Tracy Sumner’s Tides of Passion:
Here’s the set-up:
TIDES OF PASSION was originally published by Zebra Books, a Kensington Publishing imprint, and was awarded the Reader’s Choice Best Historical and the Beacon for Best Historical. Two Adults and One Magnificent Challenge…
The author hopes you will enjoy this free excerpt:
Women can’t have an honest
in front of men without having it
called a cat fight.
~Clare Boothe Luce
North Carolina, 1898
Savannah knew she was in trouble a split
second before he reached her.
Perhaps she should have saved herself
the embarrassment of a tussle with the town constable, a man determined to
believe the worst of her.
However, running from a challenge wasn’t
She laughed, appalled to realize it
wasn’t fear that had her contemplating slipping off the rickety crate and into
the buddiChapterng crowd gathered outside the oyster
No, her distress was due to nothing more
than Constable Garrett’s lack of proper clothing.
In a manner typical of the coastal
community she had temporarily settled in, his shirt lay open nearly to his
waist. She couldn’t help but watch the ragged
shirttail flick his lean stomach as he advanced on her. Tall, broad-shouldered
and lean-hipped, his physique belied his composed expression. Yet Savannah
detected a faint edge of anger pulsing beneath the calm façade, one she wanted
to deny sent her heart racing.
Wanted… but could not.
Flinging her fist into the air, she
stared him down as she shouted, “Fight for your rights, women of Pilot
The roar of the crowd, men in discord,
women in glorious agreement, eclipsed her next call to action. There, she thought, pleased to see Zachariah
Garrett’s long-lashed gray eyes narrow, his golden skin pulling tight in a
frown. Again she shook her fist, and the crowd bellowed.
One man ripped the sign Savannah had
hung from the warehouse wall to pieces and fed it to the flames shooting from a
nearby barrel. Another began channeling the group of protesting women away from
the entrance. Many looked at her with proud smiles on their faces or raised a
hand as they passed. They felt the pulse thrumming through the air, the
There was no power like the power of a
Standing on a wobbly crate on a dock
alongside the ocean, Savannah let the madness rush over her, sure, completely
sure to the depths of her soul, that this was worth her often forlorn existence.
Change was good. Change was necessary. And while she was here, she would make
sure Pilot Isle saw its fair share.
“That’s it for the show, Miss Connor,”
Zachariah Garrett said, wrapping his arm around her waist and yanking her from
the crate as people swarmed past. “You’ve done nothing but cause trouble since
you got here, and personally, I’ve about had it.”
“I’m sorry, Constable, but that’s the
purpose of my profession!”
He set her on her feet none too gently
and whispered in her ear, “Not in my town it isn’t.”
As she prepared to argue-Savannah was
always prepared to argue-a violent shove
forced her to her knees. Sucking in a painful gasp, she scrambled between the
constable’s long legs and behind a water cask. Dropping to a sit, she brushed a
bead of perspiration from her brow and wondered what the inside of Pilot Isle’s
jail was going to look like.
Fatigue returned, along with the first
flicker of doubt she had experienced in many a month. Resting her cheek on her
knee, she let the sound of waves slapping the wharf calm her, the fierce breeze
rolling off the sea cool her skin. Her family had lived on the coast for a
summer when she was a child. It was one of the last times she remembered being
Blessed God, how long ago that seemed
That was how Zach
found her. Crouched behind a stinking fish barrel, dark hair a sodden mess
hanging down her back, her dress-one that cost a pretty penny, he would
bet-ripped and stained. She looked young at that moment, younger than he knew
her to be. And harmless.
Which was as far from
the truth as it got.
He shoved aside the
sympathetic twinge, determined not to let his role as a father cloud every
damned judgment he made. Due to this woman’s meddling, his town folk pulsed like
an angry wound behind him, the ringing of the ferry bell not doing a blessed
thing to quiet a soul. All he could do was stare at the instigator huddling on a
section of grimy planks and question how one uppity woman could stir people up
like she’d taken a stick to their rear ends.
No wonder she was a successful social
reformer up north. She was as good at causing trouble as any person he’d ever
“Get up,” Zach said,
nudging her ankle with his boot. A slim, delicate-looking ankle.
didn’t like her, this sassy, liberating rabble-rouser, but he was a man, and he had to admit
she was put together nicely.
She lifted her head, blinking, seeming
to pull herself from a distant place. A halo of shiny curls brushed her jaw, and
as she tilted her head up, he got his first close look at her. A fine-boned
face, the expression on it soft, almost dreamy.
Boy, the softness didn’t last
Jamming her lips together, her cheeks
plumped with a frown. Oh yeah, that was the look he’d been expecting.
“Good day, Constable,” she said. Just
like that, as if he should be offering a cordial greeting with a small war going
on behind them.
“Miss Connor, this way if you
She rose with all the dignity of a
queen, shook out her skirts, and brushed dirt from one sleeve. He counted to ten
and back, unruffled, good at hiding his impatience. What being the lone parent
of a rambunctious little boy would do for a man.
Just when he reached ten for the second
time and opened his mouth to order her along, a misplaced swing caught him in
the side and he stumbled forward, grasping Savannah’s shoulders to keep from
crashing into her. Motion ceased when she thumped the wall of the warehouse, her
head coming up fast, her eyes wide and alarmed.
And very, very green.
He felt the heat of her skin through the
thin material of her dress; her muscles jumped beneath his palms. Her gaze
dropped to his chest, and a soft glow lit her cheeks. Blushing… something he
wouldn’t have expected from this woman.
Nevertheless, he stared, wondering why
they both seemed frozen.
Zach was frozen because he’d forgotten
what it felt like to touch a woman. How soft and round and warm they were. How
they dabbed perfume in secret places and smiled teasing smiles and flicked those
colorful little fans in your face, never really realizing what all that nonsense did to
a man’s equilibrium.
It was the first time he’d laid his
hands on a woman since his wife died, except for a rescue last year and the
captain’s sister he’d pulled from the sea. She had thrown her arms around him,
shivering and crying, and he’d felt for her, sure he had. Grateful and relieved
and humble that God had once again shown him where the lost souls on the shoals
He hadn’t felt anything more. Anything
This wasn’t strong either, nothing more
than a minute spike of heat in his belly.
Nothing much at all. He didn’t
need like other men. Like his brothers or
his friends in town. He had needed once, needed his wife. But she was dead. That life-loving and
yearning and wanting-had died with her.
“Your mouth is
bleeding,” Savannah said and shifted, her arm rising.
Don’t touch me, he thought, the words bubbling in his
Cursing beneath his breath, the full
extent of his childishness struck him. She would think he’d gone crazy. And
maybe he had. Stepping back, he thrust his hands in his pockets and gestured for
her to follow, intentionally leading her away from the ruckus on the
Buttoning his shirt, he listened to her
steady footfalls, thinking she’d be safe in his office until everything died
“I’m sorry you’ve been
Dabbing at the corner of his lip, he
shrugged. He could still hear the rumble of the crowd. No matter. His brother
Caleb would break it up. They’d argued about who got what job in this
Zach had lost.
“What did you expect, Miss Connor?” he
finally asked. “People get heated, and they do stupid things like fight with
their neighbors and their friends. Hard not to get vexed with you standing up
there, rising from the mist, preaching and persuading, stirring emotion like a
witch with a cauldron.”
She rushed to catch up to him, and he
slowed his deliberately forceful stride. “Those women work twelve-hour days,
Constable Garrett. Twelve hours on their feet, often without lunch breaks or
access to sanitary drinking water. And for half the pay a man receives for the
same day’s work. Some are expecting a child and alone, young women who think
they can disappear in this town without their families ever finding them. Their
lives up to this point have been so dominated and environed by duties, so
largely ordered for them, that many don’t know how to balance a cash account of
modest means or find work of any kind that doesn’t involve sewing a straight
stitch or shucking oysters.”
She stomped around a puddle in their
path, kicking at shells and muttering, nicking her polished boots in the
process. “If you can reconcile that treatment to your sense of what is just,
then we have nothing more to discuss.”
Zach halted before the unpretentious
building that housed Pilot Isle’s lone jail cell, getting riled himself, an
emotion he rarely tolerated. He didn’t know whether he should apologize or shake
the stuffing out of her. “I’ll be glad to tell you what I reconcile on a given
day: business disputes, marriages, deaths, shipwrecks, the resulting cargo and
bodies that wash up on shore, and just about everything in between. What you’re
talking about over at the oyster factory has been going on forever. Long hours,
The men may well get paid a higher
wage-I couldn’t say for certain-but they labor like mules, too. Do you think
Hyman Carter is begging people to come work for him? Well, he isn’t. It’s a
choice, free and clear.” Reaching around her and flinging the door open, he
stepped inside and, by God, expected her to follow. “What the hell can I do
Her abrupt silence had him turning.
Savannah Connor stood in the doorway, bright sunlight flooding in around her,
again looking like a vision of blamelessness, of sweet charity. She even smiled,
closing the door gently behind her. Troubled, Zach reviewed his last words,
racing through them in his mind.
“Oh no,” he said, flinging his hand up
in a motion his son knew meant no, flat out. “I’m not getting involved in this
campaign of yours. Except to end it, I’m not getting involved.”
“Why not get involved?” she asked, the
edge back. “Give me one worthy reason why. You’re the perfect person to request
a review of the factory’s processes.”
Ignoring her, he slumped into the chair
behind his desk, dug his cargo ledger out of the top drawer and a water-stained
list out of his pocket, and began calculating entries. He was two shipwrecks
behind. The town couldn’t auction property-funds they desperately needed-until
he, as keeper of Life-saving Division Six, completed the sad task of recording
every damaged plank, every broken teacup, every sailor’s shoe.
Work was good for the soul, he had
always thought; it had saved his a couple of years ago.
Besides, maybe Miss Connor would quit
talking if he didn’t look at her.
Moments passed, the only sound the
scratch of pen across paper and the occasional crunch of wagon wheels over the
shell-paved street out front. When the cell’s metal door squealed, Zach started,
flicking ink across the page. He sighed. “I’m almost afraid to ask what you’re
Looking up from plumping the cot’s
pillow, she flashed a tight smile. “Getting ready for a long night, Constable
Garrett. You’re writing”-she pointed-“a summons for me in that little book,
correct? What will it be? Disturbing the peace? Instigating a mutiny?” She
shrugged, clearly unconcerned. “I’ve been charged with both of those
The fountain pen dropped from Zach’s
fingers. “Arrested? Ma’am, I’ve no intention
“Thirteen times if you count the
incident in Baltimore. That time, the police took us to a school instead of the
local station. They didn’t have a separate holding area for women and felt it
would be inappropriate for my group to share quarters with common
Thirteen. Zach coughed to clear his throat. “I’m
not arresting you. I only brought you here until things calm down on the
Savannah smiled, relief evident in the
droop of her shoulders. “Then you’ll help me. Thank goodness.”
Gripping the desk, he shoved back his
chair. “No way, no how. Are you deaf, ma’am?”
“Are you, sir? Did you hear those women out
there today begging for equal rights? Women under your protection I might
His lids slipped low, the spasm of pain
in his chest hitting him hard. Protect. Zach had spent his life trying to
protect people. And so far he’d failed his wife, his brothers, and 81 passengers
that he and his men had not gotten to in time. All events Reverend Tiernan said
were in God’s hands and God’s hands only.
On good days, Zach agreed.
Opening his eyes, he
forced his way back to his work, recording the wrong number in the wrong column.
“Hyman Carter is a decent man. Pays his taxes, attends town meetings. He even
donated enough money for the church to buy new pews last spring.”
“He bought your loyalty in exchange for
His head snapped up. “No one buys my
anything, Miss Connor.”
She simply raised a perfectly shaped
brow, sending his temper soaring two notches.
“Listen here, ma’am. That scene you
caused today isn’t the way to accomplish much in a town like this, though I’m
sure it works fine in New York City. Personally, I don’t cotton to taking orders
from a mulish suffragette whose only aim in life is to secure the
She took a fast step forward, her cheeks
pinking. “Constable Garrett, you’ve grown too comfortable.”
“That I have.”
“Not a one.”
“Well, you must know I won’t rest until
we come to a reasonable compromise.”
“All right, then, you must know I can’t
change a man’s way of running his business if it doesn’t fall outside the law.”
He dipped his head in a mock show of respect. “Ma’am.”
“Don’t you realize that the situation at
the oyster factory isn’t just?”
A headache he hadn’t felt coming roared
to life. Pressing his fingers to his temple, Zach said, weary and unrepentant,
“When did you get the idea life was just, Miss Connor?”
Savannah turned, pacing the length of
the small cell, the sudden flicker of emotion in Zachariah Garrett’s smoke-gray
eyes more than she wanted to see, more than she could allow herself to. Feeling
sympathy for an opponent violated a basic tenet of the abolitionist code. And
whether she liked it or not, this man was the gatekeeper.
In more ways than one. She’d only been
in town a week, but it was easy to see who people in Pilot Isle turned to in
crisis. She had heard his name a thousand times already.
Just when she had devised a skillful
argument to present for his inspection, a much better one strolled through the
The woman was attractive and trim… and
quite obviously smitten with Constable Garrett. Unbeknownst to him, she smoothed
her hand the length of her bodice and straightened the straw hat atop her head
before making her presence known.
“Gracious, Zach, what is going on in town today?”
Zach slowly lifted his
head, shooting a frigid glare Savannah’s way before pasting a smile on his face
and swiveling around on his stubborn rump. “Miss Lydia, I hope you didn’t get
caught up in that mess. Caleb should have it under control by now
Miss Lydia drifted toward the desk, her clear blue
gaze focused so intently on the man behind it that Savannah feared the woman
would trip over her own feet if she wasn’t careful. “Oh, I didn’t get near it,
you know that would never do. If Papa heard, he’d have a conniption. But I
was at Mr. Scoggin’s store and it was all
anyone could talk about.” She placed a cloth- covered basket on his desk. The
scent of cinnamon filled the room. “Lands, imagine the excitement of a rally,
right here in Pilot Isle.”
Zach sighed. “Yes, imagine
“And”-Lydia glanced in her
direction-“you’ve, um, detained her. ”
“Constable Garrett, if I may?” Savannah
gestured to the cell door she’d shut while Miss Lydia stood in the threshold,
hand-pressing her bodice. “I promise to be on my best behavior. It’s just so
hard to converse through metal bars.”
“Oh, dear Lord.” Zach yanked a drawer
open and fished for a set of keys he clearly didn’t use often. Stalking toward
the cell with murder in his eyes, he asked in a low tone, “What game are you
playing, Miss Connor?”
“Forewarned is forearmed,
With a snap of his wrist and a
compelling shift of muscle beneath the sleeve of his shirt, he opened the door.
“My, my, Constable, such hospitality for
a humble inmate.” She plucked her skirt between her fingers and circled him as
she imagined a belle of the ball would.
Belle of the ball was called for with
Miss Lydia, Savannah had realized from the first moment. The bored woman of
consequence needing fulfillment.
And a cause.
Savannah would gladly give her
“If I may introduce myself.” Savannah
halted before Miss Lydia and flashed a hesitant smile. “Savannah Connor. Pleased
to make your acquaintance.”
Miss Lydia struggled for a moment but
good breeding won out. In the South, it always seemed to. “Lydia Alice
Templeton. Pleased, also, I’m sure.” She gestured to the basket on the desk.
“Would you like a muffin? You must be starved, poor thing. These are my special
recipe. Cinnamon and brown sugar, and a secret ingredient I won’t tell to save
my life. Zach, oh.” She tapped her bottom lip with a gloved finger. “Mr.
Garrett, loves them.”
“I’m sure he does,” Savannah said, not
having to turn to see his displeasure. It radiated, like a hot brand pressed to
her back. “And I would love one. I’m practically faint with hunger.”
Miss Lydia sprang into action,
unfastening and cutting, spreading butter, and clucking like a mother hen.
Savannah admired women who could nurture like that; Miss Lydia was a born mother
when children scared Savannah half to death.
“Here, dear,” Miss Lydia murmured, full
of warmth and compassion. “Mr. Garrett, haven’t you a pitcher of
No reply, but within a minute a chipped
jug and a glass appeared on the desk with a brusque clatter.
“Do you mind if I perch right here on
the corner of your desk, Constable?” Savannah asked and bit into the most
delicious muffin she had ever tasted. “Truly, these are good. Ummm.”
“I win the blue ribbon every year at the
Harvest Celebration.” Lydia shrugged as if this were a certain thing in her
life. “My father owns a commercial fishing company, and my mother passed some
time ago, so I take care of him now. I bake all day some days.” She turned her
hand in a dreamy circle. “To fill the time.”
Savannah halted, a mouthful of muffin
resting on her tongue. She couldn’t stop herself-really, the urge was too
powerful-from looking up. Constable Garrett stood in the cell’s entryway,
shoulder jammed against a metal bar, feet crossed at the ankle, those startling
gray eyes trained on her. Trained without apology.
“No,” he mouthed. An honest appeal from an
She hadn’t dealt with many honest men in
her life, including her father and her brother. Also, she was confident she
hadn’t ever had as attractive an opponent. It was wicked to feel a tiny zing
when she imagined besting him, wasn’t it? Was that letting personal issues and
professional ones collide?
Swallowing, she returned her attention
to her prey. “You could find other ways to fill your time. I’m happy to tell you
that this is precisely what I did.”
“My mother also passed away when I was a
young girl. After that my life consisted of living in our home in New York City,
while making a life for my father and my older brother. They were helpless when
it came to running a household, so I took over. My childhood ended at that time,
but later on, I made sure I would have something to show for it.”
“Ohhh,” Lydia said, clasping her hand to
Savannah ignored the audible grunt from
the back of the room and continued, “One day I simply found the endless duties
and tasks, many of which I was uninterested in, to be so monotonous as to make
my life seem worthless. I forced myself to search for meaning-a cause, if you
will. I attended my first women’s rights meeting the next afternoon.” She failed
to mention she had been all of sixteen and had nearly broken her ankle jumping
from the window of her bedroom to the closest tree limb outside. After dragging
her home from the meeting, her father had locked her in her bedroom for two
Without food or water.
He didn’t let her out until that lovely
old tree outside her window no longer stood tall and proud.
“Miss Connor, I couldn’t possibly attend
a meeting like that here.”
Savannah dabbed a muffin crumb from the
desk and licked her finger. “Why ever not?”
“It’s not… I’m not….” Lydia’s voice
“You’re not resilient enough? Oh, you
are. I could tell right away. Can you honestly say that you are satisfied with
your life? What, pray tell, are you doing completely for yourself?”
“Redecorating my father’s
“That’s for him. Try again.”
Savannah smiled and shook her
Lydia snapped her fingers. “Oh, I have
one! I host an information-gathering tea in the historical society office one
morning a week. Although Papa feels it’s shameful for me to work, even when the
position is entirely without compensation.”
Savannah relaxed her shoulders, dabbed
at another crumb, as if the news weren’t simply wonderful. The glow of heat at
her back seemed to increase. “And how do you feel about working?”
“I love it. I’m very good at keeping
records and tallying donations. I raised more money for the society last year
than any other volunteer, even though Sallie Rutherford’s total arrived at five
dollars more than mine.” She leaned in, cupping her hand around her mouth.
“Hyman Carter is her uncle, and he gave it to her at the last minute to lift her
total past mine.”
The wonder, Savannah thought, dizzy with promise.
“Miss Templeton, this is a propitious conversation. I need a co-leader for my
efforts and until this moment, I wasn’t sure I would be able to locate the right
woman in a town the size of Pilot Isle.” She smiled, placing her hand over
Lydia’s gloved fingers. “Now, I think I have.”
“Me?” Lydia breathed, hand climbing to
her chest. “A co-leader?”
Savannah nodded. “I have to govern Elle
Beaumont’s school in her absence. Teach classes and mentor her female students
until her return. You may have heard that she’s returned to university in South
Carolina. Yet, I couldn’t possibly stay here and watch women live in a state of
disability and not try to improve their situation. Women working exhausting
hours for half the pay a man receives, for instance. Did you know about
“The oyster factory? Well, I have to
say, that is, yes.” Her gaze skipped to the constable and back. “Although, I
haven’t ever been employed. Not in a true position of payment. And the factory,”
she said, voice dropping to a whisper, “isn’t where any ladies of, what did you
call it, consequence are likely to pay a visit.”
“As co-leader of the Pilot Isle
movement, you should make it your first stop. Let’s plan to meet there tomorrow
morning. Nine o’clock sharp. Bring Miss Rutherford, who even if she is a bit of
a charlatan, might prove a worthy supporter. Too, she can gain access for the
group without the burden of another impassioned assembly.”
Savannah smiled and added, “Surely her
uncle doesn’t want that.”
“Now wait a blessed minute.”
Savannah glanced up as Zach’s shadow
flooded over them. Bits of dust drifted through the wide beam of sunlight he
stood in, softening the intensity of his displeasure. No matter his
inflexibility, the man was attractive, she thought.
“A problem, Constable?”
“You’re damn right there’s a
A soft gasp had him bowing slightly and
frowning harder. “Beg pardon, Miss Lydia. I apologize for the language, but this
doesn’t concern you.” He swung Savannah around on the desk, her knees banging
his as he crouched before her, bringing their eyes level. “It concerns
you, and I remember telling you I wasn’t putting up with this
foolishness.” He stabbed his finger against his chest. “Not in my
She drew a covert breath. Traces of
manual labor and the faintest scent of cinnamon circled him. Savannah valued
hard work above all else and never minded a man who confirmed he valued it as
well, even if he smelled less than soap-fresh and his palms were a bit rough.
Forcing her mind to the issue at hand, she asked, “Are we prohibited from
visiting the factory, Constable?”
“After today, you better believe you
She arched a brow, a
trick she had practiced before the mirror for months until it alone exemplified
frosty indifference. “My colleagues, Miss Templeton and Miss Rutherford, will
attend in my absence, then.”
She scooted forward until the stubble
dotting his rigid jaw filled her vision. “You can’t stop them and you know it.
In fact, I’m fairly certain you cannot stop me without filing paperwork barring me
from Mr. Carter’s property. That takes time and signatures, rounding up
witnesses to the dispute. However, I’m willing to forgo this meeting. During the
initial phase at any rate. For everyone’s comfort.”
Sliding back the inch she needed to pull
their knees apart, she decided that for all Zachariah Garrett’s irritability-a
trait she abhorred in a man-he smelled far, far too tempting to risk touching
during negotiations. “Don’t challenge my generosity, Mr. Garrett. You won’t get
“Are you daring me to do something, Miss
Connor? Because I will, I tell you.”
“Consider it a gracious
“You can take your gracious request and
stick it….” Jamming his hands atop his knees, he rose to his feet. “Miss
Lydia, will you excuse us a moment?”
Lydia cleared her throat and backed up
two steps. Before she left, she looked at Savannah and smiled, her eyes bright
with excitement. Savannah returned the smile, knowing she had won that series if
“You must be crazy,” Zach said the
moment the door closed. “Look at the blood on your dress, the scrapes on your
hands. Do you want Miss Lydia to suffer the same? The things you want her to
experience are things her father has purposely kept her from experiencing and
for a damn good reason.”
She gazed at the torn skin on her hands
and the traces of blood on her skirt as she heard him begin to pace the narrow
confines of the office. “It’s a mockery to talk of sheltering women from life’s
fierce storms, Constable. Do you believe the ones who work twelve-hour days in
that factory are too weak to weather the emotional stress of a political
campaign? Do you believe Lydia cannot support a belief that runs counter to her
father’s? A child is not a replica of the parent. The sexes, excuse my
frankness, do not have the same challenges in life.”
Watching him, his hands buried in his
pockets-to keep from circling her neck she supposed-she couldn’t help but marvel
at the curious mix of Southern courtesy and male arrogance, the natural
assumption he shouldered of being lawfully in control. “Engaging in a moral
battle isn’t always hazardous to one’s health, you know.”
“Doesn’t look like it’s doing wonders
“Saints be praised, it can actually be
Looking over his shoulder, he halted in
the middle of the room. “Irish.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You. Irish. The green eyes, the tiny
bit of red in your hair. Is Connor your real name?”
“Yes, why,” she said, stammering.
Oh, hell. “Of course.”
She felt the slow, hot roll of color
cross her cheeks. “What could that possibly have to do with
“I don’t know, but I have a feeling it
means something. It’s the first thing I’ve heard come out of that sassy mouth of
yours that didn’t sound like some damned speech.” He tapped his head, starting
to pace again. “What I wonder is, where are you in there?”
“I’m right here. Reasonable and… and
judicious. Driven perhaps but not sassy, never sassy.”
“You’re full of piss and vinegar, all
right. And some powerful determination to cause me problems when I have more
than I can handle.” He halted in the middle of the room. “And here I thought
Ellie was difficult. Opening that woman’s school and teaching God knows what in
that shed behind Widow Wynne’s, putting husbands and fathers in an uproar. Now
you’re here, and it’s ten times worse than it ever was before.”
“Do women have to roll over like a dog
begging for a scratch for men to value them?”
“That and a pretty face work well enough
She hopped to her feet, her skirt
slapping the desk. “You insufferable toad.”
“Better that than a reckless
“There’s nothing wrong with feeling
passionate about freedom, Constable Garrett. And I plan to let every woman in
this town know it.”
“If it means causing the kind of scene
you caused today, you’ll have to go through me first.”
Savannah laughed, wishing it hadn’t come
out sounding so much like a cackle. “I’ve heard that several hundred times in
the past. With no result, I might add.”
“Guess you have.” Halting before a tall
cabinet scarred in more places than not, he went up on the toes of his boots and
came back with a bottle. Another reach earned a glass. “With thirteen
detentions, I can’t say I’m surprised.” She watched him pour a precise measure,
tilt his head, and throw it back. “Did any of them happen to figure out you were
working Irish underneath the prissy clothes and snooty manners?”
She lowered her chin, quickly, before he
could spotlight her distress. Working Irish. A term she hadn’t heard in years.
Every horrible trait she possessed-willfulness, callousness, condescension-her
father said came from the dirty Irish blood flowing through her veins. Her
mother had been the immigrant who had trapped him in an unhappy
A marriage beneath his station, thank
you very much.
And he had never let his family forget
“Would you like a medal for your
perspicacious deduction, Constable?” she asked when she’d regained her
He laughed and saluted her with his
glass. “Heck, I don’t even know what that means.”
“Astute, Constable. Which you are. Surprisingly
so.” She closed the distance between them and took the glass from his clenched
fist, ignoring the warmth of his skin when their fingers touched.
“May I?” she asked and drained the rest,
liquid fire burning its way down. Looking at him from beneath her lashes, she
smiled. “The Irish like the taste of whiskey on their tongues, did you know
that? O’Connor was my mother’s maiden name. Her grandfather changed it to Connor
when he came through Ellis Island. When my father asked me to vacate his home
the first time, I claimed the name because he said if I must disgrace the
family, I could disgrace her side of it. So I did.”
She handed the glass back. “Now that you
know one of my secrets, I should know one of yours.”
He went very still, the arm that held
the bottle dropping to his side. Before he pivoted on his heel, his face
revealed such wretched grief that she felt the pain like a dart through her own
heart. It wasn’t enough to offer an apology for the offense.
How could she when she wasn’t sure what
ground she had trespassed on?
* * *
Remember, all men would be tyrants if
Having dinner at Constable Garrett’s
home the day after her detention, as he so elegantly referred to it, was the
last thing Savannah wanted to do.
The very last, she amended as she leaned her
bicycle against the front gate and did a quick review to make sure her clothing
was in order. Damp from the ride, certainly, but in order. The evening promised
to be awful enough without realizing midway through dinner that a bunched-up
jacket had exposed the waistband of her bloomers to the constable’s critical
She lifted the covered plate from the
bicycle’s basket and started up the brick path, the front door looming before
her. She halted at the bottom of the porch stairs long enough to record the
sound of crickets in the bush beside her, and in the distance, the rhythmic slap
of waves against the shore. A peaceful place, Pilot Isle, beautiful and serene.
If she didn’t know herself better, she might imagine settling down in a town
She sighed, and stood straight and tall.
It made no sense to wait for a measure of comfort that clearly wasn’t going to
Her first knock was more forceful than
necessary. The second sounded about right.
She looked down as the door swung
wide… and her heart dropped.
Constable Garrett’s son. The boy was
thin, towheaded, and smiling fiercely. The kind of smile that spoke of capturing
fireflies and dipping your toe in muddy puddles. Innocence of a kind Savannah
didn’t remember and felt supremely uncomfortable being around.
“Why, yes, I am,” Savannah said and
edged around him. “Rory, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” he replied around a mouthful of
what looked to be yellow taffy. A scruffy-looking dog stood idle guard just
behind him. “Everybody’s here already, in the kitchen. Smell that? It’s
collards. They’re good, but they stink.” He closed the door and gave her a
little nudge down the hallway. “Pa said I could have a piece of candy before
supper if I promised to eat all my string beans. Don’t you reckon that’s
Savannah halted beside a glowing
gaslight. In return, Rory paused, tilting his head back and gazing at her
through eyes identical to his father’s. “Don’t you reckon, huh?”
“Pa said you don’t fight fair, but you
sure look like you do to me.”
Savannah laughed softly, not bothering
to cover it behind her hand.
And surprise of surprises, Rory laughed
with her. When of course he had no idea what she found so amusing.
It felt, for the moment, somewhat
comfortable. A new experience for a woman who had
never had the opportunity to be around children.
The kitchen was warm and sweet-smelling,
even with the underlying sour odor of cooking greens. The windows were open,
yellow curtains with tiny daisies sucking in and out like a deep breath.
Savannah stood on the threshold as long as she dared, letting Rory take the dish
from her hands.
The scene shattered quite a few
preconceived notions, starting with the revelation that her best friend,
Marielle-Claire Garrett, a dedicated activist, was happily married. To a man
unrelated to the cause. A professor of marine science, no less.
In fact, Elle lay sprawled on her
husband’s lap, his arms wrapped round her waist as she struggled to rise. She
laughed and punched his shoulder, fairly glowing with love. He grabbed her apron
as she got to her feet and tugged, forcing her to bend for a light
So it was true: she was happy.
Savannah glanced around the room and
zeroed in on her nemesis. Zachariah too had an apron tied around his waist, one
lined with pink rosettes and yellow stitching. In his hand he held a spatula,
which he used to flip cornbread cakes and accentuate every third word or so.
Hair a shade too long flicked his collar as he looked down when Rory slid
Savannah’s apple pie along the counter at his hip.
Zach glanced back then and caught her
And stared back.
He had a smudge of flour on the tip of
his nose, a streak of it on his cheek. His clothes were pressed; Sunday attire,
she guessed. His hair, black as night, shone from a recent combing. Had he
actually dressed up for this evening? He must love Elle something awful,
She shifted from one foot to the other,
hating to acknowledge what the sight of him, surrounded by his family and
standing in a kitchen that smelled so wonderful it made her yearn, did to her
“Constable.” She moved toward a table
scattered with an assortment of pots, pans, and toys, making sure to keep her
distance and her composure.
“Miss Connor,” he said, the twist in his
smile letting her know what he thought of their spending an evening together. In
his home, with his son.
No more than she thought, which she
would thoroughly enjoy telling him. Except that Elle had planned this evening to
introduce Savannah to everyone in her new family, and as a friend, Savannah must
She glanced in Elle’s direction,
discomfited to find all eyes trained upon her.
And upon Constable Garrett.
The town gossips were obviously hard at
“Dinner smells delightful,” Savannah
forced herself to say, with an affable nod in his direction. She would make it
through this night or die trying.
Zach turned back to his cooking with a
Savannah felt her temper spark and begin
to blaze. Of all the
“Oh, I’m so thrilled to see you.” Elle
crossed the kitchen in record time, pulling Savannah into a fierce hug. She
would not let her brother-in-law and her best friend, people she loved with all
her heart, remain enemies. It just wouldn’t do in a town the size of Pilot Isle.
They could argue all they wanted at the jail or in front of the oyster factory;
they could tear each other apart for the sake of independence and jurisdiction;
but they would not at the first supper Elle hosted after her return from her
“You look wonderful,
“You, too,” Savannah said, stepping
back. Elle had noticed before that her friend didn’t like being held; it made
her wonder what Savannah’s life had been like as a child.
“I’m happy. Noah makes me happy.” Elle
looked over her shoulder, found her husband standing at his brother’s side,
teasing Zach about his flowery apron.
After a brief series of introductions,
Elle slipped her arm through her friend’s and said, “Let’s take this
She led them out a back door and onto a
wide porch, to a table set with blue and white dishes, many of them chipped.
“Happy, Vannie. Can you believe I’m saying that? A man has made me happy! A
man. One of those uncompromising,
“I always believed a fruitful union was
possible,” Savannah said, seating herself across from Elle. “Many of the women
working for the cause have wonderful marriages.” Pouring a glass of water, she
sipped slowly. “Others, well, not so wonderful.”
Elle propped her elbows on the table and
leaned forward. “But not you?”
“Don’t you want to love someone, Vannie?
And have him love you?”
“Ah, I recognize this. The stage where
you’re so blissfully delirious that you want everyone to have what you have.”
Elle laughed and slid a saltshaker in a
wide circle. “Would you think me demented if I agreed?”
“No, of course not. I’m delighted for
you. You’ve spoken of nothing but this man since we met at university. On the
quad near that old dogwood tree. Remember the conversations we used to have
about your life here? Anyway”-she waved her hand to shoo away a persistent
fly-“it isn’t for me. Marriage isn’t for me. It’s not as if I haven’t been
courted. And experienced all the nonsense that goes along with that charming
“You can’t mean Henry Bolton Finch the
Savannah smiled. “He had all the
necessary equipment, didn’t he?”
“Vannie, you were engaged for all of two
days before he ran off with his butler’s son.”
“I was relived, truth be
Elle sat back with a sigh. “I know.
That’s the problem. Suffering cats, I bet you never even kissed him.”
“Kissing is vastly overrated, if you ask
A deep laugh sounded behind her.
“Depends on who’s doing it, Miss Connor.”
Savannah tilted her head back,
embarrassed, but damned if she’d show it. “I think I’d prefer to heed the
testimony of a more reliable witness, Constable.”
Zach shrugged and sat a pan of biscuits
on the table. As she watched him walk back into the house, she noted that his
apron was absent. And that his trousers fit extremely well. “Ohhh, that man.
What I wouldn’t like to enlighten him about. Depends on who’s doing it, my
She swiveled to find a wide smile
crossing her friend’s face. A glow of discovery lit Elle’s cheeks. “Oh no, you
don’t. Don’t go getting any crazy ideas. I despise the man, and he despises
“You think he’s attractive.”
Savannah pleated the tablecloth between
her finger and thumb. “Well, yes, I suppose. A little. He’s not the ugliest man
I’ve encountered. So what?”
“So, every woman in town has been trying
to get his attention since his wife passed away. Over two years now without a
dash of success.”
“He’s capable and fair-minded. A leader,
without doubt. Why wouldn’t they try?”
“They’re not interested in his mind,
Vannie. Or his leadership skills, unless you mean the ones he’d use in
Savannah looked across the table, into
her friend’s mirthful green gaze. “Is it good?” she whispered.
Elle nodded, humming beneath her breath.
“Worth all the trouble? The mess? The
bother?” She had read about it, and in literal terms, it sounded a touch
“More than you can imagine.”
“But wouldn’t it, I mean, couldn’t the
situation be unpleasant in some cases?”
“I’m sure. If you got the wrong
Smoothing the tablecloth with the heel
of her hand, Savannah said, “But I don’t like him.”
“You like him enough.”
“He doesn’t like me.”
Elle laughed softly. “He likes you
Savannah glanced over her shoulder just
to make sure no one was observing them, her stomach dancing. “What do you
“Vannie, let’s speak plainly. I didn’t
wait until I got married. Noah’s proposal came late in the day, do you
understand? And I wouldn’t change anything I did because it was
“But you loved him.”
“I do. And I did, yes. But love doesn’t
have to be there. For centuries, people have been experiencing passion without
being in love. In fact, in this case, it would be a detriment. You don’t want to
get married, and Zach will never marry again.” Elle nodded her head,
fully convincing herself. “Why should two beautiful, loving people be lonely
because of society’s dictates when they could come to a reasonable agreement
that would benefit them both?”
Savannah paused, never one to rally
around society’s decrees, especially when they hampered a woman’s progress. “Do
you honestly think sexual relations might aid my growth as a woman? Will I be
stronger? I certainly never imagined I would need it.”
“Mercy above, it’s changed my entire
outlook. I understand men much better than I used to, I can tell you that much.
It simplifies the mystery.”
“Truly?” Savannah finished the rest of
her water and tapped the glass against the table. “That would be very helpful in
my line of work.”
“Plus, my grandmère always told me I needn’t be married to
“Ah, yes.” Savannah nodded. “You’re
French. I sometimes forget.”
The men stumbled out the door just then,
their hands loaded with plates and tins, the smell of freshly baked biscuits
drifting along behind them. They laughed, Rory dogging their heels.
All at once, Savannah was surrounded by
men. Surrounded by new and liberating visions of what she could do with
“You’ll think about it?” Elle
Yes, she thought, noting the way
Constable Garrett’s shoulders flexed beneath his pressed cotton shirt. The way
he smiled at his son, a flash of white teeth and firm lips.