Highlander’s Blind Love (Preview)
Alexander awoke suddenly as a burst of light poured into his room. He rolled over and was about to curse the manservant when he saw his friend Ian out of the corner of his eye, looking at him with disapproval, arms folded over his chest.
“On wi’ it, then. Let’s hear the mornin’ lecture,” Alexander said dryly.
“We cannae do this every day,” Ian said. “Ye ought tae ken by now.”
Alexander sat up, placing his arms behind his head. “Have ye no respect for a man’s privacy?”
“I do, an’ ye of all people ken that. But yer clan needs a leader, not a whoremonger,” Ian said, now standing at the edge of Alexander’s bed, looking down at him with disapproval.
Alexander tsked. “Well, that’s insulting tae the both of us, an’ the lass here.”
At that moment, the woman in bed next to Alexander, stirred again, and opened her eyes. “Mornin’,” she said pleasantly.
“Ian just insulted yer honor by callin’ ye the most distasteful of names,” Alexander said, raising an eyebrow and looking sideways at Ian.
The maid clicked her tongue. “Ian, ye dinnae have tae be so glum.”
Ian rolled his eyes. “I called ye nothin’, Miss. But I called Alex here a whoremonger, because all he does is drink an’ fool about wi’ all sorts o’ wenches.”
“Alex is the future laird,” she said, sitting up and gathering the quilt over her chest for modesty. “Surely he can do as he pleases.”
“Aye, but there is a time an’ a place for all. An’ now is not the time.”
Alex heaved a deep sigh and sat up. “If I dinnae do what he says, I’ll incur his wrath,” he said to the woman, a playful edge to his tone.
“Aye,” she agreed, “an’ I have chores tae mind. I doubt Mrs. Gowan’d be pleased at my swanning about here wi’ ye, yer lairdship.”
“What she doesnae ken willnae hurt her,” Alexander murmured.
“The maid is right, in this case. The sun is high in the sky, an’ we have business,” Ian said, his face reddening.
“Aye, he is right, m’ laird,” she said between passionate kisses.
Alexander groaned. “Fine. But I’ll complain all the day.”
The maid rose from the bed, and Alexander gave a playful smack to her bare bottom as she bent over by the bedside to retrieve her clothes.
Ian had his back turned the whole time and was ill at ease until the young woman left. His shoulders visibly relaxed after she left. “‘Tis fine tae consort wi’ whores, but ye seem tae favor this one a wee bit much,” he remarked.
Alexander huffed rolling gracelessly out of bed. “Sounds like ye need a roll in the hay yerself. I’m sure she has another bonny friend.”
“Alex, if yer father comes back from hunting tae find the keep in disarray, he willnae be pleased. Ye’ve a number of tenants askin’ for extensions on rent after the rebellion; women an’ bairns goin’ hungry wi’out any husbands tae provide. Those bastard English hit us hard. ‘Tis up tae both ye an’ yer father tae guide them,” Ian pleaded, his voice verging on frantic.
As much as Alexander hated to admit it, Ian was right. Laird Robert Macpherson of Clan Macpherson had raised his son, Alexander Macpherson, to take his place as leader of the clan one day. What Alexander hadn’t counted on was being thrust into responsibilities so soon. The uprisings certainly spurred things on. Alexander had helped his father rally as many clans as they could to stand against England, but those efforts had been in vain. Now, with many towns across the highlands feeling the effects of a crushing defeat, they had to work very hard simply to survive.
The laird, his father, had gone on a hunting trip a few days ago, taking a few other Scottish nobles and notable townspeople with him. Usually these were elaborate affairs with people making preparations for a feast and perhaps some merrymaking and dancing afterward, but the look in his father’s eyes was somber before he left. Alexander had a feeling this was no mere hunting trip. Even if they did bring back a stag or a hog for the village to feast upon, it would not be enough to sustain them. Usually, Alexander would have loved to be included in the hunting trip, but his father bade him stay behind and watch over the town. At first, he’d been rather upset, but Ian reminded him that leading a clan was not always going to be adventurous. Sometimes the most noble thing he could do, Ian told him, was listen and serve his people. After all, it would not do for the future laird to be all play and no work. Playing did not organize rebellions against the English, Alexander constantly had to remind himself.
He rose and dressed, readying himself to listen and serve. As he walked into his father’s study, where the two of them would usually work together, he had a servant fetch breakfast.
“Do we have any coffee? I need somethin’ a bit stronger, I think,” Alexander asked, masking a yawn.
“No sir, ran out near a week ago. No shops have it, either. Redcoats blocked ports at Ardnagowan and Dalchenna Farm. No tellin’ when they’ll let up,” the servant answered before he was dismissed.
“Or if they’ll let up,” Ian said glumly. “‘Tis somethin’ we need tae discuss this mornin’, Alexander. With those bloodybacks blockin’ our nearest ports, we ought tae consider diplomacy. We’re spread thin as it is. Another fight might wipe us out, or they’ll clench down on us more.”
“We cannae afford much more o’ this, but I dinnae wish for Clan Macpherson tae appear weak. Those bastards want us crawlin’ back tae them, grovelin’ on our bellies like snakes in a garden,” Alexander said. He agreed with Ian, of course, but hadn’t the English had enough? Surely beating the clans had sated their appetites.
“It might be the best course of action. At least consider it, my friend. They already seek to paint us as wild savages, incapable of reason. Perhaps ye can reach a compromise wi’ the new commander. I hear Major Middleton isnae a madman, an’ might be more reasonable than other Englishmen.”
“Aye, but he’s still a bloodyback. Ye can never trust one,” Alexander said with a slight snarl. He knew Ian was right—that diplomacy was perhaps the best option—but he would’ve preferred a good fight. With the proper numbers, he was sure an English redcoat could be no match for a highlander. All of them, no matter their clan, had that fighting spirit that kept them going. “I’ll draft a letter tae this Major Middleton. Mayhap he’ll agree tae a meeting. Until then, I sp’ose all we can do is wait for my father,” Alexander continued, and sat down at his father’s desk to compose the letter.
Ian agreed, and the both of them sat down to discuss how to properly word this document. Alexander wished his father were here. Although he’d only been gone a few days, the responsibilities were beginning to mount, and Alexander was feeling pressure to take action. He loved his people, this castle and keep, and his family, but he felt so lost when it came to more serious matters that were not warcraft. His father had been good at balancing that, and Alexander admired his restraint. Robert Macpherson knew what to say, when to say it, and when actions would be better than words. Alexander had not quite figured that out yet, preferring to act first, or hang back entirely and ignore the responsibilities. There simply had to be a happy medium.
Delilah did not dream in darkness, as some people believed. Her dreams were colorful, vibrant even, as if her senses were on high alert. And her loved ones were just as she remembered them—kind-faced, younger, smiling at her. The best dreams were the ones involving her mother, a woman of extraordinary beauty and vivacity. Many nights, Delilah would try to construct a pleasant dream before falling asleep, and often thought of the times her mother spent with her in the garden in their home in Hampshire. It had been close enough to London that her father could journey there easily on business, but far enough away to give his wife and daughter that idyllic pastoral lifestyle. The flowers fascinated Delilah endlessly. When she was a small child, her mother carried her around the garden, kissed her cheeks, and explained what each flower was called. As she grew older and began to focus on becoming an accomplished young woman, Delilah found herself drawn to the arts, and painted several beautiful still life portraits of flowers. Her mother hung them proudly in the drawing room each time. Even her father, stern as he was, nodded in approval and cracked a smile.
But that was long ago. Delilah’s mother was gone, and Delilah herself did not paint anymore. She had quite lost the ability—for she could not see. Even when she opened her eyes, the world was lost to her, for she was utterly blind. Sometimes there were shadows, shapes, and splotches of light, but that was all—faces and forms were unrecognizable. Had Delilah been born of a lower station, she perhaps would have been reduced to a mere beggar on the street. With a father high in the ranks of the British army, she was afforded a lifestyle much more comfortable than she might have otherwise had, however miserable she felt. Her father kept her confined to the house most days, and when visitors came, she was relegated to her bedchamber, or to another part of the house where no one would have to see her. At first it was a relief—little Delilah was stubborn and did not want to hear other people’s pity, or feel their sympathetic touches, or be regarded as some freak of nature. But now…she was lonely, and even though she could not see her father’s face, she could feel the looks of shame and disapproval he sent her way when they were in the same room together.
Her father’s behavior did not change when he was stationed in Scotland. Having no choice but to bring her with him, he seemed to grow even more grouchy and sullen. The only bright side to being left alone here in Inveraray was that she could explore the house and grounds herself. They were close to the sea—she could tell by the smell—and she relished that fresh, salty smell. Though she could not see the water, she imagined it was something special, and that made it all the more meaningful for her.
She had to find all the meaning she could, for without it, she would truly be living in darkness.
“Are you quite well, Miss? I’ve brought your tea,” a kind voice roused Delilah from her whirling thoughts.
“Thank you, Anna,” Delilah answered. At least she could count on her maid. Anna had always looked out for her, described things to her when needed, and helped her move about if required.
“Would you like me to dress your hair? Your harp arrived last night, and your father put it in the drawing room. ‘Tis a pleasant morning. There are birds chirping outside and flowers in the garden,” Anna offered.
“I’m sure as soon as I begin to play, Papa will simply relegate me to the shadows again. He seems to always have visitors,” Delilah said dryly.
Anna tsked. “Oh, miss. You musn’t think so ill. Perhaps some activity would lift your spirits.”
Delilah agreed—anything was better than sitting there sulking—and began her day. Anna laced her stays for her and tightened them accordingly. Lacing stays was something Delilah always struggled with. Even after nearly twelve years of living blind, it was rather a complicated task which always ended with her frustration. Next were petticoats. Seeing as it was still summer, there was no need yet for wool, and Delilah could feel the lightness of the linen.
“‘Tis a cream color, miss. Thought it would look well with the dark pink gown and bodice, the one with embroidered flowers on it,” Anna explained. This was part of their daily ritual—Anna always described her garments so that Delilah could still look fashionable.
“It feels so light,” Delilah said. “Is the stomacher the one I made last summer?”
“Indeed, miss. The one with the red and pink rosettes.”
Delilah could manage some embroidery despite her shortcomings. As long as she was able to feel the thread and Anna had sewn the beginnings of a pattern for her, she could manage to fill in the rest. (Although, knitting came much easier to her, with its naturally tactile process).
After Delilah was completely dressed, Anna began to pin her hair back into a simple braided bun. She could feel Anna’s fingers working dexterously in her dark locks. She had not seen her own reflection in over a decade, but her maid assured her she was quite attractive, with long dark hair, fair, unblemished skin, and dark eyes that did not betray her blindness, except that maybe she had a tendency to look past people or at the floor when speaking to them.
“Well miss, you are a true English rose,” Anna pronounced, and offered her elbow so that they could proceed to the drawing room.
“Thank you, Anna. I honestly don’t know if I could function without you,” Delilah answered, and she meant every word.
“Hush, of course you would. You’re quite capable on your own, you know.”
“I don’t always feel it, especially now, in such a new place. ‘Tis so different from home,” she said wistfully.
“Oh, but you will grow used to it. It will just take some time,” Anna reassured her.
Delilah was still growing accustomed to the new house. As commander of the fort, her father was afforded quarters much better than barracks. From what Anna had told her, and what Delilah could tell, it was almost like a townhouse. There were three levels—a drawing room, small dining room, and kitchen on the ground floor, her father’s study and his separate bedchamber on the second floor, and her own bedchamber, as well as the servants’, on the third. Usually, he conducted the most serious of business in his study, but he had been known to host officers and other soldiers in the drawing room, especially if space was needed. In the interest of appearing proper, he had ordered Delilah’s harp to be placed in the corner, and Anna said the room had been decorated with a woman’s eye. Very curious indeed, Delilah had thought, since there was no woman in his life of whom she knew, other than herself, and he barely acknowledged her existence most of the time.
As they passed the second floor, Delilah heard voices behind the closed door of her father’s study. One was clearly his—that stiff upper lip and condescending tone. The other…a strong voice, deep, male, and Scottish brogue. With whom could her papa be speaking? Delilah’s hearing had grown stronger since her affliction, and she could easily guess the age, health, and even height of new people, depending on the tone and where the sound originated. This other person, it seemed, was young, perhaps not much older than she. And he sounded handsome, in a way she could not describe. Deep, perhaps? With a bit of richness to it? She quite liked Scottish accents. It was most un-English of her. Behind a closed door, however, it was difficult to determine his height or health. She only caught snippets of conversation:
“…blockading the ports has been difficult. We cannae trade like we used tae, an’ the town is in dire need.”
Then she heard her father heave a sigh. “There is not much I can do, Mr. Macpherson. These orders come from the top.”
Then she heard an exasperated sigh from the other gentleman, presumably the Mr. Macpherson. “Aye, but ye are the commanding officer here, are ye not, Major Middleton?”
Delilah would have liked to stay and listen, but Anna urged her down to the drawing room, muttering it was not their place to listen, and that they should consider pleasanter pursuits. Once in the drawing room, Anna led her to the harp, in the corner, away from the rest of the furniture and the windows. A shame indeed, for though Delilah could not see outside, she liked to feel the warmth of the sun on her face through the windowpane. Before sitting, she let her fingertips glide over the harp. It was indeed her own; she half-expected her father to purchase her a new one and fool her into thinking it was the one she used in Hampshire. But no, he had stayed true to his word, and brought her harp from home. Delilah could feel the intricate patterns carved in the Norway spruce at the top—like the decor on a Corinthian column, and little fish scales carved at the very top as it curled back. When she strummed a couple strings, she was delighted to find that it was even in tune. She immediately forgot her dark mood from earlier and began to practice some scales and chords before playing.
Not long after she began playing, she heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Anna looked up and explained that two Scottish gentlemen and her father were coming out of the study and heading downstairs.
Delilah heard three steps of heavy male footsteps. One she recognized as her father’s, with that slight limp and heavier stomp. He’d evidently gained weight, and his leg had sustained injury in battle long ago. The others must have been the Scottish gentleman. They stopped, briefly, outside the drawing room, and she heard them wishing each other well and expressing hopes that they could reach a compromise soon.
And suddenly Delilah felt a prickle at the back of her neck, extremely aware that there were strange eyes on her. She continued to play, and soon enough the feeling passed as the men were escorted out of the house. When the front door closed, she heard her father’s heavy gait stop at the drawing room door.
“Delilah, you know my rule,” he said curtly.
“I did not know you had visitors, Papa.” Delilah was determined not to apologize; a trait she knew her father found irksome.
“Could you not hear their terrible butchered English upstairs?”
“Contrary to what you might think, my hearing is not supernatural.”
“I’ll have none of your cheek, girl. I’ll give Anna my schedule and we shall make sure this does not happen again. Do I make myself clear?”
Delilah could picture her father now in her mind’s eye: standing up straight like the soldier he was, hands clasped formally behind his back, his crow’s eyes fixed on her in a most condescending way.
“If I say Aye, Captain, will you have me flogged?” she asked, knowing she was pushing probably too far.
She heard her father snarl in disgust. “Mind your tongue. We shall not have this conversation again.”
With that, she heard home return upstairs, each step a little more labored than the last. When she was satisfied that he was gone, she returned to her playing, a most morose tune to reflect her mood. Secretly she hoped it would bother her father even more. She certainly was not going to make this Scotland post easy for him.
“Well, that was certainly successful,” Alexander said sarcastically, slumping into his father’s chair in the study.
Ian sighed and ran a hand through his red hair. “Mayhap there’s a way tae make him see our side. Tae experience our hardship.”
Alexander snorted. “Major Middleton wouldnae ken hardship if it bit him in the arse. Did ye see that house? I’m sure he had some fancy French decorator do that up for him.”
“The harp was a bonny touch,” Ian added.
“Ach, ‘twas maddening. How he can sit there while his woman plays the harp as if there is no sign of sufferin’ in this world.”
“I think ‘twas his daughter. I hear tell he has one daughter he keeps from the public eye when he can,” Ian offered. “She did look a bit young, didnae she?”
Alexander was silent for a moment as he thought about it. On their way out, he had heard the most beautiful music coming from the drawing room; that he could not deny. And then to see the woman playing it, as if completely unbothered by their presence…it was captivating, really. He had nearly forgotten his errand. She was quite bonny, in that frail English way.
“Aye, she did,” he answered, his mind clearly somewhere else.
“Right. So. We ought tae consider another course of action,” Ian said, regarding him suspiciously.
Alexander shook his head as if to shake away any thoughts of the English rose in the drawing room.
“Aye, let’s get tae work,” he agreed.
The day turned passed to night, with Ian and Alexander growing more frustrated at their business. He wished his father were here. He was a proper leader, something Alexander had not figured out yet. In the dark of night, he finally retired to his own chamber, forgoing the company of the bonny maid. Too weary and angry to focus on her, he fell asleep by himself, thinking of that English rose he saw in Major Middleton’s home.
It felt like only minutes after he’d closed his eyes that Alexander was shaken awake violently. A servant jabbed at his shoulder, and Alexander squinted as the man held a lantern above.
“Sir, ye must make haste! ‘Tis yer father. He’s returned an’ doesnae look good!” the poor old man was nearly wheezing. Why, he must have run all the way up to inform him.
“Doesnae look good?” Alexander asked groggily. “What’s yer meanin?” he rubbed his eyes and yawned.
“The laird has been grievously injured, sir. I’m afear’d the hunt went wrong.”
Alexander wasn’t fully grasping the gravity of the situation, but he dressed himself as much as was proper and followed the servant to his father’s bedchamber. There was a flurry of activity in the room. The physician and the surgeon had been called, as had Ian, Ian’s father, and some maids to assist the physician. Alexander could see his father laying on the bed, grimacing in pain. He had not seen that look since the battle of Culloden, where he’d been at the unfortunate end of a redcoat bayonet.
His shirt had been torn, perhaps on the hunt and perhaps by the physician in an attempt to assess the damage. From what Alexander could make out in the hustle and bustle, there were long, deep gashes in his stomach, bleeding profusely. Had Alexander a weak stomach, he might have turned green and excused himself to vomit. But he was no stranger to the gruesome nature of the battlefield, and so he waited, albeit nervously. His father caught a glimpse of him as his head lolled and beckoned his son to come forth. Alexander felt all eyes on him as he approached the grim scene. His father was breathing raggedly with great difficulty, and he’d been propped up on pillows, so he did not swallow too much of his own blood.
“Father…” Alexander said, at a loss for words as his father’s hand reached out for his. In that moment, Alexander took a moment to silently assess his father’s wounds. The servant had said it was a hunting accident, and the physician seemed to agree, thinking that the gashes were the result of a boar’s tusks. But Robert Macpherson could barely speak, and all his men had been killed, as well. Those unfamiliar with the brutalities of the battlefield may have agreed with the physician’s assessment that the injury was the fault of a wild boar. As Alexander scanned his father’s torso, however, that theory looked less and less likely. These cuts looked more precise and calculated than a boar’s random and wild attack.
As Alexander met the physician’s eyes, the physician shook his head. Alexander swallowed thickly, but he was not about to shed tears in front of his father.
“S-son,” Robert managed, spitting blood as he did so.
Alexander knelt next to the bed. “I’m here, father.”
His father’s breathing was so ragged, and his voice so small and quiet, that Alexander had to lean in close to hear his words.
“Those…those…English,” he said, taking another deep, rattling breath, “fuckin’ bastards!” he managed to spit out.
“I ken, father. ‘Tis why we fight.”
Robert gripped Alexander’s hand with all the strength he had left and pressed his forehead to his son’s. “Ye must…ye must fight. F-fight hard,” he managed.
Alexander gulped again, tears welling in the corners of his eyes. “I promise.”
In a matter of moments, his father’s hand went slack, and slipped out of his grasp. The ragged breathing stopped, and his head lolled to the side, eyes wide open and suddenly peaceful.
The room was still after that. No one dared breath, as if breathing would disrespect the fallen laird. Alexander kept his forehead pressed to his father’s, his jaw tight and eyes squeezed shut, using all the strength he could muster to keep from crying in front of this audience. With one big deep breath, he rose, straightened himself up, and regarded each person in the room. All looked at him expectantly. And then it dawned on him. He was their leader now, whether he liked it or not.
“What would ye have us do, sir?” Ian asked.
“We must bury him first. An’ afterward, we plan revenge.” The look in his eyes was fierce and hard. He had a feeling a certain English major was behind this, and he was going to make him pay dearly.
Delilah could not see the dining room, but it did not matter so much, for it was so dimly lit anyhow. A few days had passed since her father’s meeting with the Scotsmen, and nothing of note had happened since then, at least until today. It was her twenty-second birthday, and her father was hosting a small dinner in her honor. A couple other officers and their wives were to be in attendance. He had even promised her a surprise which, supposedly, she would like very much.
“Do you not think it odd, my father being so kind this evening?” Delilah asked Anna as the maid helped her dress for dinner.
“‘Tis the day of your birth, miss. Mayhap in this new place, he feels it necessary to find occasion to celebrate,” Anna answered.
“A rarity indeed. The last time he was generous, he gave me the harp. I cannot begin to imagine what he has planned now.”
“You will just have to wait and see. You shall be the diamond of the evening.”
The gown was of fine silk—light blue with a white ruffle around the collar and sleeves, and a bow to match right in the middle, as if her bosom were a gift. At least, that was how Anna described it. Her hair, which had been left to curl overnight, was piled high on her head, curled in the most fashionable updo. The finishing touch was a necklace of freshwater pearls that had once belonged to her mother.
When she was ready, Anna guided her down to the dining room, where a footman was waiting to escort her into the dining room. Delilah heard muffled voices behind it, but when the door opened, she heard the scuff of chairs on the wood floors, and the rising of guests present. How many, she could not say—she would have to trust that her father would introduce her to all of them.
“Ah, here she is. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my daughter, Miss Delilah Middleton.”
Delilah curtsied, not to anyone in particular, but just out of politeness. Her father named every person in the room, and she followed the sound of his voice. She could only hope she was looking at everyone properly.
“You shall be seated next to Ensign Bidwell, whom you may know from previous meetings,” her father explained.
Delilah felt a hand take her own; a bit clammy and soft, and felt lips press to her fingers in greeting. An unpleasant chill ran down her spine. She was not used to being touched without permission, and such an intimate gesture made her skin crawl.
“If I may say, Miss Delilah, you look ravishing this evening.” His voice was perhaps a bit nasal, and she thought he sounded like the simpering type. He was still bowed over her hand, as far as she could tell, since the sound seemed to come from below her. Surely, he could not be four feet tall.
She managed a smile. “Thank you, Ensign. I wish I could say the same of you, but as you may be aware, I cannot see.”
The room took a moment to process her words, then laughed a little awkwardly. These were people she had met before and were therefore familiar with her ailment. Delilah knew her father hated it when she joked at her own blindness, and she wondered if he was glaring at her now.
Soon enough she was seated, at the corner of the table. Her father was at the head, and Ensign Bidwell was at her side. The evening passed as pleasantly as it could. The wives proved to be excellent conversationalists, although Delilah could feel their pitying looks even if she could not see them. The food was also delicious, and she wondered where her father had managed to procure such a cook, for their normal meals were not this appetizing. After all courses and a toast to Delilah on the day of her birth, her father made it known he had a special surprise for her.
He cleared his throat and set his glass on the table. “I have long discussed this, and I think it high time you find a husband,” Major Middleton said.
Delilah raised her eyebrows. Yes, she knew marriage would be in the cards for her eventually, but she failed to see how this was a special surprise so far. Perhaps she was to go to London for the season? She had not had a chance to debut properly since her mother’s passing.
“So, after careful consideration, I have gathered all you need for a dowry, and I have promised your hand to Ensign Bidwell here,” he said.
Silence fell at the table. Delilah wondered if the guests found this as awkward as she did.
“You…what?” she asked, those two words being the only ones she could manage.
“You are to be married. To Ensign Bidwell. Is that not splendid?”
Another pause. Then the group offered congratulations and praise for such a wise choice. Delilah felt her cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. Marriage? To a man she barely knew, had only talked to perhaps twice before? Why, the very subject of matrimony had never been brought up before this moment.
“But…I…I don’t know Ensign Bidwell,” she said, her voice weak.
Suddenly she felt that clammy hand covering her own. “But there is time to learn each other after marriage, is there not?” he said.
That unpleasant chill ran down her spine again.
“The man speaks sensibly, Delilah. You ought to adopt the same attitude,” her father said. She could picture his beady eyes narrowed at her.
Delilah shook her head. “No. No, I’m sorry, I cannot accept this,” she said, breaking away from Bidwell’s grasp.
“‘Tis not for you to make that decision. I have made it for you,” her father said curtly.
“I do not wish to be married to someone I barely know!” Delilah cried.
Silence fell at the table again. She heard the scuffing of chairs and the clinking of glasses. “My dear honored guests, the footman will show you to the drawing room. I must have a private word with my daughter.”
There was a sinking feeling in her stomach almost immediately. Her father had a terrible temper, and she had a feeling she was about to be on the verge of said temper. As soon as all the guests had left the room, she felt her father grasp her by the arm and smack her across the face. She cried out in pain, holding a hand to her smarting cheek.
“You stupid, foolish little chit. I am doing you a favor!”
Delilah still held her cheek with one hand and pushed her chair back from the table with the other. “I did not ask for this!”
“No one will accept a blind woman. No one could possibly want her hand in marriage. She is helpless and a burden to society. Ensign Bidwell has graciously offered his hand, and you have the gall to tell him no?”
Delilah’s whole body burned with anger. “But you did not even consult me! You just assumed that I would go along with you. You think of me as some wounded animal who needs tending or to be put down, never as a young woman with a mind and a heart. I will not marry him.”
She could tell her father spoke through gritted teeth. “I am giving you one last chance. Go downstairs to the drawing room at once. Apologize and tell him you are happy to marry him.”
“I will do no such thing,” she said, standing as tall as she could, arms by her side.
“Without a husband, you are nothing. You will be a beggar, a whore on the streets. Is that what you want for your life?” he snarled.
Delilah felt her nostrils flare in anger. “I simply wish to choose my own fate.”
“Foolish girl. Accept him or I shall turn you out of this house!”
Silence. Delilah pondered her choices. She could marry this disgusting, sweaty man about whom she knew nothing, or she could leave, and take her chances elsewhere. The possibilities of the latter were endless.
“You don’t have to turn me out. I go willingly,” Delilah announced. With that, she turned on her heel, felt her way to the door, down the stairs, and out of the fort, leaving her father doubtless fuming behind her.
She had never felt so free in her life. The ocean was nearby; she could hear the crash of the waves on the shore and smell the salt air. But it was dark now, and she could not even see shapes or light. It was just black, and she had no one to guide her. She felt around the walls of the fort, holding her petticoats in one hand so as not to trip, and feeling the stone as she made her way toward the ocean. The sound was growing closer and closer, and the ground turned from grass to sand. Soon enough there was no more wall, and she knew the beach was near. Just a little closer and she could feel the water…
Her freedom lasted just those few minutes. Suddenly, she felt an arm grasp her and pin her own arms to her sides. She began to scream, but her captor clapped a hand over her mouth. This was not a body with whom she was familiar, and she thrashed about like a fish out of water. Perhaps Ensign Bidwell had caught up with her somehow?
“Ye’d sure put a trout tae shame wi’ all yer thrashin’ about,” the voice said. A Scotsman, vaguely familiar, but in the moment, she could not place her finger on the owner of the voice. “Dinnae ye worry, lass. This’ll be over soon.”
Delilah thrashed about so much that she broke her captor’s grip, but she fell and hit her head on something. Perhaps she was not as close to the beach as she thought. That blackness of unconsciousness overtook her, and she went limp in her captor’s arms.
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