Mary Alwyn is a wild soul, a free spirit who has tried very very hard to fit in with the staid and puritanical society around her (in a world something like America just before the revolution). She's married to an ardent revolutionary -- Jackie the Freedom, a blacksmith who writes incendiary pamphlets and gets himself into trouble a lot -- but his attention is on the revolution and Mary is adrift.
This excerpt from Chapter 3 begins the morning after she met Henry Pembroke, a handsome and elegant officer in the royal army. A troop of soldiers has arrived at Mary's door, seeking to arrest her husband. The husband has long slipped away, and Mary goes to face the soldiers.
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From Chapter 3 of The Wife of Freedom
by Camille LaGuire
It was always a debate as to whether to let them in, or to stand on her rights and make them knock the door down. Either way, she could delay them while Jackie played his game of strutting around in public, but never being caught until the thing blew over...or until he was caught. A flogging didn’t matter, if it got attention. His wife’s distress was not even noticeable to him.
But as for the door, she’d better open it, because Jackie’d never get around to fixing a broken one. Mary pulled it open, looking harried, as if interrupted in her sewing. It was Major Pembroke, standing with that nobleman’s ease, his head cocked in deference and concern. Prettier in the daylight, yet.
“Major Pembroke,” she said in a little bit of a gasp.
“Marm,” he said, removing his hat. “Is your husband at home?”
“No, he’s at the printer’s.”
“We’ve just come from there, marm. He isn’t there. Nor is there anyone else. Not even the press itself.”
“Oh, dear. They must have moved it again, then.”
“Do you know where they would have moved it to?”
“Won’t you come in?”
His hesitation was almost invisible.
“Thank you, marm,” and he stepped inside, shutting the door in the faces of the two soldiers with him.
And all the time it was going through Mary’s head: if you were going to be unfaithful, did it really matter if you did it instantly? How many meetings was appropriate before you actually succumbed? Wasn’t it always inappropriate? Shades of her childhood came back to her, when Mrs. Cress would marvel at how “she didn’t even hesitate!” whenever Mary had jumped into a mud puddle. And Mary could never understand how thinking about it first could make a crime less serious.
“Are you sure your husband is not at home?”
“Are you asking to find out where he is, or for more personal reasons?”
His mouth widened in a pleased smile. A pleasing smile. She took a deep breath as he leaned in.
“And what kind of personal reasons would you mean, marm?”
She let the breath out and thought what an idiot she was. And that if she was too forward, she’d drive him away. But if he could be driven away with honesty, what good was he? She didn’t know how to be coy, even if he did.
“Perhaps you’d better have them search,” she said, snapping her mouth shut and stepping back.
He smiled and opened the door. The soldiers trundled in, glancing sidelong at her.
“Make sure he’s not hiding here somewhere,” he told them. They tromped through the house. At least she didn’t have to worry about that. Jackie claimed to have the Freedom to Dream in his head, and she and the major were standing on top of the cache of arms. The major stood very close to her, angled a bit away so as to seem more decent. He seemed comfortable to let the silence draw out for a bit. She stood primly, with her hands clasped before her, eyes cast down. She noticed that the major had very fine boots. And a fine pair of legs going into them. What you could see of her own boots were scuffed. She slipped a foot back, more out of sight and shifted her weight, tilting her head.
Then he spoke, his face much closer to her ear than she expected. Not looking at her boots at all.
“Marm, tell me where to have them search next.”
“What?” The proximity and the words startled her and she stepped back to regain her balance. She looked at him, and his face showed a sly earnestness.
“Tell me where to send them to search next,” he insisted.
And suddenly the logic flooded back into her that they were there to haul Jackie away and beat him. She widened her eyes and stared at him, and her face turned hot with a deep flush.
“I cannot tell you that,” she said.
He looked disconcerted, and then leaned in closer and lowered his voice.
“I mean, where should they search that would occupy them for some time?”
“I don’t know,” she said, waving her hands in the air as the soldiers returned. “You’ve had your search, now get out.”
The soldiers grinned at one another, as she waved them toward the door, and they filed out. The major paused and took her hand, bowing gently over it.
“Marm, I apologize,” he said. “I did not wish to cause you distress.”
He kissed just the tips of her fingers, which stopped her nervous gesture to push him out.
“And I regret any misunderstandings,” he added, with an odd emphasis. He carefully turned her hand over and very slowly kissed the palm of her hand, so slowly, his breath tickled her wrist.
Then with a bow, he left.
* * *
Mary spent the whole day thinking about him. In the evening Jackie came home excited and a little drunk. He gave her a big happy kiss, and a clutch to her backside, but between the drink and the fact that he hadn’t slept the night before, he was out before she could get him undressed.
“Oh, Jackie,” she said. She took two steps back and looked at him. He was always doing. Always busy. Always two steps ahead of himself. And as a result he never really was where he was. He was never there. And Mary, no matter how she tried, could never seem to be any place but where she was now. Could never really keep her mind on the future. A big puddle of mud and her shoes pinched, and that’s as far as her mind naturally went.
“I’ll be making a mistake,” she said aloud. She reached out and took hold of his face, which as rough and in need of a shave. Two days in need of it. He stirred, and she held her breath, but he didn’t awaken. “Perhaps I wouldn’t make the mistake if you were here,” she whispered.
He snorted and then began to softly snore. She pulled back and brushed her hand over his face impatiently, but she couldn’t tell if it was disgust or relief. It wasn’t his fault, anyway. It wasn’t his mistake, it was hers. The Freedom to Fall, she thought. That was the first Freedom Paper he’d written. You make your own mistakes. You don’t need any help from any lords or masters.
She turned away and took a little extra time about washing herself, and thought about the here and now. She may have had trouble getting her mind on the future, but she realized she didn’t have any trouble at all getting away from the here. Her mind wandered freely enough just now. And where it went was to him. Major Pembroke.
She crawled into bed, her back to her snoring husband, and slept alone with her dreams.
The next day, Jackie was gone before daybreak, along with his papers. When the major returned, she didn’t misunderstand, and she didn’t spend the morning alone.
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Tomorrow, I'll post some notes on how and why this story came about in my Story Notes: The Wife of Freedom.
If you'd like to read more of The Wife of Freedom, you're in luck! This week Smashwords is having a sale for "Read an eBook Week." This ebook and several others of mine are on sale for half price (others for free). The sale lasts from March 6-12, 2011. (It should start around midnight tonight, but I'm not sure which time zone.) Buy The Wife of Freedom, or heck out my whole book list at my profile page on Smashwords.
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