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And now, A Vow Fulfilled:
And now, A Vow Fulfilled:
Turner glanced between his cousin and Celia—no, not Celia. William’s fiancée.
The “confused” lady he was kidnapping at the bequest of his cousin could be nothing more than Miss Sheldon to him. And as long as he didn’t think of her by her Christian name, she’d stay nothing more in his mind than the living version of the portrait his cousin had painted. A glorified portrait, he had eventually concluded after weeks of studying it, for no woman with as little guileless and much loveliness as had been captured on that canvas could love or even wish to marry a man as scheming, greedy, and narcissistic as his cousin.
Whether to his chagrin or delight he wasn’t sure, Celia-in-the-flesh was much more than the accurately painted beauty. Having laughed at her clever retorts, admired her bravery, and held her in his arms as he kissed her lily-scented skin—
Turner shook his head to dispel the traitorous thought so he could think clearly while his cousin and Miss Sheldon exchanged glares—his adoring, hers venomous. The plan had been simple: Kidnap Celia—Miss Sheldon—so William could come to her rescue, which would make her realize she truly loved him. Shooting Turner never had been discussed. Yet he had a bullet mark across his forearm and a bloody sleeve to testify someone had shot at him. Pretense? Or truly to kill?
Only one man benefitted from his death.
Turner swallowed to ease the tightening in his throat, yet he did naught to ease his tightened fists. He didn’t need to spend a moment on his knees praying for godly confirmation to know he’d, once again, been duped by a Gregory William Owens. First his grandfather. Now his cousin. What he’d give to smash the prized red plumed hat William wore so ostentatiously.
Miss Sheldon cleared her throat. To steady her nerves or gain confidence Turner wasn’t sure.
“What are you about, Gregory?” she asked with grace and confidence of a queen amid the splendor of the moss-laden trees and dense shrubbery.
“Search your heart, my love. There you will find the answer.” William stepped forward, his immaculately polished boot smashing the wildflowers decorating the clearing. He stopped in front of Celia and reached for her right hand. Before he could touch her, she stepped back and bumped into Turner’s chest.
He didn’t grab her shoulders to stead her, despite the yearning to hold her again. Instead he took a step back.
She smoothed the front of her gold linen skirt, although it was unruffled as she appeared to be. “I have searched my heart. Socrates once said, ‘As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.’ I tend to agree with him.”
Socrates stopped munching on grass long enough to look up, shake his chestnut mane, and snort.
William’s chuckle echoed in the silent woods. “Be careful what you say, my love.” He adjusted his hat until sat cocked to the side. “My cousin vowed last night that the woman he married would have to be able to quote Socrates, make him laugh, and motivate him to be a better man. He’s halfway in love with you already. And yet what he feels will never match the rapturous emotions I bear for you.”
She looked over her shoulder; her surprised gaze focused on him. “Did you say that?”
The back of his neck warmed. “Miss Sheldon, when a man has had too much to drink . . . .” He left the rest unsaid. Apparently William was not completely without conscience because he didn’t clarify how little wine was consumed by either of them during last night’s deliberations.
“Are you halfway in love with me already?” she prodded.
Turner ripped off his left coat sleeve and tore the hole in his shirt to get a better look at the bullet mark and bloodied skin . . . and to keep from seeing Celia. Truth be told, he couldn’t look at her.
He didn’t want to witness the revulsion in her blue-as-the-summer-sky eyes at the thought of being loved by him. Nor could he lie to her. As the familiar ache grew in his chest, he knew he was more than halfway in love with her, as much as he knew he was a fool for every fervent prayer he’d uttered asking God to bless him with a godly wife. Since his youth, the image in his mind had been of a vague woman. Maybe with mousy brown hair and a demure temperament. Or a feisty redhead. In this moment, all he saw was Celia—the golden-haired, porcelain-skinned woman he’d kidnapped in exchange for something worth far less than her.
The loss of blood from the bullet grazing was surely making him delirious. Or he still suffered from last week’s bout of influenza. Likely both.
“Mr. Cane, why will you not answer me?”
Turner looked past her to his gloating-faced cousin. “Let’s finish this.”
Within moments, Reverend Lewis Bachman, the new pastor of First Church Charleston, and the young woman Turner had seen walking with Celia past the East Bay Street shops exited the forest. Three freed men, all recognizable as sailors on one of the Owens trade ships, followed carrying lighted torches.
While Turner caught his former university classmate’s disappointed gaze—an exact match to the one Lewis wore over dinner two nights ago—Celia ran to her friend. The two women hugged and cried and hugged some more as if they were headed for the guillotine.
Celia smoothed the red strands loosened from her friend’s bound hair. “Mabel Jean Holloway, what are you doing out here?”
Miss Holloway sniffed then wiped the tears streaming down her cheeks. “After you left, Gregory stopped in to say you were in great danger,” she blurted at breathtaking speed. “You needed my help because . . . because—well, he said you were confused about your feelings but he still loved you. You must believe him. We were riding on horseback, but then the shooting started and I heard you scream, or maybe that was me, and I—oh, Celia, I was so afraid. Are you all right?” She sneered at Turner, then whispered, “Did he hurt you?”
“Despite Mr. Cane’s roguish appearance, he is a gentleman.”
Miss Holloway didn’t look convinced. “But the scrapes and bruising on your forehead—”
Celia’s laughter carried a sane edge that her friend didn’t have. “As with most of my wounds, they’re my own fault for not listening to the warnings of one wiser than I.” Her sigh was as lovely as her perfectly formed chin. “I’ll find a way to keep us both safe. Trust me.” After another hug of her friend, Celia turned to Lewis. “While it is always a pleasure to see you, Reverend Bachman, why are you here? What is this?”
Turner gave Lewis a look that conveyed he was wondering the same thing.
With a grim line to his mouth, something Turner knew Lewis did whenever he was thinking hard, he withdrew a well-worn Bible from inside the leather shoulder bag he wore draped across his chest of his haphazardly buttoned saffron shirt. He then brushed his dark brown hair back from his forehead.
“This, Miss Sheldon, is a wedding,” Lewis said matter-of-factly.
Her eyes widened then blinked. “A wedding?” She glared at Turner as if to ask did you know about this?
He shook his head. Was he more stunned William had planned a wedding? Or that Lewis was agreeing to officiate? Lewis’s impeccable honor made him unsusceptible to bribes, so William had to have threatened him to force his involvement. But with what?
As something between a huff and a growl escaped her throat, Celia whirled around to face William. “Have you lost your wits?”
“My love for you keeps me sane.” William knelt before her, likely soiling the knee of his white breeches on the green grass, and held up the Owens family diamond-and-ruby engagement ring—the very one Turner’s grandfather had demanded Mother return after Father’s death last winter. “Miss Sheldon, I will do anything to convince you of the depths of my feelings. Marry me. Make me the happiest man in the world.”
Miss Holloway touched Celia’s arm. “Say yes, Celia, do say yes. This is God’s way of giving you a second chance to marry the man perfect for you.”
Before Celia could answer, William stood and snapped his fingers.
Lewis released a weary breath. He opened his Bible. “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’ And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.” Lewis paused and looked at Turner, staring for the longest moment, before shaking his head and continuing to read. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Miss Sheldon, do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
William looked at Celia expectantly, as if he had no doubt she’d agree.
Miss Holloway nodded vigorously. “Yes, she will!”
“She can speak for herself,” Turner grumbled, walking to Celia.
“Shhh, Mr. Cane, I can speak for myself.”
“That’s what I said.”
“What you said?! You, sir, are a manipulator of words. Now be quiet.”
He stopped by her side. With all the self-control he’d developed in the last score and five years since his birth, Turner held back his smile. “By your leave, my lady.”
Her eyes narrowed. Some odd noise spurted from her mouth, and then she backhanded his chest. “Why do you keep saying that to me? No one says ‘by your leave’ anymore. It’s . . . it’s . . . it’s—”
“Archaic?” William supplied.
Miss Holloway fanned her face in horror. “He said—”
“Medieval?” Lewis offered.
Miss Holloway abruptly stopped fanning and tapped her friend’s arm with the fan. “Celia, you vowed—”
“Mabel,” Celia warned, “now is not the time to—”
“I was thinking gentlemanly,” Turner said, giving into his grin that earned him a glare from both women.
Mabel groaned. “Oh, no—no no no, no!”
“Untimely, that’s what it is.” Whatever else Celia said died in her muttering.
Though Turner hadn’t thought it was possible, in the twilight, brightened by a trio of torches, Miss Holloway’s ivory complexion paled. Surprisingly she didn’t faint. “Reverend Bachman, I told Celia she shouldn’t pledge such things before God.”
Lewis’s brows furrowed. “Calm down, Miss Holloway. What did Miss Sheldon vow?”
“Nothing.” Celia gave her friend an obvious be quiet look. Then she looked to William. “I would rather marry him”—she pointed at Turner—“a man of no means than marry a swaggering, petulant bully.”
“You would marry Turner Cane today?” Lewis asked, the corner of his mouth pulling upward. “This moment? Before these witnesses?”
“No.” Miss Holloway tapped Celia’s arm with more force this time. “You would not.”
“Yes, Mabel, I would. He is by far the lesser of two evils.”
Turner scratched his bristly jaw. “Miss Sheldon, you are about as confused as William said you were. Besides, I never asked you to marry me.”
“Actually,” Lewis calmly interjected, “a proposal is not necessary as long as the bride and groom agree to take each other as husband and wife.”
The anger in William’s blue eyes drew as tight as the embroidery in his brown tail coat. He withdrew a dueling pistol from inside is coat pocket. “She is mine! She will marry me.”
“Or what?” Turner stepped between his cousin and Celia. “You will shoot her?”
Celia peeked around Turner’s right side, giving him a prime view of the top of her bonnet. “Gregory, I would rather die than marry you.”
“With the proper motivation, you will decide otherwise.” William aimed the pistol at Miss Holloway, who immediately broke into tears.
“I cannot die,” she wailed. “I am marrying Miles next month.”
After a quick look heavenward, Lewis drew her behind his back. “That pistol can only hold one bullet. Choose wisely, Mr. Owens.”
Celia stepped forward and opened her mouth, but Turner covered her lips with his hand, silencing her. “Cousin, if my marrying Miss Sheldon would protect her from you, I would do it.”
Lewis smacked his Bible closed. “You would marry her today? This moment? Before these witnesses?”
As Celia mumbled against Turner’s hand, he vowed, “I would.”
“No,” William and Miss Holloway said in unison.
Lewis withdrew a sheet of parchment, a quill, and a corked bottle of ink from his draped shoulder bag. “Seems to me, Miss Sheldon and Turner have pledged their lives to one another. All we need now to make this official are signatures on this marriage declaration. Mr. Owens, I presume you and Miss Holloway will stand in as witnesses.” He offered the quill. “Who would like to sign first?”
Written by Gina Welborn.
You can read Chapter 5 of A Vow Fulfilled tomorrow at Roseanna White's blog. And remember to leave a comment for your chance to win a gigantic prize package including MaryLu Tyndall and Laurie Alice Eakes' latest release!