Orphaned and widowed, eighteen-year-old Jubilee Stallings clings to her southern Indiana farm as her only refuge. The wilds of Gibson County are just being tamed in the year of 1850, and Jubilee ekes a meager existence. But when Rafe Tanner, a cousin of her abusive dead husband, shows up with the deed to her property, Jubilee’s dream of her own home dissolves.
Rafe, stinging from his ex-fiancée’s rejection, offers a business marriage, throwing him and Jubilee together in an effort to make the farm successful. But scars from the past keep her in constant fear of her new husband. The pair masquerades as a love-struck couple at Rafe’s family farm, enduring the romantic notions of his family, and the jealousy of his ex-fiancée.
Once home, Rafe realizes his newfound love for Jubilee, and sets out to court her. Meanwhile, Jubilee fights demons from her past as her husband reveals his interest. Can Jubilee let go of her distrust and pain to embrace God’s plan of true love and finally find a place to belong?
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Jubilee Stallings’ forehead collided with the wall. Stars flashed behind her closed lids. She lay completely still. Her face heated and her body ached, yet she dared not move.
“You’re worthless,” her husband’s slurred voice continued.
She heard his footsteps stagger across the floorboards.
“You’re nuttin’ but a dog, and…and…a piece…of dung.”
The floorboards thundered as his body hit the floor. Scraping sounds emitted from the other side of the room.
He continued mumbling unintelligibly. Jubilee pressed her bruised brow against the icy wood of the wall and prayed. Fresh tears wet her face. Please fall asleep. Almost on command, Colvin gave a snore. Jubilee continued to lie immobile, although, now that the initial rush of adrenaline had worn off, the frigid air made her naked body want to shake. She clenched her teeth and fought against her body’s urge. Snores filled the air.
She pushed to a sitting position and eyed the straw mattress where Colvin had sprawled. Moving as cautiously as a newborn colt, she crawled to her dress by the door. She pulled it on as a set of shivers ripped through her body. With her sweater in hand, she crept to the fireplace. Only dying embers remained, but Jubilee couldn’t risk adding another log. Her teeth chattered as she tucked her feet beneath her skirt and pulled up the ragged cardigan to ward off the chill.
She grimaced as she rubbed the swelling on her neck where he’d choked her. The moonlight broke through the clouds, highlighting the marks scratched into the wall near the stone mantel. She’d carved the last one this morning—December 31, 1849. More than a full year had come and gone since she’d begun marking. Tomorrow would be her second birthday in this house. Once again, tears threatened. She’d be eighteen.
The day had dawned in a gray haze, but the day of her birth marked a new year, which always buoyed her with hope. The hours had passed pleasantly. She’d filled the wood box, baked fresh bread, and gone to bed looking forward to tomorrow. Until Colvin had exploded through the door, startling her from a deep sleep. She closed her eyes and her mind. It was always the same. More tears spilled from her swollen eyelids.
She tensed as Colvin sputtered a few times before going back to his ear-splitting snores. Noting where his pants had dropped, she decided to wait a little longer before she pilfered a couple coins. Any more and he’d notice and beat her senseless. Now, time to rest and recover her strength. She’d make sure she wasn’t near the cabin when he woke. Hopefully he’d follow his usual pattern and be off and gone for the next several weeks. Let it be months, she prayed. I don’t care if he ever shows up again. For now, she needed rest.
She woke a short time later, collected a few coins from Colvin’s pockets, and opened the door, thankful for the quiet leather hinges. Because of the cold, she wouldn’t head to the woods, her favorite hiding place. She’d settle for the barn, a huge hulking structure. Her breath formed a ghostly fog about her in the chill, crisp air. Fear licked at her, and she ran from the evil sleeping in the cabin.
Inside the barn, she moved quietly so as to not stir the cow, who loved to greet her in the early morn. She scrambled into the loft and buried herself in a cave of hay. The exertion left her body panting, but warm. With the protection of the sweet hay around her, she fell asleep.