Blogiversary continues! Marches on! What have you! Today we have first time ALBTALBS guest Susanna Fraser with us! Whee! She’s decided to share an exclusive excerpt of her newest release, Freedom to Love. Enjoy!
Thérèse Bondurant trusted her parents to provide for her and her young half-sister, though they never wed due to laws against mixed-race marriage. But when both die of a fever, Thérèse learns her only inheritance is debt—and her father’s promise that somewhere on his plantation lies a buried treasure. To save her own life—as well as that of her sister—she’ll need to find it before her white cousins take possession of the land.
British officer Henry Farlow, dazed from a wound received in battle outside New Orleans, stumbles onto Thérèse’s property out of necessity. But he stays because he’s become captivated by her intelligence and beauty. It’s thanks to Thérèse’s tender care that he regains his strength just in time to fend off her cousin, inadvertently killing the would-be rapist in the process.
Though he risks being labeled a deserter, it’s much more than a sense of duty that compels Henry to see the sisters to safety—far away from the scene of the crime. And Thérèse realizes she has come to rely on Henry for so much more than protection. On their journey to freedom in England, they must navigate a territory that’s just as foreign to them both—love.
This excerpt is from Chapter Eight of Freedom to Love, and it’s a fair summary of my three main characters and their problems up to that point in the story. Though, needless to say, Captain Farlow’s killing of Bertrand Bondurant was NOT done in cold blood, as that wouldn’t be very heroic…
“Captain.” Jeannette’s voice was so low and urgent it stopped both Thérèse and Captain Farlow in their tracks. They whirled to face her.
“What is it?” he asked.
She thrust a printed sheet of paper into Captain Farlow’s hands. It looked to be the sort of handbill commonly posted on walls or in windows to advertise an auction, seek sailors for a ship’s crew or something of similar public interest. “I don’t read English as well as French,” she said. “But does this say what I think it says?”
Captain Farlow’s eyes widened, and his hands shook. Thérèse leaned closer to peer at the page and had to clutch his elbow tightly against the sudden wobbling of her knees when she saw the five words printed in large, black type atop the handbill.
“Murderer,” he read, pronouncing the syllables as carefully as a child just learning to read. “Thieves. Runaways. Reward offered.”
Then he squinted at the small, closely printed text that filled the rest of the page. His lips worked uncertainly, and his brows drew together in obvious bafflement. It was as if he couldn’t read the smaller print. But surely there was nothing wrong with his vision, or he wouldn’t be such a confident and deadly marksman.
The past few days on the Enterprize, when she’d made Jeannette practice her reading, Captain Farlow had always been careful to avoid putting himself in a position where he’d be asked to read, hadn’t he? He’d sat a little apart, and that one time Jeannette had asked him to read a passage, he’d claimed the bright sunlight was paining his eyes.
Now Thérèse met her sister’s eyes and saw the same realization dawn on her face. Captain Farlow, son of privilege that he was, could barely read. How was it possible? It couldn’t be that no one had tried to teach him. He spoke both English and French with ease and fluency, and he certainly seemed quick-thinking and alert in general. Was that why he kept saying that he wasn’t clever like his brothers, when he’d given every appearance of being intelligent in all of her dealings with him?
But she couldn’t think about this now. She had to know if this handbill was about them. “Here,” she said in the calmest voice she could manage. “I’ll read it.”
She took the page from his unresisting hands and read aloud in a voice that seemed to belong to someone else. “‘On the fourteenth day of January, Bertrand Bondurant—’” she swayed, and Captain Farlow’s grip on her elbow tightened, “‘—planter of Orleans Parish, was slaughtered in cold blood on the old Bondurant Plantation in St. Bernard Parish, near the site of the late battle in which General Jackson’s troops secured so glorious a victory to our nation’s honor and credit. He was slain by a stranger, a man pretending to be a Frenchman, but there is ample reason to suppose him a British DESERTER’—that part is in all capitals—”
“I’m not a deserter,” Captain Farlow said woodenly. Thérèse glanced up at him. He looked paler than he had on the worst day of his fever when she’d expected him to die.
“What does it matter?” Jeannette said in a fierce whisper.
His eyes widened in shock and outrage, but he swallowed and motioned for Thérèse to continue.
“‘This criminal is a man between twenty and thirty years, of middling height, with fair hair, light eyes and an air of deceptive courtesy and mildness. He fled and was last seen at the docks in New Orleans in the company of Thérèse Bondurant, a quadroon of one-and-twenty years, fair in both complexion and form, and a young mulatto girl, Jeannette, a slave belonging to the Bondurant estate. It must be assumed they took ship, but we do not know whether they traveled upriver or down. For the man who captures any or all of these fugitives, Jean-Baptiste Bondurant, brother of the deceased, will provide a handsome REWARD—’ again, capital letters, ‘—of five hundred dollars for all three of them together, or three hundred for the murderer alone, and…’” Thérèse’s voice trailed off. She balled the notice up in her fist. “I suppose it’s good to know how much each of us is worth.”
So – what’d you think? One lucky commenter gets her (or his!) choice of one of Ms. Fraser’s backlist in electronic format! Awesome!