Burying his wife is the hardest thing Joseph Garnet has ever done—until he's called to leave his young son and baby daughter to fight Iroquois raiders. When one of the marauders tries to steal his horse, the last thing he expects is to end up tussling with a female. The girl is wounded, leaving Joseph little choice but to haul her home to heal—an act that seems all too familiar.
Though Joseph doesn’t appear to remember her, Hannah Cunningham could never forget him. He rode with the mob that forced her two brothers into the Continental Army and drove her family from their home—all because of her father’s loyalties to The Crown. After five years with her mother’s tribe, the rebels and starvation have left her nothing but the driving need to find her brothers.
Compelled by a secret he’s held for far too long, Joseph agrees to help Hannah find what remains of her family. Though she begins to steal into his aching heart, he knows the truth will forever stand between them. Some things cannot be forgiven.
May 1781, Mohawk Valley
Nine months…and he still felt like a rotted-out stump. Hollow. Joseph Garnet lowered to his knees on the soft soil and glanced at his baby girl, nine months old today. She sat at the foot of her mother’s grave, gnawing on the end of the twig her brother had just handed her.
James, now two-and-a-half, searched the immediate area for more treasure. A pebble came to hand, and he brought it to Joseph. “Papa, look.”
Joseph took the smooth rock and placed it near the roughhewn cross bearing Fannie’s name. “Should we leave it here for Mama?”
Little James, named for his grandfather, nodded. “Want Mama.”
“You and me both.” Joseph filled his lungs. The air was laden with the scent of moisture and earth. Spring. The season had done little to dull the loneliness winter had festered within him. He was busy with planting, but that also meant he had less time with his children.
He sighed. Rachel had probably forgotten something for the children. His sister worried too much. Did she not trust him to manage his own young’uns for a couple of hours? That was all he’d asked for this Sabbath day.
His name echoed closer now.
Joseph stood and plucked Martha and her twig from the ground. He didn’t need Rachel to find him here. Again. Judging from her frantic tone, he’d best hurry. A child in each arm, Joseph breached the edge of the grove to see Rachel rushing across the freshly turned earth of the garden, skirt pulled almost to her knees.
“The raiders. They’re back.”
Joseph faltered. “What? Where?”
Rachel pushed strands of blonde away from the perspiration moist on her face. “Down river, maybe ten miles. A boy came riding. They need help.”
“The Frankfort area? Where’s Andrew?”
She motioned behind to where her husband stepped from the small barn—hardly more than a shed—their own little girl in his arms. “You’ll meet the others at the old fort.” Rachel reached for the baby and James. “I’ll stay here with the children.”
Thoughts taking flight with his pulse, Joseph managed a nod before sprinting past her and shoving into the cabin. He grabbed the musket from over the door, and then snatched up his pistol and powder horn. His hunting knife he slid into his boot. Would there ever be an end to this fighting−this war? Joseph’s stomach already turned. Hadn’t there been enough bloodshed? Years ago he’d learned to despise this waste of life−even before a British officer became his closest friend…and family.
Andrew Wyndham met him outside with the horses. “Otetiani’s raiders by the sounds of it.” The rich tones of England still rolled from Andrew’s tongue despite his four years’ residence in the Mohawk valley. He handed Joseph the reins to Hunter, and then swung aboard the younger horse. “They rode from the lakes and have been killing and burning their route southward.”
Joseph mounted and clenched the reins.
The locals had come to call the Mohawk chief Bloody Bear for the death his warriors brought to the valley. The thought of the raiders coming anywhere near his home and family wrung a cold sweat from the back of Joseph’s neck. Last summer had become so dangerous, they’d set up makeshift shelters in Old Fort Schuyler, only venturing out during the day to work and harvest the land.
Winter’s reprieve was at an end.
With Joseph’s baby daughter in one arm and little James holding his younger cousin’s hand, Rachel shooed the children into the cabin, before she glanced back. Her free hand rose, but didn’t quite manage a wave. Rachel’s brown eyes mirrored Joseph’s fear…and his weakness, exposing him.
He spurred Hunter toward the road.
“Please be careful. Come back to me. Both of you.”
“We shall,” Andrew said, and then clicked his tongue.
Joseph beat him to the road, having saved himself from answering. He would not make promises that couldn’t be kept, and he’d learned all too well the extent of control he held over death.
The ex-British captain brought the sorrel gelding alongside Joseph’s stallion and kept pace with the dust-churning gallop. He looked at Joseph with a gaze far too searching.
Joseph ignored him and encouraged Hunter’s gait. Lives and farms were at stake−no time to wonder what went through the other man’s head.
Minutes later the trail broke past the thick spring foliage and the log walls of the old fort, a remnant of the French and Indian War, rose from the grassy meadow. The rush of the nearby river did nothing to drown out the raised voices of the seven men gathered near the gate.
“What’s going on?” Joseph reined Hunter into the center of the foray.
“The raid is all the way down near Frankfort,” Cyrus Acker grumbled. His grown son was also present, but, as always, remained in his father’s shadow. “By the time we ride that far, Bloody Bear and his renegades will likely be gone. Meanwhile, we leave our families unprotected and our fields unplanted. How do we know he’s not riding under Brant again?”
Even Brant’s name was enough to chill Joseph’s blood. No other Iroquois leader had caused so much devastation in the area, often commanding many of the other chiefs, and their warriors, against the Patriots who remained in the valley.
A couple of the men mumbled their agreement with Acker.
Others made known their opposition.
Benjamin Reid, Joseph’s father-in-law, shook a finger at them. “And what of those families down river? Do we simply ignore them until the raiders reach our own settlement?” His hand rested on his cane which hung alongside his musket.
Voices again rose, and Joseph jerked Hunter’s head, spinning him away.
“Where are you going, Garnet?”
“To fight some Iroquois.” He kicked the animal to a run. He’d fight whoever came against this valley until there was no one left to fight. Talk wouldn’t save lives. Whoever felt the same way would follow or…he’d worry about that later.
By the time he slowed to ford a stream, Andrew was again at his side. The others followed behind. Frigid water splashed as they trotted through the knee-high current.
Andrew’s head dipped forward.
“Praying for us?”