made her blood run cold. "Being a loyal servant of the crown."
She wanted to protest his words most vehemently, and it was only years of etiquette classes and the hazards of society which allowed her to keep the serene expression on her face. She bit her tongue, though, in order to keep from snapping at the horrid man.
"I have often found," Mr. Sheppard continued, in a dangerously relaxed tone, "that the quartering of troops has a more desirable effect if it is done in households where rebellious fervor is stronger. What point is there in showing one's power and control to those who are already loyal?"
He was betting heavily on Kolja's not knowing her reputation and never learning it, Elizabeth realized. This was not how she would have handled the situation. She would not have been so reckless with the truth, but then, Mr. Sheppard seemed to have few concerns regarding virtue of truthfulness.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, underneath her own surprise and indignation, she realized that there was something else going on beneath the surface of this polite conversation. There was some history between the two men, and Elizabeth suspected it was bad blood. The two men went back and forth for a little while longer, though, until Mr. Sheppard stated, "I am here under orders with a specific mission in mind. If you place more men in this house, Colonel, you will hamper my mission greatly."
There was a long stare between the two, and then Kolja got an almost amused look on his face. "I would not thwart you, sir," he said, then turned to Elizabeth. "Good night, Miss Weir. See that you do not abuse the privilege we are granting you."
Then the Hessians were gone, and Elizabeth silently sank into a chair. She had not expected that to work, but she was supremely grateful to have gotten rid of Kolja, at least for the moment.
John left the parlor for a few minutes, returning with a bottle of wine and two glasses. Silently he poured the drink into a glass and handed it to her. Elizabeth drank from it while he poured the other for himself and settled in the chair next to her. They sat there quietly for several minutes until Mr. Sheppard finally said, "I am sorry for lying to you."
"Are you sorry because you lied or because you were caught?" she asked, an edge to her usually steady voice.
"Because I lied to you, Miss Weir," he said, sounding like he actually regretted his actions. "I was not sure what to do. I was concerned that you would tell everyone in town my true loyalty if I owned it to you."
"Mr. Sheppard," Elizabeth said, setting her glass down on the table between them.
"I did not know if I could trust you," he continued. "And I would leave now, but if I go, Kolja will surely bring soldiers into this house. It does not seem to matter to him that quartering troops in private homes is illegal."
Incongruously, at that moment Elizabeth was rather proud that Mr. Sheppard knew it was illegal. She smothered it, though, and looked at him seriously. "Will you tell me your true reason for being in Williamsburg, then?"
"I was not entirely untruthful to you, Miss Weir," he said, looking rather abashed. "I was sent here to investigate something. Someone."
An odd suspicion crossed her mind, and she voiced it without much thought. "'Tis Captain Kenmore."
His eyes widened for a moment. "How did you know?"
"I have only seen you with him twice, but you have seemed far too curious about him to be completely disinterested." She decided against pointing out his glowering stare while Captain Kenmore had been dancing with her earlier in the evening.
"I suppose I was," John replied. "You remember the attack on Charlottesville a few weeks ago?"
"Yes," Elizabeth answered. "Governor Jefferson barely escaped before Tarleton's men arrived."
Mr. Sheppard nodded. "He and the legislators had warning, and Tarleton believes that Michael Kenmore had something to do with it."
"And now you have seen him in the uniform of a Continental officer," she said. "He has always introduced himself here as a Patriot."
He blinked several times, confused. "Why are you telling me this?"
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. "Why are you protecting me?"
His eyes met hers, and suddenly Elizabeth felt she understood. Somehow, he had come to admire her. She knew not how nor why, since she had primarily been a thorn in his side for the last several days. She had refused to believe him, and had lectured him regarding democracy and patriotism at least twice. But in his eyes she could see a respect for her which was not at all grudging or unwilling. The knowledge made her strangely self-conscious.
She took up her glass of wine again and finished it. Often when she glanced up she found him watching her. It was not until the clock struck eleven that either of them spoke again, bidding each other good night and heading up the stairs. Elizabeth stopped briefly at her father's door to tell him a part of what had transpired, and then retired to the solitude of her bedchamber, grateful that this crisis, at least, had been averted.
The next morning, they and her father shared a solemn breakfast. After Mr. Weir had quitted the table, she and Mr. Sheppard stayed, looking at each other awkwardly as they finished their breakfast. Elizabeth found herself compelled to speak, knowing that the previous night's events had to be addressed. "Mr. Sheppard, I must thank you for – for what you did last night," she said quietly. "I have heard stories of what happens when troops come through. If half of them are true, then –"
"Miss Weir," he interrupted, wiping his mouth with his napkin.
He looked as though he wanted to tell her something unpleasant but was holding it back for some reason. "What is it?" Elizabeth pressed, and he sighed.
"I would not have any harm come to you," Mr. Sheppard replied, so quietly that Elizabeth wasn't sure he meant her to hear him.
Neither of them ate any more, but neither of them moved from the table. Finally Elizabeth could bear the silence no longer and decided to take advantage of her conviction of his allegiance. "Mr. Sheppard, may I ask you something?"
A flicker of amusement crossed his face before he answered. "Of course."
"Why are you a Loyalist?"
Mr. Sheppard sat back in his chair and looked at her very directly, though he took his time in answering. "At first, it was because I believed the Patriot cause to be a wealthy man's temper tantrum," he replied. "Our taxes are not nearly as high as the taxes in England, I am told. Starting a war over money seemed petty to me."
Elizabeth did not bother to point out that those in England had representatives when the colonies did not; Mr. Sheppard was from Boston, after all, and surely had heard all the arguments. When she did not respond, he asked, "And why are you a Patriot?"
She gave him a puzzled look. "Have you not already asked me that and gotten an answer?"
"I asked you the reason for your passion on the subject," he said. "But I believe you are a woman of practicality too, and not ruled solely by that passion."
Elizabeth looked at him and then at her plate while she pondered her answer. "Truthfully?"
"I told you the truth. Eventually."
She sighed, wiped her mouth with her napkin, and set it aside. "'Small islands,'" she began, "'not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.'"
To her surprise, he chuckled. "I suppose that is a valid consideration." He cocked his head to one side. "Thomas Paine?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Common Sense."
"The only sensible thing he ever said." Elizabeth opened her mouth to object, but Mr. Sheppard held up his hand to stay her argument. "Please, Miss Weir. I am hardly fit for combat this morning."
"Combat?" she questioned, amused in spite of herself. It was strange that she almost felt easier with him now that she knew him to be what her worst suspicions had guessed at. But at least now she was no longer wondering whether to trust her own judgment at every turn. John Sheppard was a Loyalist, but he also had acted with honor toward her and her father. She could not help but acknowledge that truth.
"I have been more exhausted after merely listening to you and your father debate than I have been after hours of battle," he told her. "It is no insult to you, however. Only a testament to how little I paid attention in school."
That time, they both smiled.
Elizabeth had been but twelve years old during the Gunpowder Incident, as it was called. Virginia's governor, the royally appointed Lord Dunmore, had felt threatened by the simmering restlessness among the colonies and particularly among prominent Virginians. To ease his distress, he decided to remove the gunpowder from Williamsburg's magazine, where the militia had ready access to it, to a British ship where they would not.
The nighttime raid was discovered and the militia rallied. Troops came pouring in from all over the state, just as they learned that blood had been shed at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts. Patrick Henry, whose words of "give me liberty or give me death" had been so inspiring to some and so terrifying to men like Dunmore, waited outside the city with his militia men. Dunmore had threatened to raze Williamsburg and fire on Yorktown too. The tension in Williamsburg then had been almost unbearable.
Eventually an end to the matter was negotiated. Dunmore paid for the powder which his men had successfully taken. Patrick Henry was declared a criminal and a month later, Lord Dunmore fled to England. By the end of the year, he had declared Virginia to be in a state of rebellion. It was perhaps the only thing he had gotten right in the whole situation.
She had little hope that the current situation could be resolved with as little trouble.
At eighteen, Elizabeth now knew that that feeling of helplessness was ten times worse when more fully comprehended. The stories of Boston in the months leading up to the war, when troops were coming in and the whole city was a powder keg, made more sense to her now. Going out of doors was sometimes a frightening prospect, but Elizabeth resolved not to be terrified by the enemy soldiers wandering through the streets.
Still, Mr. Sheppard would not allow her to go anywhere without him, and perhaps that was why she ventured outside. He was always solicitous of her safety, and Elizabeth was grateful to him. She knew how to use her father's shotgun, as well as the one Mr. Lorne kept under the counter in the store, but she knew that those weapons were a last resort. She would much rather avoid any altercation in the first place.
Three days after the arrival of the Hessians and the British, getting to the store was a particular trial. Mr. Sheppard took her and her father a very long way in order to avoid pockets of rowdy soldiers, who seemed to find endless occupation harassing the citizens of Williamsburg, especially the young and attractive ladies. By the time they arrived, Mr. Lorne was standing on the long porch along the front of the building, looking anxious. "Did you have any trouble?" he asked, ushering them into the store. "I was growing worried."
"No," Elizabeth replied, taking off her hat. "Mr. Sheppard brought us through a long route in order to avoid trouble."
Before the conversation could go further, the bell on the door rang and three British soldiers walked in. Elizabeth swallowed her pride and waited on them. If John's ruse with Kolja the other night was to work, she had to suppress her urge to throw them out of her store.
The morning progressed in like manner. It seemed like every familiar face was followed by four or five soldiers, most of whom wanted to be billed instead of paying upfront. But the monotonous frustration of the morning's business was broken when a lady in the street shouted. Mr. Lorne and Mr. Sheppard both dashed to the door to see what was the matter, and Elizabeth followed them as quickly as she could.
Kate and Teyla were walking slowly toward the store, and some five or six soldiers were almost surrounding them. One had his hand on Teyla, and Kate looked so angry that she might try to claw the man's eyes out.
"Ladies!" Mr. Lorne called, more loudly than he needed to. Both he and Mr. Sheppard stepped out into the street, and the soldiers paused, seeing them. Mr. Lorne was able to extract Kate and Teyla from their attentions and escorted them into the store, where he gave them both a cup of water and urged them to sit for a while.
"Mother will be worried if we are gone long," Kate protested.
"What happened?" Elizabeth asked, looking worriedly between the two ladies, who seemed rather shaken.
"The soldiers started to follow us as soon as we got to Duke of Gloucester Street," Teyla explained. "At first their comments were only improper, but gradually they became quite lewd. One of them grabbed my arm, and that was when Miss Heightmeyer shouted."
"I should have struck him," Kate said defiantly. "But thank you, Mr. Lorne, for helping us."
In the back of Elizabeth's mind she was amused that Kate had not noticed Mr. Sheppard's part in her rescue, but she set the thought aside in favor of other things. "Did you come for something specific?" she asked. "Let me get it for you while you rest a little."
Between them Kate and Teyla managed to tell Elizabeth what they needed, and she and Mr. Sheppard bundled the purchases up for them. Kate paid for the items and rose, looking out at the soldiers in the street with some apprehension.
"Let me escort you home, ladies," Mr. Lorne said.
"Let me take them, Lorne," Mr. Sheppard said before the ladies could accept or reject the offer. "You stay here in the shop. I am only in the way here."
Mr. Lorne looked at Kate, who nodded. "Thank you both," she said. "We are much obliged."
Elizabeth watched as Mr. Sheppard escorted the pair out of the store and down the street. Mr. Lorne was watching too, but his body stiffened noticeably before Kate was out of sight. "Mr. Lorne, what is the matter?" Elizabeth asked.
His voice was low and dark as he simply replied, "Kolja."
She forced herself not to stare. She could not let Kolja know that she was in any way intimidated by him. Even when he came into the store, looking tall and terrible, Elizabeth could not let herself appear afraid of him.
He nodded to them all most politely, and then wandered around the store for a time. She wished he would find what he wanted and be on his way, but it was not to be. After a few minutes he approached Elizabeth and said, "Miss Weir, where is the tea?"
It took all the self-control she had to keep from panicking. Years ago her father had signed an agreement not to sell tea in the shop as a boycott. Most everyone else who had signed it had gone back to stocking tea again, as more important issues and real fighting had arisen, but the Weirs had not. They would not, her father said, sell tea again until the war was over and the Americans had won their independence outright.
Elizabeth scrambled for an answer for Kolja. "Why, we are out of stock," she said. "Sometimes shipments are much delayed due to the fighting. Only last week we received an order of fabrics which we had placed six months previously. One of the other stores in town might still have tea available."
Mr. Lorne looked at her sharply, but thankfully Kolja could not see that. She had a terrible feeling that he was asking about tea in order to discern something else. The Hessian was about to speak again when the door opened and the bell rang. They both looked to see Mr. Sheppard entering.
The two men stared at each other across the store. That feeling that there was something she did not know about them returned, for the stares were too dark and angry for men who did not know each other well. Finally, Kolja turned away. "I am sorry to disturb you, Miss Weir," he said. "I will try one of the other shops."
When the door was shut behind him Elizabeth slumped into a chair. "Miss Weir, are you all right?" Mr. Sheppard asked, crossing the room in an instant.
"Yes, I am only relieved," she replied.
"What did he say to you?"
"He wanted tea," she said darkly.
Mr. Sheppard looked confused, but there was no time to explain it. More customers had entered.
The encounter remained at the forefront of her mind the rest of the day, her anxiety leaking into many of her interactions with both customers and friends. It was so bad that many asked if she were unwell, knowing this kind of distraction was uncharacteristic of her.
In the evening, after Mr. Weir had left the supper table to go to bed, Elizabeth stood and began to clear the dishes, needing such occupation. But as she came near to Mr. Sheppard, intending to take his plate away, he grasped her wrist, not ungently but still firmly. "Mr. Sheppard?" she said in alarm.
He merely looked at his fingers wrapped around her wrist. Elizabeth had not before now realized how large his hands were, for he could hold her arm thus with great ease. She settled into the chair next to him, and his hand slid down from her wrist to hold her hand. "Miss Weir, what is wrong?" he asked.
Elizabeth looked away. She had never been one who was easy with admitting weakness and fear. "There is nothing –"
"Miss Weir, do not lie," Mr. Sheppard interrupted, almost angrily. "I know that Kolja spoke to you this morning. I have watched you enough to know that something troubles you now. I can do nothing to help you if I do not know the matter of your distress."
Elizabeth had to sigh, closing her eyes briefly. "Mr. Sheppard," said she, "I believe that Kolja begins to doubt your assertion of my loyalty to the crown."
His hand tightened over hers. "I wondered how long it would last," he said, almost to himself. Then, looking up at her, he asked, "What prompted this notion?"
"He came into the shop for tea," Elizabeth explained, though she had told him that much already. "Nearly every merchant in Williamsburg signed a statement years ago saying they would not sell tea in their stores. Most of them have gone back on their word, but my father would not. To this day we sell no tea."
"You think Kolja was testing you, then," he said.
Elizabeth nodded. "I do. I imagine he heard something in town of my reputation and wanted proof of either your assertion or someone else's."
"Oh, Miss Weir," he murmured, and his grip on her fingers was almost painful, yet she did not even think to pull away. "Try to put it from your mind."
"How am I to do that, Mr. Sheppard?" she demanded. "How am I to ignore him when his men wander freely through town, free to bring terror down on anyone they choose? Do not think me unaware of what they are doing in town. I hear reports of misconduct as well as you do."
"Do not think you can school me in such subjects," he retorted. "For I have seen their misconduct with my own eyes."
There was a long, angry silence between them for a moment, and she remembered that he obviously would have been witness to troops and their misdeeds. "Mr. Sheppard, how am I to wait idly for the sword to fall?" she asked.
"There is no guarantee that it will."
"Do you believe that?"
He hesitated. "No."
Elizabeth withdrew her hand from his and looked away. "I have seen you with Colonel Kolja twice now," she said. "Both times I have had the feeling that there is some deep divide between you. What history do you have with that man?"
"It was early in the war," Mr. Sheppard replied reluctantly. "I cannot even recall the place or the time now. We had won a battle, and we were going over the field to take care of the wounded and do something with the bodies. I came across Kolja with an American soldier. The man was badly wounded but not beyond help, and he was trying to surrender."
He paused a moment and wiped his mouth. "Kolja would have driven his bayonet into that poor man's gut had I not stopped him."
Elizabeth knew such atrocities happened, of course, but hearing of them firsthand left her rather aghast. Mr. Sheppard's story only added to her bone-deep dislike of Kolja. "Is he that vindictive?"
"I raised enough commotion that our mutual superiors noticed what was going on," Mr. Sheppard explained. "I am not sure the British have fully trusted him since. I suspect that he is still but a colonel thanks to my interference."
Elizabeth glanced around the room, unable to focus on any one thing for long. At last she rose and continued clearing the table. "What am I to do, Mr. Sheppard?" she asked.
He stood up as well and began to help her with the dishes. "Avoid him as much as you can," he said. "Give him no cause to suspect you. Hopefully they will be gone before long."
"And if they are not?"
She looked at him to see on his face the dark look which was becoming all too familiar to her. "You have some measure of faith, Miss Weir," he replied. "Pray."
John stood waiting at the foot of the stairs a few days later, craning his neck in an attempt to see further around the corridor at the top. Miss Weir had gone back to her chamber after breakfast and left him waiting for her. He found himself remembering how he used to wait for his sister on Sunday mornings when it was past time for everyone to walk to church. Why women seemed incapable of departing their bedchambers ready for the day the first time was beyond him.
When Miss Weir appeared, she was wearing a light pink gown instead of the grey one she'd been wearing at breakfast. He could understand that she had gone upstairs to fetch the flat straw hat, held on by ribbons she was currently tying at the back of her head, on top of the lacy mob cap she had worn at the table. She needed it to shield her from the sun, after all, and the wide, round hat was too large to bring to the breakfast table. But he had not thought her so capricious as to wear one dress to breakfast and change before leaving the house.
"My apologies," she said, when she reached the bottom of the stairs. "I went back for my hat and saw that I had spilled something on my petticoat before."
"I always thought etiquette classes were designed to teach young ladies how to avoid such incidents," John teased, offering his arm as they exited through the back door.
"I assure you, Mr. Sheppard," she replied in kind, "a young lady's education is not so extensive as to teach her how to circumvent the laws of gravity."
"Do you know much of them?"
"Of gravity? I have read a little of Sir Isaac Newton's work," Miss Weir said, "but I confess I did not understand much of it. I fear I have not the mathematical education to comprehend his genius."
"Few do," John assured her. "I had a professor at Yale who knew no greater joy than tormenting new students with the Principia."
"You went to Yale?"
He nodded. "I graduated a year before the war began. My father is from Connecticut and studied at Yale as well."
Miss Weir was quiet as they walked slowly. John kept his head down often to avoid being recognized by any of the soldiers wandering through the streets. "May I ask you a somewhat impertinent question?" she asked.
"If I may have leave to give you a somewhat impertinent answer."
She rolled her eyes at that, but resumed speaking. "How is it that a young man born and raised in Boston holds... the beliefs and opinions which you do?"
"I was not in Boston in the years leading up to the war," John said quietly, sobering immediately. "All the information I had about the events going on in the city, the so-called Massacre and the acts of the British afterward, came to me secondhand. It was easier to see what was transpiring when not in the thick of it."
"I am not sure I follow you."
"Boston was goaded into revolt, Miss Weir," he told her. "Let not any man tell you otherwise. The British were not culpable for half of what they were accused of in those years. Needlessly and thoughtlessly blunt, perhaps, but not deliberately cruel."
He was surprised by the bitterness in his voice; he had not spoken of those events in Boston for some time. His conviction on that score had not wavered, but what he had witnessed in the years since made subtle mockery of his defense. Miss Weir, for her part, was noticeably tense after listening to his words. "So you say they were manipulated in Boston?" she asked.
John nodded. "I believe it strongly. I can find no other explanation for it."
"Do you believe that of all Patriots, then?" she continued. "Do you believe that of me? Or my father?"
"No, Miss Weir," he replied, and quickly. "I believe you came by your sedition honestly." Then he could not help but tease her. "Erroneously, of course, but honestly nevertheless."
As they reached the store and John released her, she glanced at him, looking very much like she wanted to stick her tongue out at him. John walked away with a smirk.
He wandered through the city after leaving her, finding his way back to the house before noon. Days had passed in which neither Mr. Weir or his daughter left the house without John as an escort. After Miss Weir's encounter with Kolja, he knew that would not change until the soldiers were well and truly gone. He would take them to their shop in the morning and bring them home in the afternoon. Sometimes he stayed with them, but more often than not he spent his time searching for Captain Kenmore.
The man seemed to have vanished. Since the night of the party, no one had seen him at the inn, and he had not been seen anywhere else in town either. John was forced to think that Kenmore had escaped on the night of the Hessians' arrival, but despite his orders he was not leaving Williamsburg before the troops did. Besides, Williamsburg was the one place which John knew Kenmore to frequent, for whatever reason. He had no idea where Kenmore might have escaped to, but something drew him back to Williamsburg, so there John would stay.
He refused to allow himself any other reason for staying, even within his own mind.
A week into the army's stay there, John arrived at the store in time to help Miss Weir and Mr. Lorne close it so that they could return home more quickly. But this time Elizabeth was in a flurry of activity. "Doctor Beckett just sent word," she said. "Mrs. Beckett is in labor. I must go to her."
John immediately threw himself into helping her and Mr. Lorne close the store. Eventually Mr. Lorne told them that he could handle the rest himself. They headed toward the doctor's house, and John told Elizabeth that he would leave her there, going homeward to tell her father what was happening, and that later he would return with the buggy.
"That is not necessary, Mr. Sheppard," she protested, but he would have none of it. They argued about it all the way to the Becketts' house, and John left her with the assurance that he would do what he thought necessary.
He stayed with Mr. Weir long enough to eat an early supper with him, and then with Mr. Weir's urging he returned to the doctor's house, where all seemed to be a flurry of activity. John was shown into the library of the young doctor, a Scotsman who was pacing the room as John entered. With him was a Mr. McKay. John had met both men only briefly, but he knew immediately that McKay was hardly a consolation to a man whose wife was giving birth to their firstborn.
After explaining his purpose in being there, John sat down with McKay, and together the two men attempted to draw Doctor Beckett into discussions of virtually anything. It seemed to distract him for a few minutes at a time, but invariably there was a sound outside and Beckett had to rush to the door to investigate it. McKay tried to remind him numerous times that Mrs. Beckett had her mother and Miss Weir and Miss Heightmeyer with her, as well as Mrs. Miller and a highly skilled midwife, but nothing would console the man.
Determining that this was likely to be a long evening, John plucked a book from one of the shelves. Whatever its subject, it could not be as nerve-wracking as watching Beckett's anxiety climb to ever-new heights.
Elizabeth was new to the birth process, and so stayed out of the way when she was not asked to do something specific. Mostly, she and Kate stayed with Laura and held her hand, giving her water when she wanted it. Mrs. Cadman and Mrs. Miller helped the midwife, and well after midnight, the child was born.
Doctor Beckett's footsteps were heard pounding up the stairs almost as soon as the babe began to wail. Kate, intending to let him into the room, was nearly hit in the face for her trouble, as the doctor flung the door open just as she reached it. Elizabeth and Mrs. Miller were helping to get Laura cleaned up a bit while the midwife and Mrs. Cadman took care of the baby and gave the bundle of blankets to the proud, nervous father. Beckett walked over to Laura carefully and laid the baby in her arms. "Our daughter, Laura," he said.
Laura's eyes were watering, and Elizabeth was near to crying. She looked up to see that Kate was too. Mrs. Cadman already had her kerchief out. This was her first grandchild, after all. "What will you name her?" Mrs. Miller asked.
"Rose," Laura replied, sniffling. "For Carson's grandmother."
By the time Elizabeth and Kate left the room, the baby was already being called Rosie by everyone. Mr. Sheppard was standing at the foot of the stairs when they descended them, arm in arm, and he was looking at them in amusement. "You both look quite exhausted," he remarked.
"What time is it?" Kate asked.
"Almost two o'clock." John gestured to the parlor. "Mr. McKay is sound asleep in there."
"Yes, Doctor Beckett said as much," Elizabeth replied. "Mrs. Miller decided that they will stay here for the night, as will Mrs. Cadman, of course."
"Will you and Miss Weir be going home, Mr. Sheppard?" Kate asked.
"I had thought we would, and that we might take you home as well," John replied, "but there is a storm approaching rapidly. I would rather not be caught in it."
"We can be ready to leave directly," Kate offered. "Just give us a moment to take our leave."
Mr. Sheppard nodded. "I will get the buggy."
The girls headed back upstairs and told everyone they were going home. Their departure, of course, was hardly a monumental affair, as all attention was focused on the little baby, but Laura, who was looking prodigiously tired, managed to thank them for coming to help before they left.
Outside, Mr. Sheppard was waiting with the buggy, having raised the top to give them some cover in case the rain began. Elizabeth got in first, followed by Kate. They were all pressed rather closely into the buggy, but Mr. Sheppard spoke to the horse and they set off quickly. Elizabeth could smell rain in the air and could feel the storm approaching.
They reached Kate's house in just a few minutes, and Mr. Sheppard held the buggy until they saw that Kate was safely inside. He and Elizabeth shifted on the seat so that they were not sitting so closely together, and they set off again. This time, they were headed directly into the wind. "I don't think we will make it in time," Mr. Sheppard said, loudly so that he could be heard over the gusts.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to respond, but at that moment there was a great flash of lightning and thunder rolled over them. Tired and frightened, the horse reared and bolted, pulling them along behind him.
So startled was she by the horse that it took Elizabeth a while to realize that it had started to rain heavily. She was more focused on not panicking and not grabbing Mr. Sheppard's arm out of fear, both of which he needed desperately at the moment. Once he gained control of the horse again, they were almost on the wrong side of town entirely. Elizabeth said nothing as the rain drenched them both. When they reached the house he slowed near the back door, but Elizabeth urged him to take care of the horse. "I can't get much wetter," she said, and he drove on.
He pulled into the stable, and finally they were out of the wind and rain. John handed her the reins. "I must unhitch him," he explained. "If he rears you must pull with all your might, or he may pull you out into the rain again."
Elizabeth took the reins, thankful that the door at the other end of the building was open, but she did not need to worry about it. The horse stood while Mr. Sheppard unhitched him and walked into his stall without objection. Mr. Sheppard then came and helped Elizabeth down. Together they hurried into the house, even though, as she had said, they could not get much wetter.
Her father's steward, having heard them come in, brought towels to them so that they might not drip water all over the house. Elizabeth and Mr. Sheppard both thanked the man, who seemed quite irritated at having been wakened. As quietly as they could, they went upstairs.
A loud crack of thunder made Elizabeth jump as they reached the top of the stairs. "Miss Weir?" Mr. Sheppard said, sounding alarmed.
"Oh, 'tis nothing," Elizabeth replied. "I am only tired."
"We are in perfect agreement there," he said, making her smile.
There was a tremendous amount of lightning going on outside as they walked down the narrow corridor slowly. Elizabeth removed her cap and let her hair down. She shook her head a little, trying to get her wet hair to stop sticking to itself. A few moments later she realized that Mr. Sheppard was not following her anymore. She turned, confused, for his chamber was a few more feet down the hallway. "Mr. Sheppard?" she prompted.
"You've never taken your hair down in front of me before," he replied, walking forward slowly. Truthfully, Elizabeth was not sure that any man alive aside from her father had seen her with her hair loosed.
She opened her mouth to reply, but then he was before her, tentatively touching her wet hair. Elizabeth couldn't breathe. His eyes were searching her face for any sign of disapproval; when she gave none, his fingers began to twist in her dark curls. Her eyes fell closed. She had never been touched like this before.
"Elizabeth," he said, his voice sending a shiver down her spine. It did not occur to her to object to the familiar address as she had once before. Instead, she merely opened her eyes. The hand that was in her hair moved to her cheek. Gently he lifted her face and began inching nearer.
"John," she replied, in a voice she barely recognized as her own. Her eyes fluttered closed, and his lips met hers.
His mouth was cold, as cold as she was. His lips moved against hers tenderly, encouraging her to respond. He lifted his free hand to her face and slid both hands back into her hair, and the sensation of those strong fingers threading through her curls made her let out a tiny sound.
The kiss started to get more aggressive. Elizabeth felt shy about it, but nothing, not even the awareness of her surroundings, could stop her as she rested her hands on his shoulders. John let one hand slide down her back, holding her close while the other continued to toy with her hair. This was the man who had lied to her for so many days?
This was the man who had confessed it all to protect her, too.
John Sheppard was a Loyalist. The rebellious spirit within her did not care.
He pulled away slowly, as though he did not want to give up her lips yet. His hands were rubbing up and down her back, and everywhere he touched her she felt warm. She was still trembling all over, though, from the knowledge of the impropriety of what they had just done, and of how desperately she wanted to kiss him again.
That startled her, and it must have shown on her face, for he released her carefully, concern in his eyes. Elizabeth looked down. Her cap was still in her hand.
"Elizabeth," he repeated, and she raised her head.
He shook his head minutely, and his eyes kept drifting down to her mouth. "Forgive me," he murmured, and with what seemed like great effort on his part, he stepped away, going past her to his bedchamber and leaving her alone as the storm raged on outside.
John slept late the next morning, and even after he awoke, he stayed in his chamber for a long time, restlessly wondering about what he had done the previous night. He should not have kissed Elizabeth. It had been very late at night, they were both so tired, and he had forgotten himself and taken advantage of the situation at hand. She was young and ignorant of many things in the world, for all her intelligence. But it was too hard to deny the pull she had on him, the fascination she had inspired almost since the moment he laid eyes on her.
When he finally left his bedchamber that morning, Elizabeth and her father were gone already. John spent some time in the parlor attempting to read, but everything was reminding him of her and how her hair had felt between his fingers, what rain water tasted like on her lips. Finally he slammed the last book shut and sat there brooding for some time.
Through the curtains he could see people moving about in the street in front of the house. Soldiers, he knew, from their gait. Williamsburg had become a tinderbox in recent days. John had learned that not everyone there was a Patriot, but sometimes it certainly felt like that was the case. The presence of so many enemy soldiers in town was unnerving even to him.
Lord Cornwallis, the commander of the British troops in the Southern theatre of the war, was himself lodging at the inn. John had received his orders from Tarleton, not Cornwallis, but there was no way of knowing if Tarleton would arrive at some point, and John needed to look like he was at least attempting to complete his mission. He had to know if anyone in town could guess where Michael Kenmore might have escaped to.
He thought back over the last several days, trying to remember anything he had heard about Kenmore since his own arrival in town. Finally he remembered his ride with Elizabeth when they had happened upon Kenmore outside of Williamsburg. Elizabeth had mentioned that Miss Heightmeyer had told her of Captain Kenmore's intention to attend the assembly, which had been interrupted by Kolja's intrusion. Miss Heightmeyer might be able to tell him something, if he could get her to talk to him.
Before he'd even really thought to consider it, John was out of the house, heading toward the Heightmeyer home. When he knocked on the door a servant allowed him in, and she announced him in the parlor. He could hear Kate say in surprise that he could enter. John came in to find she was not alone. The beautiful, dark-skinned woman who had been accosted on the street the other day was with her.
Miss Heightmeyer, who looked as tired as he was, curtseyed to him slightly and John bowed. "I do not believe you have formally met Miss Teyla Emmagan," she said, gesturing to her companion, who had also risen from the table. "Teyla, this is Mr. John Sheppard, Miss Weir's cousin."
It had been so many days since John had even thought of that falsehood that he was almost startled upon hearing it. He managed to nod at the woman, though, who said it was an honor to meet him. She inquired after Elizabeth's health, and John managed to fabricate an answer.
He turned his attention to Miss Heightmeyer, who seemed rather concerned by his sudden appearance in her house. "Miss Heightmeyer, I wonder if I might ask you something," he said.
"Of course, sir."
"Miss Weir mentioned a few days ago that you had spoken to Captain Kenmore concerning his attending the assembly last week," he said. Upon mention of Kenmore, Teyla looked up at him sharply, but John ignored it. "The man has gone missing since the redcoats turned up. I wonder if you might have any inkling of where he could have gone."
Kate opened her mouth and closed it again, looking truly puzzled. She glanced at her companion before answering John. "Why, I have not the slightest idea," she said. "Why would you ask me such a thing?"
"Because I know you spoke to him at some point prior to his disappearance," John replied. "I wish to find him, and I cannot do so unless I learn where he might have gone."
Kate looked at Teyla again before shaking her head. "I am sorry, sir. I cannot help you."
Though not convinced of her ignorance, John decided to go. But before he could even say such, the back door of the house opened and someone came running toward the parlor. John turned just in time to see Michael Kenmore himself enter the room.
"Well," Kate said, sounding a bit odd, "speak of the devil, and he's presently at your elbow."
The two men just stared at each other, frozen for a moment. Then Kenmore reached for something, and John, not wanting to risk the possibility that he was armed, lunged for him.
He whirled Kenmore around and slammed him face-first into the wall, pinning one hand over his head and the other behind his back. "What are you doing, man?" Kenmore demanded. "I am unarmed!"
"I find that hard to believe," John replied. "Why would you wander about unarmed when there are British and Hessians in town who might have seen you in the uniform of a Continental officer? What if Tarleton were to come to town and find you have betrayed the British after all?"
"Mr. Sheppard!" Miss Heightmeyer fairly shouted. "What are you going on about?"
Tired beyond all measure, John did not think to check himself. "Tell her!" he ordered. "Tell her how you came here from England to subdue the populace and then turned spy! Tell them both!"
"I already know."
It took John a moment to realize that it was not Miss Heightmeyer's voice which he heard. He looked over his shoulder to see Miss Emmagan approaching them. Looking John in the eye, she grasped his wrist, pinching enough to cause pain, and he released Kenmore's hand. After another stern look from the young woman, John stepped back, letting Kenmore loose entirely.
To say he was surprised to see Teyla cup the man's cheek tenderly would be a profound understatement. It was the last thing in the world he would have expected. Yet there he stood, watching and listening to the young woman making sure that Kenmore was unhurt. Then the captain took her hand in both of his and kissed it. John spared a glance at Miss Heightmeyer. She looked less shocked by it, but still did not seem at ease with the scene playing out before them.
John knew there were such relationships, especially in the South, but he had never expected to see such a show of equal affection with his own eyes. He wondered what other shocks might be coming that he had not guessed at.
"So Tarleton sent you after me?" Kenmore finally said, looking back at John with a grim expression.
"Yes," John admitted. On the other side of the room, Miss Heightmeyer gasped and sank into a chair. "He believes you were responsible for his failure to capture Thomas Jefferson a month ago."
Kenmore smiled wryly. "Then you may go back and rightly tell him that I had nothing to do with it. I was not even in Virginia at the time."
"Wait," Miss Heightmeyer said. "Mr. Kenmore, you are British? And you, Mr. Sheppard, you are a Loyalist?"
"I believe we are both guilty," Kenmore told her, glancing at John.
He shrugged. "I am," he said to Kate. "I am not Miss Weir's cousin, however."
"Does she know?" Miss Emmagan asked him sharply.
"I told her the night the British and the Hessians arrived. It was my presence which kept soldiers off of the Weir property."
Kate shook her head. "I cannot believe that she could stomach willingly allowing the enemy under her roof."
"She knew I would not suffer harm to fall upon her," John replied bluntly. "She would have no such assurance from the Hessians who would have been lodged there."
Miss Heightmeyer would have answered him, but Captain Kenmore diverted the conversation. "So, Mr. Sheppard, what will you do with me now?" he asked.
"I would be well within my rights to march you out to Lord Cornwallis this moment," John told him darkly. "You betrayed the crown. I am not sure you would have a trial before they hanged you for treason."
"Would it matter to you if I told you I am leaving the colonies entirely by week's end?" he asked.
John blinked several times. Kenmore had betrayed the British and conspired with the colonists, but now he would desert that cause as well? But before he could respond, Teyla said to Kenmore, "You are set on going, then?"
"Yes," Michael replied. "With you or without."
"You're going with him?" John asked of her.
There was a long pause in which Teyla and Michael simply stared at each other. "I am pregnant, Mr. Sheppard," Teyla finally said. "And Michael is the father. He has asked me to marry him, to go somewhere with him where we would not be subject to the prejudice we would find here." She paused and took a deep breath. "And I have decided to do so."
John was forgotten entirely for a few minutes in the scene which played out before him. "You have?" Kenmore said a look of mingled joy and shock on his face, while Miss Heightmeyer rose from her chair to embrace Teyla briefly before Kenmore took her attention again. John took a step back, feeling profoundly uncomfortable with it all. He had never been much for love scenes anyway.
It was some time before either of the young lovers turned his attention back to John, who was of half a mind to leave the place and forget everything he had seen, merely for his own comfort. "Mr. Sheppard," Kenmore finally said to him, "if you intend to arrest me, do so at once. Otherwise I will be leaving Virginia the day after tomorrow, and I do not plan to return. Ever."
It was a tempting offer, but first John needed to know something. "Why did you do it, Kenmore?" he asked.
Michael looked at Teyla, then at the floor. "Have you heard of what happened at the Waxhaws, Sheppard?"
He nodded. "I believe the stories were twisted by American propagandists."
"They were, to an extent," Kenmore replied. "There was fault on both sides. But I was there when Tarleton went down and his men believed him dead. Men do not behave with such brutality when their commanders do not encourage it."
John had heard enough stories from the British of Tarleton's tactics to believe it, but he let Kenmore continue. "It was not only that, though. I was tired of trying to keep my men from setting crops ablaze and looting shops and raping women and murdering where they chose. They did not even think to ask if their victims were rebels or Tories. They were not British. They were barbarians. I could not stand it any longer. I could not continue to serve a country I no longer recognized."
John was wholly taken aback by the way that statement resonated within him. He had been so grateful for this assignment because it would take him away from the army, away from the petty theft and terrible violence the army would leave in its wake everywhere it went. His concern for Elizabeth's safety had arisen from first-hand knowledge, both of the general violence amid the troops and Kolja's own tendency toward cruelty.
He still believed what he had told Elizabeth days ago, that the Patriot cause was a rich man's fight. His sense of duty and loyalty was strong within him, and he did not want to betray his country. But the war had been going on for six years. Six years had done enough damage to the colonies, and John had often found himself wondering if the British would pursue this until there was nothing left to govern from across the sea. The idea of such a war of attrition was insupportable. As more and more stories of terrible crimes reached his ears or played out before him, he too found himself wondering if his country had changed into something he could no longer believe in, no matter how hard he tried.
And what could a man do, when the thing to which he had pledged his loyalty no longer existed?
"Can you be ready to leave tomorrow?" John asked of Michael quietly.
The other three people in the room were rightly startled by the question. Michael looked at Teyla, who nodded. "Yes, I believe we can," he said.
"Then leave tomorrow," John replied. "If you stay another day I will have no choice but to turn you in."
Kenmore almost smiled. "I understand."
"See that you do."
John left the parlor and would have left the house entirely, but Miss Heightmeyer followed him out after a moment of whispering with Teyla. "Mr. Sheppard," she said when they were alone.
"Yes, Miss Heightmeyer?"
"Teyla would like Miss Weir to know what has happened, and what will happen," Kate explained. "Tell her that I want Teyla to have a proper wedding supper before she leaves. I think Elizabeth will want to help."
Reluctantly, John nodded. "I will."
Kate gave him the rest of the details he needed to pass along to Elizabeth, but he listened with only half an ear. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation it finally sank in that John had done what Kenmore had done.
He had betrayed the crown.
He went back to the Weir house hardly knowing how he went. When Miss Weir and her father returned from the shop at noon, escorted by Mr. Lorne, John was still sitting in the parlor, his mind too full to concentrate on any one thing at a time. She found him there and said, "That is a dark look on your face, Mr. Sheppard. Should I ask what inspires it?"
John looked down at his hands. "May we speak privately?"
Elizabeth closed the door without hesitation and crossed the room to sit with him on the small sofa. "What is wrong, Mr. Sheppard?" she asked of him softly.
"I found Michael Kenmore this morning," he said. "Or rather, we happened upon each other. I went to Miss Heightmeyer's house to find out if she knew anything, and while I was there he arrived as well. Tarleton was right about him, to an extent."
She did not seem as surprised by this as Miss Heightmeyer had, but then, the night of the soldiers' arrival she had guessed that Kenmore was the object of John's investigation. Her eyes searched his face. "And what will you do?"
"He told me that he is leaving Virginia tomorrow," John replied. "If he does as he says, I will not attempt to stop him."
Elizabeth seemed quite shocked by this, but she set aside her curiosity on the subject for the moment. "Why would he be calling on Kate? Does he have some interest in her?"
John shook his head. "No. He was there to see a young black woman."
"Teyla? Teyla Emmagan?" she said. When he nodded, she frowned. "Why was he visiting her?"
"Miss Heightmeyer asked me to tell you," he replied. "Miss Weir, Kenmore and Teyla are... she is carrying his child."
"Oh my," Elizabeth breathed. "I had no idea that they even knew each other."
"For what it's worth, he does not wish to deny his responsibility for the child," John continued, not entirely sure why he was defending Kenmore. "He wants to marry her and raise the child together."
Elizabeth's eyebrows shot up. She surely knew that nowhere in the colonies was it legal for a white man to marry a black woman, slave or free. "So Teyla is leaving with him," she concluded.
John nodded. "Miss Heightmeyer wants to give her a wedding supper before they go. She wanted to know if you would help her."
"Of course I will." John was not surprised by her immediate answer. He had heard her pronounce enough unusual beliefs in the weeks he'd been there that nothing would surprise him.
She continued to watch him closely, however, and it was not long before she asked another question. "Mr. Sheppard, why did you agree to let him go?"
John was not as quick to answer as she was. In the back of his mind he wondered if it had something to do with her, but he would never admit that even to himself, let alone to her. When he spoke again, his voice was low and rough. "I can't do this, Elizabeth," he said. "I don't recognize my country anymore."
He could not explain further, but it was not necessary. She understood, somehow. She rested her hand on his shoulder and rubbed gently, and John looked at her, drawing strength and comfort from her touch. Today he had not the excuse of a late night and a storm and the sight of her hair loose and wet and wild on her shoulders. But this time her eyes were warm and filled with understanding. "Elizabeth," he whispered.
She merely continued to look at him steadily, until John could resist no more. He leaned in and kissed her, this time with the fierce hunger he had somehow managed to restrain the night before. Elizabeth was not shy in responding as he might have imagined. John had wondered idly at whiles what it might be like to have her passion and focus directed at him, but he would wonder no more. In kissing her he was left in no doubt as to her affection for him, and he was surprised at its strength.
He pulled away, both of them gasping for air, but he could not let her go far. He nuzzled the soft skin of her cheek, her jaw, her throat. "John," she said, with so much longing in her voice that he sighed against her skin. He thought he felt her shiver.
"When did this happen?" Elizabeth asked. "When did you turn from the enemy into this?"
He cupped her face gently, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. "I have never been your enemy, Elizabeth," he said. "Perhaps we were not always friends, but I have never been your enemy, and I never will be."
There were footsteps outside the room, and Elizabeth shot up from her seat, out of John's grasp. The door opened, and John rose as well upon Mr. Lorne's entrance. "There you are, Miss Weir," he said. "I thought you were lost somewhere."
"Does my father need me?" she asked.
"Dinner is ready," Lorne told them. "Mr. Weir wanted to know if you were fasting today."
Elizabeth laughed nervously. "No, of course not," she replied. "Mr. Sheppard and I will join him directly."
Lorne smiled disarmingly and left the room. Elizabeth followed, and as they walked through the corridor John caught her hand briefly. As she turned the corner to go into the dining room, she looked over her shoulder at him and smiled.
There was much to do over the course of the next four and twenty hours. Elizabeth went to the Heightmeyer house, Mr. Lorne escorting her there and Mr. Sheppard escorting her home late that night. She helped Kate and Mrs. Heightmeyer make a cake and get various things ready for the wedding supper the next day. Teyla, who had always been so serene and confident, seemed quite overwhelmed by it all. Elizabeth could not blame her.
Quietly Elizabeth and Kate and Mrs. Heightmeyer schemed to prepare gifts for Teyla. From the store Elizabeth had Mr. Lorne bring the goods for the journey Teyla and Captain Kenmore were about to embark upon, along with fabrics for the baby's clothing. In the spring Mrs. Heightmeyer had finished a new coat for Kate, which she had not yet worn, but since they were likely going to Canada and Teyla was about her size, Kate decided to give the coat to her friend. And Mrs. Heightmeyer had half a dozen kerchiefs, trimmed in lovely, handmade lace, which she would give to the woman who had worked for her so diligently.
The next morning, the Fourth of July, Elizabeth was awoken quite early, and she looked out her window to see all sorts of activity in the streets. British and Hessian soldiers were milling about in earnest, not in the idleness they had displayed these last nine days. She dressed as quickly as she could and hurried downstairs, where Mr. Sheppard was standing at the window in her father's study. "Mr. Sheppard," she said, closing the door behind her, "what is going on?"
"They are leaving," John replied. "Only the good Lord knows how long it will take them to depart, but they are leaving. It seems Cornwallis received orders to send men north, and he is continuing on to Jamestown."
Elizabeth let out a long breath, and seemed to lose much of the tension in her body with it. "That is excellent news."
He nodded. "It is a relief, but I will not be easy until the last of them is gone."
Suddenly Elizabeth realized that with the soldiers leaving and Michael leaving as well, John would have no reason to stay. It was the thing she had wanted most upon his arrival, and now she was almost in a panic to realize what was about to happen. She steadied herself, however, and asked, "And then what will you do?"
John looked at her very directly, and his voice dropped into that register that made her whole body flood with warmth. "That depends upon you, Elizabeth."
She did not know what to say to that. Wordlessly she blushed. John was before her in an instant, and he lifted her hand to his lips most fervently.
"I wanted you out," she said. "Now I... I cannot imagine you away."
John smiled and moved toward her, clearly intending to kiss her lips this time, but the sound of the door handle caused them separate instantly. Her father entered, but did not seem alarmed or unhappy to find the two there. "Elizabeth," he said, "I have been looking for you. Are the soldiers leaving?"
"Yes, Father," Elizabeth said, looking at John and smiling. "Is that not wonderful news?"
Around ten o'clock they left the house, heading for the Heightmeyers'. John kept Elizabeth close as they walked the streets, threading through congregations of soldiers packing up to leave, but their moods were light. John was carrying a bundle which Mr. Lorne had brought from the store the previous day, and Elizabeth carried a basket filled with food she had prepared earlier in the morning.
The Heightmeyer house was noisy with activity, even though only a handful of people were present. John remembered his sister's wedding a few years ago. His mother had been more anxious and distraught than he could ever have imagined, running about the house and chiding the servants even when they did something properly. His sister had been a nervous wreck, and John's new brother-in-law had spent a great deal of time in conference with John's father and brother. He had learned a few months later that the haste to the altar had been precipitated by much the same motivations as this wedding.
Knowing to leave the preparations well enough alone, in the capable hands of four women, John retreated to the parlor, where he found Mr. Lorne in much the same situation as himself. "Lorne," he greeted.
"Sheppard." Lorne nodded. "I did not expect to see you here."
John thought back to the previous day and his total overreaction to Michael's sudden appearance. He imagined that neither the bride nor the groom would expect to see him there either, nor would they be entirely grateful for his presence. But he intended to be certain Michael kept his end of the bargain. "I accompanied Miss Weir here," he explained.
"I will be grateful when these soldiers are gone," Lorne continued, glancing out the window. "Hopefully they will be gone by sunset."
John concurred wholeheartedly.
Lorne looked at John curiously upon his agreement. "I thought I had heard from a reliable source that you were not unsympathetic to the British," he said carefully.
"Which of the ladies told you that, Miss Heightmeyer, Miss Emmagan, or Miss Weir?"
"I hardly see how it matters," Lorne replied. "If you must know, Miss Heightmeyer told me."
"I was only curious," John said. "I am not surprised to find you here. Miss Weir tells me you are often a guest in this house."
Lorne narrowed his eyes, and John wondered precisely what was going through the man's mind. Then he relaxed and said, "I suppose that should be nothing remarkable. I am courting Miss Heightmeyer, after all."
Slowly, John smiled and turned his attention back to the window. "Miss Weir will be happy to learn that."
"She always did find gossip useful," Lorne remarked, chuckling.
John turned from the rather dangerous subject of his loyalties to a far more pleasant one. "How long have you known her?"
"More than ten years now. I was apprenticed to her father, and slept in the loft above their stable," he explained. "I was not expected, precisely, to keep the stable clean, but you can imagine the inducement to do so."
"I can indeed," John commented, amused.
"When the war broke out, her brother and I enlisted together," Lorne continued. "I was wounded and came back here as soon as I was able to travel."
"You did not wish to return to your own family?"
Lorne shrugged. "In some ways the Weirs are my family," he replied. "Mrs. Weir had passed away some years before the war, and of course young William Weir was still in the army. I thought Mr. Weir and Elizabeth could use the assistance from a friendly face, even before Will was killed at Camden last year."
John was thinking that he was maintaining conversation between them tolerably well when he was distracted by the sound of footsteps. A few moments later, Captain Kenmore entered the room and paused at the sight of John waiting. "Mr. Lorne," he greeted. "Mr. Sheppard. Here to see that I hold up my end of the bargain?"
John rose and took a good look at the man. He was in his Sunday best, and he looked somewhat nervous. John could not blame him. "I am here to hold up my end of the bargain," he replied. "As it happens, that coincides with ensuring that you comply with our deal as well."
Michael said something in reply, but John was distracted by movement in the open doorway beyond. Miss Heightmeyer had come, and just barely in view was Elizabeth. "Gentlemen," Kate said, "are we ready to begin?"
John glanced at Lorne. "Are you?"
"I've been ready for hours. You?"
Michael glared at them both before turning his attention to Miss Heightmeyer. "Whenever Teyla is ready."
Miss Heightmeyer smiled at the captain and looked back into the corridor, nodding. She led the ladies in, Elizabeth following her and Teyla coming in on Mrs. Heightmeyer's arm. The bride looked truly beautiful, which was as it ought to be. The groom could look on nothing and no one but Teyla, which was also as it should be.
Altogether they formed a little circle in the parlor, Elizabeth standing near John and Kate standing between her mother and her suitor. Lorne cleared his throat, lifting his Bible up and opening it. "Miss Emmagan asked me to read a few words," he said. "And Ruth said, 'Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'"
He flipped many pages forward in the book and read again. "'Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.'"
Another turn brought him to one of Paul's epistles. "'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.'"
Then Lorne closed the Bible and said from memory, "'For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.'"
All attention was back on the bride and groom. Michael reached for Teyla's hands. "From this day forth I am your husband, Teyla. God and these people present will witness this vow," he said. "In whatever state we find ourselves, I forsake all others and cleave to you."
"In the presence of God and before these witnesses, I am your wife," Teyla answered serenely. "Till death comes between us there is nothing which will take me from you, Michael."
Michael let out a long breath and rested his forehead against Teyla's for a moment. Then he ducked his head and kissed her. They embraced, and at John's side Elizabeth said, "'What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.'"
"Amen," said the rest of the witnesses.
Their little wedding party was a light and happy affair. Even John shook hands with Michael after he and Teyla had made their vows to each other. Then they moved to the dining room, where Kate and her mother served dinner themselves. There was good food to be had, and everyone was smiling.
When the meal was not half over, Elizabeth wondered if some of their good moods could be attributed to the growing noise outside. All of Williamsburg seemed ready to push the soldiers out. Their departure, on the Fourth of July of all days, seemed a good omen.
Elizabeth was passing the butter dish to Kate when there was a noise outside the dining room which startled her. There was a voice, low and male, and she looked at John to see him frozen. She had no idea what this meant. Then the door opened, and at the sight of the man behind it, Elizabeth was frozen as well.
It was Colonel Kolja.
He had been in Elizabeth's thoughts for days now. There were stories throughout town of how his mercenaries were treating the townspeople. Once John pointed out to her that it must be difficult trying to interact with people when no one was speaking the same language – for few in Williamsburg spoke German – but she did not think it excused stealing from stores and homes and doing whatever they pleased, right or wrong. Neither did John, but his explanation made some sense.
And of course, Kolja's conversation with her in the shop had kept her wary of being in the same room with him again.
Kolja, his uniform clean enough for special occasions, walked into the room with a pistol in his hand. He surveyed the party around the table, looking at Teyla in some surprise before addressing anyone. "Captain Sheppard, I see you are making yourself quite at home in Williamsburg," he remarked.
"What are you doing here, Kolja?" John asked.
Kolja's eyes rested on Elizabeth, who fought the urge to squirm. Under the table, Mr. Lorne reached over and squeezed her hand for a moment. "A few days ago I happened to overhear some conversation about Miss Weir and her fierce Patriotism," he explained. "You may well imagine my surprise, Sheppard. You had assured me that the lady was a Loyalist, with no need of being taught a lesson by being forced to board soldiers, as she was willingly allowing you to stay in her house."
John's eyes warned Elizabeth not to respond. He went on eating as though nothing was wrong. "You must have heard incorrectly," he stated simply.
Kolja walked up between him and Kate and leaned down in John's face. "I assure you, I did not," he said.
"Towns will always have strange rumors."
"That is true," Kolja conceded, standing up. "John Sheppard sharing a meal with Michael Kenmore. When the man who was following you told me he'd seen Kenmore here, I did not want to believe it. I suspect my friend Tarleton will have some choice words to say about that." Teyla set down her knife and fork with shaking hands, and Kolja chuckled. "This little dinner party will make for strange rumors indeed. A dark woman eating at the table with her betters?"
"You are the only one in this room not good enough to eat at this table," Elizabeth shot back, unable to check her temper in time.
She immediately regretted it, for Kolja began to walk around the long table. "So Miss Weir has found her tongue," he said. "And expresses a sentiment which not even Thomas Jefferson would share."
With great effort she managed to stay perfectly still, her eyes focused on John, even when Kolja laid his hand on her shoulder. "Are those the words of a Loyalist, Miss Weir?" he said. "Are those the words of a loyal servant of the crown?"
Then everything seemed to happen at once. Kolja grabbed her arm and pulled her up, knocking her chair over in the process. As he dragged her backward she nearly fell over it. When Mr. Lorne tried to grab Elizabeth away, Kolja struck him with the handle of his pistol to prevent him. Captain Kenmore pulled Teyla under the table, and Kate pulled her mother down as well. John, however, leapt to his feet.
Kolja's arm was around Elizabeth's middle, pinning her arms down even as she tried to twist away from him. Then she let out a little cry when she felt the cool metal of the barrel of Kolja's pistol against her temple. "Let her go, Kolja," John said dangerously.
"One of you is coming with me," Kolja replied. "I would prefer it if both you and Kenmore there came with me, but one of you will come."
"No one but you is going anywhere," John told him. His eyes were full of barely contained rage and his fists were clenched.
"In all this commotion, do you think anyone will notice if one young lady goes missing?" Kolja said, almost laughing at them. "I might not kill her right away. I might only let my men entertain themselves with her for a while."
Without thinking, she spoke in a voice she barely recognized as her own. "John, please," she begged, though she knew not what he could do.
Kolja's arm tightened around her and she tried not to cry out again. Then Mr. Lorne called, "Sheppard!"
John tore his eyes away from her for only a moment. Mr. Lorne threw something across the table and John caught it. Mr. Lorne had been loading his own pistol under the table and had tossed it to John, who now had it aimed in Kolja's general direction.
"I will shoot you if you don't let her go," he said, his voice dark and cold.
"And risk hurting Miss Weir?" Elizabeth could feel how Kolja was silently chuckling at the prospect.
She met John's eyes for only a moment, but that was all she needed in order to understand what she had to do. "I'm not aiming at her," John replied.
Elizabeth twisted again, wrenching herself to the right and bending over as far as she could. Kolja tried to come down with her but she was too quick. Then a shot was fired, and they both fell to the ground.
For a long time she didn't move. The room had filled with white smoke from the gunpowder, and Elizabeth was too numb to know if she had been hurt. Then Kolja's body was thrown off of hers and strong hands were lifting her up. "Elizabeth!" John was almost shouting. Her ears were ringing. "Elizabeth, are you all right?"
Elizabeth managed to look around the room quickly. Michael was helping Teyla up, and Kate was rushing away from her mother's arms to help her friend. Mr. Lorne was dragging Kolja's limp form out of the way. Then John's hands were cupping her face, drawing her gaze back to him. His warm green eyes were full of fear now. "Are you all right?" he repeated.
Finally Elizabeth breathed again. "No," she whispered, her whole body starting to shake.
John wrapped her in his arms, holding her so tightly that in that moment there seemed to be nothing else in the world but him. "You will be," he whispered, pressing a kiss to her temple. "You will be."
She knew not how long they stayed like that, John rocking her slightly and his hand rubbing her lower back. Then his voice reverberated in his chest as he spoke to Mr. Lorne. "Is he dead?" he asked.
Elizabeth pulled back enough to look up at her friend. "Yes," he answered. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Heightmeyer, but there is a great deal of blood."
"'Tis no matter," Mrs. Heightmeyer said, her own voice shaking. "I am only glad that he is dead."
"Did no one outside hear the shot?" Elizabeth asked as Kate left the room.
"It is very loud out there," Teyla replied. "I would not be surprised at all if no one marked it."
Elizabeth looked back at John, who was still holding her loosely but had his eyes on Mr. Lorne. "Why did you give me the gun?" he asked. "Why not take the shot yourself?"
"You had the better position," Mr. Lorne replied. "I also assumed you'd fired a gun more recently than I had."
A few minutes later Kate reentered the room. "I fetched an oil cloth," she said, her arms full of a dirty beige fabric. "I thought it would be better than the rug for..."
She trailed off, and John got Elizabeth to her feet. Still feeling dazed, she looked away while the men got the body onto the oil cloth and rolled it up inside. Captain Kenmore and Mr. Lorne carried it away, and in the meantime the ladies began clearing the dishes from the table. It and the chairs had to be moved to get the rug off the floor. There was a large blood stain on it.
Elizabeth's hands were shaking so badly that she could not carry much more than the silverware. Eventually Teyla insisted that she go sit down in the butler's pantry. "You should not have to work on your wedding day," she protested, even as she sat down on a stool in the small room.
"I do not mind, Miss Weir," Teyla replied. "You need to take a moment to breathe once more."
Elizabeth smiled weakly, and Teyla returned to help the rest. John found her in the small room, little more than a passageway with cabinets, a few minutes later. He had their hats in hand. "I am taking you to your father, Miss Weir," he said. "This evening, once the British are gone, I will return to help Mr. Lorne with the body. He will stay here with the Heightmeyers until then."
She nodded. "And the Kenmores?"
John looked solemn. "They will leave then too."
Elizabeth stood up, and as John put on his hat, he handed hers to her. But her hands were still shaking, and she could not secure it on her head. John realized this and reached for the ribbons, gently tying them behind her head, under her knot of hair. Then their eyes met and he took the opportunity to duck down and kiss her lips softly. Had her hat not been in the way, she might have leaned against him again and let him hold her once more. Instead, she let him brush her hair back from her face and caress her cheek. "Let's go home, Elizabeth." he murmured. "Let's go home."
Lorne and Michael moved the table and got the rug off the floor, which Mrs. Heightmeyer thought could be cleaned without too much trouble. Kate and Teyla got to work immediately scrubbing the blood from the wood floor. It unsettled Michael to see his wife working from her knees on their wedding day, but Teyla was undeterred.
His wife. He was married now. He had a wife to take care of now, and a child would soon follow. The thought caught him unawares and filled him with a strange anxiety. He did not regret the choice, but the grave reality of it was settling in.
After a while, Michael urged Teyla to leave the scrubbing and sit for a while in the parlor. There they sat in dreadful silence, neither of them quite knowing how to act around each other yet. Then Teyla sighed. "Will we spend the rest of our lives not speaking to each other, Michael?" she asked.
Michael reached for her hand. "No, Mrs. Kenmore, I will find my tongue again."
She smiled softly at the name he called her. "I can hardly believe we are married," she said demurely.
Somehow it lessened his worries to know that Teyla was not wholly confident either. He smiled too. "I have wondered this ever since yesterday afternoon," he said. "What convinced you to marry me and to leave with me?"
"Whither thou goest, I will go," she whispered, repeating the words which Mr. Lorne had read earlier. "I love you, Michael. Whatever challenges lie before us – and I know there will be trials and hardships for us – I cannot help but think that they will be more easily borne because I am with someone I love."
Michael reached up and stroked her cheek. "My wife," he said, his voice rough with emotion. Teyla began to laugh joyfully, and he joined in as well.
It was at this moment that Kate and Mr. Lorne came into the parlor. Mrs. Heightmeyer came behind them. They were carrying things into the room. "Well, Mr. and Mrs. Kenmore," Kate said, "I know Elizabeth would have wanted to be here for this, but I do not think any of us could blame her or Mr. Sheppard for leaving when they did."
"Of course," Michael replied.
She and Mr. Lorne set down their bundles on the small tea table in the corner. "We have some things for you," Kate said. "Teyla, would you care to see?"
Teyla rose and went to the table and Michael followed her. She unwrapped the smallest of the packages first. Inside were a few handkerchiefs of white silk. "Mrs. Heightmeyer," Teyla cried, "these are yours!"
"No, Teyla, they are yours," the older woman gently corrected.
Bewildered, Teyla turned to the next package, a satchel full of goods from a store. "Miss Weir wanted to help you both," Mr. Lorne explained. "She thought you would need some supplies for your journey, and you would need something for clothing the baby when it comes."
Michael looked more closely and saw that at the bottom of the satchel there were yards and yards of fabric, underneath the foodstuffs. "Miss Weir is very kind," he said, unable to say much more about the woman's goodness to them.
Teyla's eyes were wet, and Michael put his arm around her. Then Kate lifted the last package and handed it to Teyla. "For you."
Teyla removed the paper and found inside a beautiful dove-grey coat. "Why, Kate, I – I cannot take this from you," she protested.
"Teyla, you are going to the north," Kate said. "You will need a good coat this winter. I would have liked to make you one new, but there wasn't time."
At that point she began to cry in earnest, and Michael picked up one of her new handkerchiefs and gave it to her. That made Teyla smile even through her tears.
Explaining to Mr. Weir what had happened at the Heightmeyers' home was more difficult than John had anticipated. The old man had genuinely believed John's implication that he was a Patriot in disguise, and disclosing his deception had been difficult for John. There was a disappointment in Mr. Weir's eyes which had been hard to bear.
Thankfully, Elizabeth had helped. She explained how John had decided not to fulfill his mission in Williamsburg and had helped a Patriot escape the British. She also explained how he had protected them both, but she did not mention his killing Kolja to protect her. Some things he did not need to know.
As the afternoon waned, the redcoats outside trickled out of the city, until none but John and Michael were left. John returned to the Heightmeyers' house, intending to help take care of Kolja's body, but when he arrived there, Kenmore and Lorne were out in the street, watching something off in the distance. "Is something the matter?" John asked.
"More troops are coming," Lorne replied, pointing. The British had been heading southeast when they left, marching to Jamestown; these troops came from the other direction entirely.
John stood there, transfixed by the sight of men entering the city. They were dressed in blue and gold jackets of the Continental army. They were not so uniform as the redcoats, but they were a glorious sight. John had never thought he would be so happy to see them.
After all, they had usually been shooting at him.
"Well," Mr. Lorne continued, "Captain Kenmore, I think this might prove a hindrance to your plans."
"We will see," Kenmore said darkly. "And what about you, Captain Sheppard? How does it feel to be a Loyalist officer now that the rebels have arrived?"
John rolled his eyes. "They're only slightly less of a nuisance than the British and Hessians were."
"I thought they might prove rather useful to you, Mr. Sheppard," Lorne said.
"And how is that?"
"Kolja said that one of his men was following you," Lorne explained. "When he turns up missing, there is a fair chance that you will be blamed for his disappearance. Even if the body is never found, you could be accused of his death."
John had only vaguely thought that through, and he had no idea what he would do if it came to that. "And how do you propose that the Patriots would prove useful to that end, sir?"
"It is a simple matter indeed. You surrender to the Americans."
John could come up with no response to that.
For a long time the three men merely stood there, watching the troops come by. John even recognized the Marquis de Lafayette and bowed to him, along with the others. Eventually, Lorne quitted the parade and returned to the house. Captain Kenmore turned to do so as well, but he paused and cast a sidelong glance at John. "Sheppard, if you should need some suggestions on the art of surrender, I would be only too happy to advise you."
Annoyed, John glared. Kenmore walked away with a smile on his face.
John returned from the Heightmeyers' earlier than Elizabeth expected, but even so she was feeling much better than she had at the noon hour. The sight of her beloved Continental soldiers entering the town had filled her with relief. The British were gone, and the Americans were following after, led by the Marquis de Lafayette himself. Elizabeth could only assume that his arrival heralded good things.
She met John at the back door, and he smiled at her shyly. "Did you and Mr. Lorne and Captain Kenmore take care of everything?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Mr. Lorne and I will take care of it after we know for certain where this new group of soldiers will be encamped. We could not remove the body with so many mulling around."
Elizabeth nodded. "I should think they will stay at William and Mary," she mused, speaking of the university at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street. "Unless I am mistaken, there are far fewer of them than there were redcoats."
"You are not mistaken." Then he frowned a little. The concerned look on his face was becoming all too familiar for her. "You are all right?"
"Yes, John," she murmured. "He did nothing but frighten me."
"He would have done more."
"But he did not, and that is what matters."
John reached up to touch her cheek, but the sound of footsteps checked him. Elizabeth looked to see a servant crossing the corridor. When the maid was gone, John took her hand and started toward her father's study. "I must speak with you alone," he said quietly.
Elizabeth half expected it to be a lie, that he wanted privacy in order to kiss her again. But his eyes were serious as he shut the door behind them. "You were a great help to me yesterday," he said. "Perhaps you could help me again."
The previous day seemed so far away now, and she had to rack her memory to figure out what he was talking about. He had confessed to her then that he had had an opportunity to complete his mission and had not taken it, for he could no longer support the actions of his superiors. "John, what is troubling you?" she asked.
He stared at the floor and sighed. "Your friend Lorne pointed out to me that when the Hessians notice that Kolja is missing, I will be in some trouble."
"Because Kolja had someone following you?" When John nodded, Elizabeth frowned in concern. "Mr. Sheppard, were you thinking of rejoining the British forces?"
"I don't know what I was thinking," John replied. "But I cannot return to them. I would be hanged, probably for treason and for murder."
Elizabeth suppressed a shiver at that thought, closing her eyes. "And what will you do now?"
"Lorne and Kenmore had a notion." At that moment Elizabeth thought she knew what he was going to suggest, and she held her breath in anticipation. "I could surrender to the Continental army."
"Oh, John," she said, exhaling. "Would you... Would you make a full renunciation of the Loyalist cause?"
"I would probably be granted more freedom if I did," he admitted. "And such a renunciation would not be entirely untruthful."
He met her gaze then with a wild hope in his eyes. She remembered what he had said the previous night, how he could not recognize his country anymore. That was not the same as converting wholly to the Patriot cause, but Elizabeth would not look down upon this enormous change. She thought she could understand what he was giving up.
"When will you do this?" she asked him demurely.
"Tonight, I think," he replied. "For one thing, if I tell them about Kolja, then they can dispose of the body and we will not have to sneak around with it."
Elizabeth almost smiled. "I will go with you."
"That is not necessary –"
She silenced him with her fingers over his lips. "You saved my life today. I will go with you tonight. It is the least I can do."
She felt a kiss pressed to her fingers before she drew her hand away. "You are a good woman, Miss Weir," he said to her.
Blushing, she bowed her head. "I have been so rude and unkind to you for so long."
"I can forgive if you can forget."
Realizing the great offer he was making her, she had to smile, albeit awkwardly. "So can I."
Torches were being lit when John left the Weir house, Elizabeth on his arm. He was burning up, wearing his uniform under his great coat, but that was not the only reason for his discomfort. His heart was in his throat, and he remembered his first battle. He remembered his throat being dry and his body moving though he did not command it. But in memory it did not seem half so bad as this night was.
Elizabeth spoke to him only once, to ask if he was all right. He had no idea what answer he gave to her.
The regiments were quartered on the grounds of the College of William and Mary, as Elizabeth had guessed. A few questions guided them to the commanders of the forces, but as they neared the lodgings of the Marquis de Lafayette and his senior officers, they were intercepted by a man about John's age, though with lighter hair and a more muscular build. "Sir, madam, I am Captain Mitchell. May I ask your business?" the man drawled, though John knew instinctively that the man before him was a dangerous one.
"My name is John Sheppard," he said, "and this is Miss Elizabeth Weir. "I have come to give you something."
Pulling away from Elizabeth, he began to unbutton his great coat. Predictably, the man before him took a step back and drew his pistol. John opened the rest of the buttons while Mitchell threatened, "Come another step closer and I will be forced to fire, Sheppard."
John looked at the other man in irritation. He unhooked his sword from his belt and hefted it up, holding the handle out to the man. Mitchell looked at it as thought it were a snake. "Have you gone mad?" he asked.
John spared a glance at Elizabeth, who was trying to hide her amusement. "Some might say that, yes."
Mitchell took the sword without further comment, and John reached into his coat again. "You might want this as well," he remarked, drawing out his pistol.
"Yes, I might," the other man replied, snatching the pistol away and jerking his head in the direction John and Elizabeth had originally been going. "Come with me."
Elizabeth followed behind the two men, even when some were giving her strange looks for entering rooms and corridors. Then they entered a room with a large table, where several men in uniforms were standing around a map and arguing over something. Upon their intrusion, one of the men, whose hair was fully silver, looked up at the three and said, "Mitchell, what is going on? Who are these people?"
"Colonel O'Neill, they came into the camp, and the gentleman here surrendered his weapons to me," Mitchell explained.
John took that opportunity to remove his coat, revealing the uniform beneath. Silence fell in the room, and he merely looked from one man to the next. Finally his gaze fell upon the marquis, who looked to the guards in the room and said, his English lightly accented, "We will deal with him in a little while. Take him away for now."
John blurted out a protest without thinking as two men grabbed his arms and began to pull him away. He had expected hostility, to be sure, but nothing quite this severe and immediate. His one consolation was that Elizabeth had not been removed from the room. After all, she could talk anyone into anything.
Elizabeth did her best to stay calm, even as John was dragged out, spluttering protests. In the commotion no one noticed that she stayed behind until the doors were shut. The silver-haired man saw her then, and said to Captain Mitchell, "Please escort the lady out of the room."
"Sir, if I may say a few words?" Elizabeth said. "I will not keep you from your conference long."
The man looked at the marquis, who seemed somewhat amused by the turn of events. "Let the lady speak."
Elizabeth nodded to him respectfully. "My name is Elizabeth Weir," she explained. "My father is a respected storekeeper in Williamsburg, and my brother enlisted in the Virginia regiment of the Continental army when war broke out, and was killed in the Battle of Camden just last year."
"I am sorry for your loss, Miss Weir," the marquis said, "but you must admit that your arrival here with a Loyalist fighting with the enemy is highly suspect."
She nodded again. "I understand you perfectly, my lord. In fact, he has been lodging in my father's house for some weeks, something which I have struggled with. He would not have been allowed in my house to begin with, except my father came upon him suddenly while Mr. Sheppard was riding his horse to town, and he was thrown from the horse. He had an injured ankle, and my father would not hear of removing him from the house when he had caused the injury."
Colonel O'Neill frowned. "Did you not know the man's loyalties?"
"Mr. Sheppard told me he was acting as a spy for the Americans. I suspected he was lying, but it was not until the British and Hessians arrived here in Williamsburg that he told me the truth."
"And what was that?" Captain Mitchell asked.
"He was sent here by Tarleton to search for the person or persons who had warned Governor Jefferson of an attempt to kidnap him in Charlottesville," Elizabeth explained, carefully leaving out Michael Kenmore's involvement in any of it. "It seems Tarleton is intent on capturing Jefferson and as much of the Virginia legislature as he can."
"Was that not Jack Jouett who managed to beat Tarleton to Charlottesville?" asked another man in the room.
"Mr. Jouett's patriotism is not the subject of this inquiry," Elizabeth replied. "Mr. Sheppard has lodged in my house for a few weeks now, and I can testify as to his character. I can tell you that his renunciation of his loyalty to the king is honest."
"A character witness is a good thing to have, but we must have some action as well," the marquis said gently.
"I believe he can provide that as well," she replied. "For today he has rid you of a great enemy."
"Who?" asked Colonel O'Neill.
"Colonel Augustin Kolja," Elizabeth stated.
"Wait, Kolja is dead?" the man said. "Surely you must be mistaken."
"I was there when he was killed," Elizabeth said quietly. "Mr. Sheppard shot him in order to save my life." There was silence all around, and she could almost feel their doubt. She forced herself to remain calm, for John's life was in her hands. "I can show you the body if you like."
"Colonel O'Neill," the marquis said, "if you would accompany the lady?"
The colonel escorted her away, and Elizabeth led him to the Heightmeyers' house in silence. He saw the body, identified it as Augustin Kolja, and assured Mrs. Heightmeyer that someone would come to take care of it before the day was done. Then, on the way back, Elizabeth said, "Colonel, I believe that men should be given second chances. Mr. Sheppard stood for what he believed, but when he found himself and his country in the wrong, he acknowledged the fault."
"Miss Weir, did any among the British know that Mr. Sheppard was here?" the colonel asked.
"I am afraid so. Someone was sure to know that Kolja had come to the Heightmeyers' home to confront him," she replied. "He has legitimate cause to fear for his life should the British find him."
When they were near William and Mary again, Colonel O'Neill nodded to her. "You should return to your house," he said. "If your friend is released, we will send him to you."
"And if not?"
"Come by tomorrow, if we are still in Williamsburg."
O'Neill left without another word. Elizabeth stood there for a long time watching the Continental soldiers milling about, before she slipped into the darkness, evading the guards until she found what she was looking for. She would not leave John now.
John was taken to a makeshift jail area, a small room with only one exit. Two men guarded the door. A high, narrow window ran along the length of the wall opposite the door, and through it came a mixture of moon and torchlight. There were no benches or chairs, so he removed his red coat and sank to the floor. It had been a long day.
After what seemed like forever, there were footsteps, but they were not the boots of a soldier. They were the slippers of a lady. John looked to the door even though he could not see through it, and outside he heard Elizabeth's voice. His heart lightened to hear it, hoping she would have good news.
"I am not asking you to let him out," she was saying. "I am asking you to let me in."
There were some more protests, but something silenced the guards and the door swung open. As Elizabeth walked in, John caught sight of one of the guards putting something shiny in his pocket. She had bribed them.
Once the door closed behind her, she looked at her with amusement on her face. "Well," she said, "they seem to have spared no expense here."
"I do not think they anticipated a need for a prison," John told her. "I would ask you to sit, but there is nowhere to sit."
Elizabeth came up to him anyway and gracefully lowered herself to the floor. "A little dirt will not harm me," she replied.
He passed his coat to her, for it was unusually chilly in the room. John could not be sure but he thought they were partially underground. Elizabeth looked at the red garment with distaste, but took it anyway and draped it over her lap. "So what did you have to say to Lafayette and that colonel?" John asked.
"The truth," she said. "That we took you in because you were injured, and that you saved my life. I also told Colonel O'Neill that you will be facing death if they do not give you refuge."
"So they know about Kolja?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Colonel O'Neill identified the body and told Mrs. Heightmeyer that his men would take care of everything."
John took a moment to process that information, staring into the dimness of the room. He had no idea if he would be granted asylum, but he figured that with Elizabeth arguing for him, he stood a chance.
He did not know what to say, and when she did not speak further either, John reached over and touched her hand. She had the slender, white hand of a lady, and his fingers seemed so rough and brown against her skin. He absently traced skin from her second knuckle down to her wrist, and he got a little gasp from her. He looked up to see her cheeks turning red. "Forgive me," he murmured, but she turned her hand over and clasped his anyway.
"You inspire me to new heights of impropriety, Mr. Sheppard," she teased him, even as she blushed.
"I have only kissed you twice," he answered in kind.
"Three? This morning, the night of the storm..."
"Yesterday afternoon," she told him. "I am surprised you would forget that one."
Immediately it came back to him, though. In his agitated state the previous evening he had been in no position to turn down any comfort available, and Elizabeth had been all too willing. "I was a little shocked by your boldness yesterday," Elizabeth confessed.
"I was a little shocked that you allowed it."
She sighed. "As you have rightly observed, I do not often find myself bound to what is considered proper for young ladies," she replied. "I suppose I should not be surprised that I found a man who inspires that same wildness in me."
Then she looked at him, and John was rendered immobile by the heat of her gaze. Elizabeth shifted, turning, inching toward him, but he could not move. She went up to her knees beside him, and when she touched his face he thought his heart might just give out.
Her lips were soft but pressed against his firmly. Only at that contact did John find the will to move again. His hands went to her waist, steadying her as he began to respond to her kiss. He could tell she was nervous, so he tried to restrain himself, following her lead and not giving in to his instincts.
Her fingers were toying with his hair, and when her thumbs brushed his ears he let out a piercing groan. In concert she shifted and he tugged at her slim waist, pulling her to his lap. Elizabeth caught his lower lip lightly between her teeth, and it was almost more than John could bear. How could any man resist this woman when she was giving herself to him like this?
Paradoxically, it was that thought which sparked a protest in John's mind. It was not only the gross impropriety of everything he would like to do with her at this moment which made him pull away. He was under arrest, and besides, they were sitting on a very uncomfortable stone floor.
With great difficulty he pulled away. "You should go," he said breathlessly, before he could change his mind. "I suspect you might be in some trouble if you were found here."
"I was told to go home," she admitted.
"Then go home," John told her, taking up her hand and kissing her fingers tenderly. "I will be home as soon as I can."
Bracing herself with a hand against the brick wall, Elizabeth managed to get to her feet. "I will be waiting," she said, slipping out the door.
John had no doubt that she would be.
The night was almost completely dark when Michael finally said it was time to leave. The soldiers were on the other side of town and there was little activity in the streets. He felt they could slip away unnoticed tonight while the army was still settling in. They would move northwest, avoiding roads and getting away from the worst of the fighting so they could travel easily, so that Teyla would not endanger the child.
Mrs. Heightmeyer said goodbye to Teyla with tears in her eyes, but parting from Kate was even harder. The two clung to each other in silence for some time before Teyla knew she had to let go. She would probably never see her friend again, and that knowledge stung. In time they might be able to write to each other, but she doubted that time would come soon.
"Thank you, Kate," she whispered as they finally let go of each other. "Thank you for everything."
Michael was shaking Mr. Lorne's hand. Still tightly gripping Teyla's hand, Kate turned to Michael. "Take care of her, Mr. Kenmore," she said.
"I will, Miss Heightmeyer."
They left the house through the back door, and when they were almost out of sight, Teyla turned back again to see Kate and Mr. Lorne still standing at the door, his arm around her as she leaned against him. Michael stopped and looked at her. "Teyla?"
As she stood there watching, she felt a strange fluttering within her. She laid her hand against her abdomen, and suddenly knew that she was feeling their child move, maybe for the first time.
Michael stepped back to look at her. "Teyla, are you having regrets already?" he asked, worriedly.
Teyla shook her head. "No, Michael," she replied. "I have only hope."
John arrived home carrying both his red coat and his great coat. Elizabeth was waiting for him, as she had promised. Though the hour was late, they stayed in the parlor talking of what had happened. John had been brought before the Marquis de Lafayette and several Continental officers and, to his great surprise, been thanked for his service in ridding them of Kolja. It seemed John was not the only one who had been witness to his brutality.
"And what did they demand of you?" Elizabeth asked him.
"A full renunciation, which I gave," he replied. "They have my weapons, of course, and..."
He trailed off, and she leaned forward. "What else?" she pressed, eager to know.
"They decided I must be confined," he said.
"Oh, John," Elizabeth breathed. She had feared that they might perhaps insist on placing him in custody somewhere. "Where?"
"In Williamsburg." He flashed her a saucy smile, and she only just resisted the urge to smack his arm. He laughed, and then continued, "I have been given parole to walk freely about the city but not beyond. At least, not until the war is over."
"They would not send you back to Boston?" she asked, surprised. Usually parole was given to those who consented to return to their homes and not attempt to reenter the fighting.
John shook his head. "They were concerned that even a reformed Loyalist would face some significant peril in Boston. I told them I was willing to remain here for the duration of the war, and they thought that was an excellent notion."
"And this was an unbiased decision on all sides?" she prompted, a note of amusement in her voice.
"Perhaps I had some inducement to choose this place," he said, boldly laying his hand over hers with a smile.
They continued to speak, their conversation turning to many subjects as the hours passed unnoticed. She spoke of her brother, of her friends in Williamsburg, of all the texts which had so influenced her beliefs in many subjects, not only in politics. He talked about Boston, of his family there, of his life at Yale. Elizabeth did not know how much time had slipped away until she heard a wagon rolling down the street and its driver singing. Startled, she went to the window, pulling aside the heavy curtains. Sunshine, so bright that she flinched, flooded into the parlor.
"We talked all night," she said in wonder.
John got up to stand beside her, looking out at the street as well. "And yet I feel I have only just begun to talk with you."
Elizabeth could only smile and murmur her agreement.
They both changed into fresh clothing, and even though they had gotten no sleep at all no one would have known it by how cheerfully they talked with her father over breakfast. Together the three went to the store, and John stayed with them as they opened for business. Mr. Lorne was already there, and he discreetly cornered Elizabeth as she was taking inventory of the sugar and flour. "Miss Weir," he said lowly, and in his hand he held a folded piece of paper.
She took it and opened it quietly. On it was Kate's handwriting, swift but neat. Elizabeth's eyes quickly flitted over the words and she looked up at Mr. Lorne anxiously. "They left?" she whispered. "They made it out of town?"
He nodded. "Kate and I watched them leave."
She was so relieved by his news that it took her some time to realize that he had called Kate by her given name. Of course, the moment she realized the implications of this, it went out of her head entirely, for a customer walked through the door and Elizabeth dropped a bottle of ink on the counter. It did not break, but John had to catch it before it rolled to the floor, where it surely would have shattered. Elizabeth barely noticed, for the man who walked up to her was the Marquis de Lafayette.
"Mademoiselle," he said in a low voice, "I find myself in need of a new pair of riding gloves. Have you any here?"
"Of course," Elizabeth answered. "If you will come with me, my lord."
As they walked, the gentleman said, "You may call me 'General,' Miss Weir, or 'sir.' There are no lords on this side of the Atlantic."
Elizabeth felt her face getting warm. "Yes, General."
She pulled the men's riding gloves from the case and watched as the marquis studied them. "I will need a pair with sturdy stitching," he said. "My last pair has a split seam."
"Do you have them with you, sir?" Elizabeth asked. He pulled them from his pocket, and she took them to examine the tear. It was rather small, but was likely to grow larger if he wore them. The gloves were made from a very fine cream-colored leather, and Elizabeth knew they had nothing in the shop to compare to these. "Perhaps I could repair these for you. I know what trouble it is to break in new gloves."
"I would be most obliged."
Elizabeth smiled briefly and went to find a needle and sturdy thread. When she returned, she looked at the three men in the shop, who were all pretending not to watch the exchange closely. "General, may I introduce my father, Mr. William Weir, and his associate, Mr. Evan Lorne?" she said, gesturing at the two men. "Mr. Lorne served under General Washington for a time."
"Indeed?" said the general to Mr. Lorne, who seemed quite tongue-tied to be addressed by the marquis.
"Yes, sir," Lorne said, straightening up a bit. Elizabeth sat down and threaded her needle while she watched the men talk. "But I got a leg wound and was discharged from service."
Then General Lafayette shook his hand, and Elizabeth had to smile.
The four men began to converse while she worked on his glove. After a time, more customers came into the store and the general turned his attention back to her. "I would rather not be recognized by many people," he said. Today he was not wearing his gold-trimmed uniform coat, but a plain brown one. Elizabeth suddenly realized that this trip was a clandestine one.
"I will be finished in a moment, sir," she told him.
"I have asked about you around town," he continued. Her eyes snapped away from her work to his face. "You have a reputation here in Williamsburg as a gentlewoman fiercely devoted to our cause, yet at the same time you are reportedly kind-hearted enough to take in a wounded man, even of the enemy. I can only assume that Mr. Sheppard's renunciation of his loyalty to the crown had something to do with you."
Elizabeth shook her head. "Very little. He told me himself that he was growing disillusioned with the British over their prosecution of this war."
"He killed an ally to save you," the marquis said. "Not every man would take that risk, for any reason."
It was hard to believe that around this time the previous day, Elizabeth had been held by Kolja, his gun pressed to her temple while John aimed another in her general direction. She pressed her lips together to keep them from trembling. "Mademoiselle?" he said.
Elizabeth took deep breath, focusing herself again on her work. "It is nothing."
"You remind me a little of my wife, Miss Weir," he said. "I did not think I would meet a woman here who was as committed to the tenets of the Patriot cause as Adrienne is."
She felt her cheeks warming, and she could not look up. "I thank you for the compliment, sir." Then she tied off her thread and cut it. "Your glove is ready."
She handed the pair back and he put them on, flexing them to test the repaired seam. "As good as new," he declared, and Elizabeth smiled. "But I will take this pair as well," he added, selecting one from the counter, "in case another seam tears and I am not near such an excellent shop as this."
Elizabeth went to write up a bill, but he paid her with cash. Then the marquis turned his attention to her father. "Mr. Weir, my men and I will need some supplies before we leave Williamsburg," he said. "My aide will come this afternoon to discuss what we need with you or your associate. You will be paid in cash, of course."
He bowed to them, and if Elizabeth curtseyed in return it was out of pure habit and not from thought. Being able to sell goods to soldiers passing through was a tremendous boon to business in the first place, but being paid in cash was almost too much to believe.
As they were walking home for dinner that morning, John said to her quietly, "The general's business is meant as a compliment to you, I think."
"Why on Earth?" she asked, feeling quite amazed by the assertion.
"Last night when they called me back, the marquis told me he was greatly impressed by your boldness."
"I had no idea that he would even remember my name," she confessed.
John's eyes were full of amusement. "You underestimate yourself, I think."
The American soldiers did not stay nearly so long as the British had, but continued in their slow pursuit of the enemy. The marquis did indeed resupply his troops with purchases from the Weirs' store, something which amazed Mr. Weir to a great degree.
The day after the Americans left, John removed himself from the Weirs' house at last. By that point rumor had spread all over town that John was not in fact Miss Weir's cousin, and in order to stem the tide of malicious gossip he left the family dwelling. He lodged with Mr. Lorne, and the two were frequent guests at the Weirs' table, though Lorne, having interests elsewhere, was there less than John was. John, after all, was courting Elizabeth and had a vested interest in seeing her as often as possible.
Though sure of Elizabeth's affection for him, John was often less sure of his prospects in courting her. Mr. Weir had approved of the match, but somehow he imagined that Elizabeth could be somewhat pickier than her father in the choice of her husband. He suspected that even love could not tempt her into a truly imprudent marriage, and John was determined as the weeks went by to prove himself worthy.
As for his own occupation, for a time he helped tend to the Weirs' shop, but eventually deemed it unwise to engage in business with them in such a manner. Then the most prominent family in town, the Randolphs, whose interactions with the Revolution seemed to blur the lines of Patriot and Loyalist irrevocably, learned of John's predicament in Williamsburg.
Through Elizabeth's introductions, they became aware that John had studied the law and, before the war, had been clerk to a prominent lawyer in Connecticut. He was soon in practice with one of the Randolphs' sons, and became established as a member of the community in his own right. Judges quickly took a liking to him, for he was always eager to settle matters outside of court. It was not, as some supposed, from some feeling that matters were best resolved by mutual consent of the conflicting parties, but because he would rather do almost anything else than speak in public, and because barristers' wigs were in his opinion quite ridiculous.
Between Elizabeth and the Randolphs, John found his way in Williamsburg's society. He met Elizabeth's friend Mrs. Beckett, who lived up to all of Elizabeth's tales of her, and made friends of his own. All in all, Williamsburg became home for John, which was almost the last thing he would have expected when he first came there.
Some three and a half months after his surrender, John was forced to remove yet again to another lodging, for Lorne had somehow persuaded Katherine Heightmeyer to marry him. Though John teased his friend a good deal about the miracle which must have transpired to bring that to pass, he was still asked by Lorne to stand up and be groomsman with him. Elizabeth would be Kate's bridesmaid, and the flurry of activity surrounding the happy couple had John wondering if the time was upon him to seal a union between himself and Elizabeth.
The wedding was a grand affair, unlike the Kenmores' furtive celebration, and like nothing John had ever attended in Boston. Not even his sister's nuptials could have held a candle to this. In the north weddings tended to be austere events, and John could not say he objected much to this more lavish kind of celebration. The ceremony was in Mrs. Heightmeyer's parlor, and Kate had a new gown for the occasion, a pretty pink dress with little flowers all over it. She looked quite beautiful, even if John's eyes were more drawn to Elizabeth, who was also dressed in her finest gown, the one she had worn to the assembly all those weeks ago.
After the happy couple had exchanged their vows, presided over by the minister, the festivities were begun. Card tables were set out, but neither John nor Elizabeth were much interested in them. Instead, they joined the other couples who were dancing in the next room. Then they all sat down to a grand supper with venison, lamb, and even a roast pig, something John had not had since leaving New England. Since they were in the middle of autumn, a whole host of freshly harvested vegetables were in the spread as well. Last of all came a heavy, rich spice cake, in which was hidden a nutmeg seed. The person who found the nutmeg in his or her slice of cake would be the next to marry, according to the tradition. John had the satisfaction of seeing Elizabeth blush bright red when her fork found the large seed. He refrained from teasing, however, as their friends, especially Mrs. Beckett, did an admirable job of that without his help.
The party did not break up even after the bride and groom departed for their house. After a time, Elizabeth sought John's arm, and one look told him it was time to take their leave. With a hearty congratulations to Mrs. Heightmeyer, and after another round of teasing in Elizabeth's direction, they left the feasting and walked through the quiet streets to the Weirs' house.
"So, you are turned out of yet another house, Mr. Sheppard," Elizabeth said archly.
"Aye, and I'm glad to be," John replied. "I am not so desperate as to lodge with newlyweds. They need their time together, and I would rather be almost anywhere else."
Elizabeth laughed quietly. "It is strange today. I have been with you almost all day and yet I feel I have barely spoken to you."
John understood the feeling, and it was his reason for walking so slowly back to the house. "There is something of great importance which I seem to have discussed with everyone but you," he remarked.
Elizabeth nodded, knowing immediately of what he spoke. She too had doubtless been engaged in many conversations on the subject. "Cornwallis surrendered yesterday."
With Yorktown only a short distance away, they had been hearing for weeks of the siege being laid there. Cornwallis had taken his redcoats and entrenched himself there, waiting for reinforcements which, to John's knowledge, still had not arrived. General Washington, the Comte de Rochambeau, and General Lafayette converged upon the city outnumbering the British troops by more than two to one. Lord Cornwallis had never stood a chance.
"Does it feel strange to you now?" Elizabeth asked. "I remember when the British surrendered at Saratoga and the French entered the war. I felt that surely the war was coming to a swift end, yet here we are, four years later. Almost to the day."
John had thought of that too. But this felt different. Four years had altered his perception of the war and the politics of the colonies and his loyalties, but he did not think that was what made this surrender seem so much different than Saratoga. In his heart, he truly felt that the war was coming to a close.
The end would not come until every British soldier was gone, but John could not help but hope.
"I must congratulate you for this Patriot victory, Miss Weir," he said, as he had with the news of every victory in the last three months.
Elizabeth smiled slightly. "I will concede it to be a battle well fought," she replied. "Perhaps had you been there, the outcome would have been different."
At that John laughed.
Elizabeth sobered, however, and looked at him anxiously. "If this is truly the end of the war, do you think you might return to Boston? You cannot have seen your family much these last six years."
"I have not," John replied, "but I fear a return to Massachusetts might be dangerous. There are rumors of laws restricting the rights of Loyalists."
She made an indignant sound. "How despicable."
John agreed, but there was little else he could say about it. They walked in pleasant silence for a time, all the while John wondering how to broach a certain subject with her. However, Elizabeth gave him the opening he needed. "The wedding today was a lovely ceremony," she said idly.
"Indeed it was," he replied, hoping she would not notice how his heart sped up. "A little more elaborate than what I am used to in Massachusetts. Puritans were not much for ceremony, and neither are their descendants."
"More interested in throwing tea off a ship?" she teased.
"I take no responsibility for that wild crew," he said. After a moment he added, "I suppose you would want a wedding to equal Mrs. Lorne's."
He surely imagined that she stumbled. "Perhaps not quite as lavish," she said carefully. "But it is an important day for both the bride and the groom."
They had reached the back door of her house, but John lingered with her outside. His stomach was unsettled and a lump was forming in his throat. It was also too late to do anything about it, for Elizabeth noted his distress and said, "John, what is the matter? Are you unwell?"
"No, I..." He took a deep breath and grasped her hand. "I spoke with your father last night, Elizabeth."
Her eyes went wide and her mouth fell open a little in surprise, but she waited for him to finish speaking. "He gave me his consent," he continued, "and he gave me this."
John reached into his pocket then and showed her the ring he had been carrying around all day. She gasped when she saw it. He knew she recognized it, but he still explained, "Your father said he gave this to your mother when they were betrothed. He wants you to wear it now." John swallowed. "If you choose to, of course."
Elizabeth still said nothing, but looked up at him and bit her lip. The strangeness of that gesture almost made him laugh, and it certainly helped him relax a little. "If you will have me, Elizabeth," he said, slipping the ring onto her finger, "this will be yours, and we will be married before the year is out."
Then quite to his surprise, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. John's startlement did not last long, however, as he soon had her in his arms and they were kissing most fervently. When he drew away from her lips, they stayed in each other's arms. "I am not certain I heard an answer."
Her eyes were full of laughter. "Yes, John," she said. "I will marry you, for despite all the trouble you once caused me, I love you anyway."
"Are you sure you do not love me because of all the trouble I once caused you?" he teased. She narrowed her eyes at him playfully, and he kissed her again. "I love you, Elizabeth."
"Let us tell my father," she replied, backing toward the door. "He will be most glad that he insisted once that I show you hospitality."
As they went inside, John quoted, "'For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.'"
Elizabeth gave him a skeptical look. "You are no angel, sir."
John chuckled and gave his agreement. "I must confess, Miss Weir," he said, "when first I met you I would not have imagined that I might ask you to marry me, nor that you would accept. Would you?"
"No," she replied, "but sometimes the world turns upside down."
He could not agree more.