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Leaving Waverly

a Novella



Sara R. Turnquist

Leaving Waverly

by Sara R. Turnquist



This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.









Copyright © 2017 Sara R. Turnquist

All rights reserved.








For my readers. You keep me going.







CHAPTER ONE

A Spark


THE SUN SHONE bright on Claire Crawford as she made her way across the field. A breeze pressed her skirts against legs that stretched out as swiftly as they could. Lifting her chin, she turned her face upward, eager for warmth. Mother would not approve.

“You’ll freckle,” she’d say.

Claire didn’t care. The sun was a fine companion on her daily walk to and from the plantation home.

So much had changed in the last two years. These fields were at one time teeming with slaves. Now, it was different. Not that she minded. Slavery seemed to go against the grain of society—barbaric and cruel. Yes, slavery had ended at a great cost to many. Unthinkable bloodshed… Claire pushed the memories aside. Best not to think on such things. No, there was no need to think on that.

Facing forward once again, she picked up speed. It wouldn’t behoove her to be late for dinner. Father might become suspicious. And those suspicions would lead to questions. Claire dare not let him discover where her midmorning strolls took her.

Moments later, she crossed a small stream. Stone by stone, she hopped over, holding her skirt. Mother would have enough to scold her for without a soaked hem.

A voice rang out, and carried in the wind.

Who was that? Was someone hurt?

“Can anyone hear me?” A man’s voice. Dare she follow it? Her mind warned against such pursuit, telling her of the dangers.

“Help me!”

He sounded so desperate. Was it a sharecropper? A farmer? One of her father’s workers? Either way, she could not leave someone, even a stranger, to suffer. Perhaps she could approach in safety, keeping her distance, until she determined the circumstances. After all, she was within a few yards of the plantation house.

Moving in the direction of the voice, still calling for help, she climbed the sloped embankment and went further up a small hill. There, from the top, she could see a figure, next to a fallen horse. What had happened?

The man scanned the area.

There was nowhere for her to hide.

As he looked in her direction, he called to her, “Please.” He faced her though, because of the remaining distance between them, she still could not make out his features. “My horse is injured. I need help.”

What was she to do? She should run after father or one of the men that worked for him. But would the horse survive that long? What was the nature of the animal’s injury?

Her heart beat hard. Perhaps she should help this man now.

But what of her own safety?

Shaking her head, she pulled her things more tightly to her chest and marched forward. She could handle herself.

As she neared the man, kneeling by the horse, she began to make out more distinct characteristics though he did not turn to look her way again. He was young, not more than five years her senior. And he had dark hair, wavy, though it was cut short.

And…and the blood. Everywhere. On the young man, on the grass around the horse, and soaking the cloth the man pressed to the animal’s leg.

Claire swallowed hard against the sudden uneasiness in her stomach. One more step and the metallic smell slammed into her senses. A hand flew to her mouth.

She would do this. She would. She had to.

The young man turned and his deep brown eyes found hers. Brief relief registered among the surprise in his gaze. He frowned and looked back at the distressed mare, leaning onto her wound.

Shifting, the horse let out a pitiful noise.

Setting her things to the side, Claire knelt beside the young man. “What happened?”

“She stepped in a hole. Her leg is broken.” His voice shook as he spoke.

That wasn’t all. The blood revealed as much.

Claire was no stable master. Caring for horses was not her forte. Still, she knew something was seriously wrong.

With a boldness that surprised her, she reached forth and lifted the cloth, tugging at the young man’s hand.

He relented and raised it.

The bone was visible through the skin.

She turned her head, hand pressed to her mouth, not able to control her gagging.

Several moments passed before her stomach calmed. Once she had control of herself, she faced him.

“She’s not going to make it.” Claire kept her voice soft.

The young man shook his head, gaze fixed on the horse.

Claire looked at the mare’s face, then at the man’s grimace. She laid a hand on his arm.

He was shaking. From the effort of holding the compress on? Or from emotion?

“She’s in a lot of pain. You need to let her at peace.”

The man’s eyes slid closed and he turned his face into his shoulder opposite where Claire sat.

When he raised his head, Claire expected him to argue, but he nodded.

Moving her hand down his arm to his hands, she pulled them off the wound.

He allowed it.

Then she helped him stand, keeping one hand on his arm, the other on his hands. “Do you have a gun?”

He nodded, but didn’t move.

“Where is it?”

Jerking his head toward the saddlebag, now several feet from the horse, he began to pull away.

She squeezed his arm. “I’ll get it.”

Claire retrieved the bag and brought it to the young man. She had no desire to touch the weapon, and no knowledge on how to fire it.

Holding it out to him, she watched his features as he opened the flap and pulled out a pistol. His brows furrowed and he swallowed visibly.

Setting the bag at their feet, she then nodded to him.

He stepped to the mare’s head, crouching down. “You’ve been a good horse, old friend. I’m sorry.” His voice caught.

Claire's heart ached. How long had this animal been his companion? His friend? In the next moment, she stood beside him as he rose. She placed an arm on his shoulder.

He glanced at her, his eyes first catching, then gazing into hers. Did he seek the kind of comfort she wished she could give him?

The young man shifted his focus to the horse and straightened his arm, aiming at the back of the mare’s head.

Claire held her breath.

Nothing happened.

The man’s shoulder shook. Would he be able to do this? He had to. This animal was in distress. She hurt more every single second that passed. And there was nothing they could do for her but to end it.

Claire prayed for strength for the man.

He shook harder.

And Claire's resolve strengthened.

She ran her hand down his arm to the pistol, covering his hand with her own, laying her finger over his on the trigger.

And pulled.

* * *

Clementine was dead.

The shot fired and she was gone.

Was he grateful? Or sad?

The young lady removed her hand and Henry pulled the pistol back to himself, but he could not stop the shaking. It worsened.

Instead of moving away, the woman embraced him. “Hold onto me.”

He did. Wrapping his arms around her, he held to her as if she was the only thing keeping him upright. Perhaps she was.

Clementine had been with him since he was a boy. They had grown together. She was his constant companion and friend. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t tell her.

And now she was gone. Just like that. Would anything be right again?

At length, the shaking did subside. Then he pulled back.

Hazel eyes, warm and comforting, stared up at him.

“Thank you,” he managed, face warming. How could he have fallen apart in front of this beautiful woman? One glance over her appearance, he noted her refinement. Probably the plantation master’s daughter. This would not go well for him. “I apologize for any inconvenience, ma’am. I didn’t mean to keep you.”

He averted his gaze.

“Keep me? It was better I was here to help. Do you need assistance getting home? Perhaps help with…” Her voice trailed off.

He closed his eyes. Her unsaid words rang in his mind—with the horse’s body. “No, ma’am. I can manage. Perhaps you had best get home. I don’t wish for your father to worry after you.”

“Nor I yours.”

Henry faced her at that. “You would concern yourself after me?” She couldn’t mean it. This wasn’t the first refined southern belle he had met.

“Of course.” The woman jerked back as if stung.

Looking into her eyes, he wanted to believe her, but found cause to doubt. He pulled back and walked to the discarded saddlebag, pushing the gun inside the bag.

When he stood, slinging his burden over his shoulder, he found the young woman as she had been, eyes wide, mouth agape.

“Is something the matter?”

She shut her mouth and crossed her arms. “No, of course not.”

They squared off for some moments. What had happened? Was something wrong?

She let her arms fall. “I need to get home.” Turning away from him, she stepped toward her discarded pile of things.

He did so as well. “Let me help you.” Arriving at the small stack before she, he crouched and gathered the books and slates.

She all but jerked them from his hands and pulled them to her chest.

He opened his mouth, but then closed it. Far be it from him to wonder after the actions of these rich women.

They stood facing each other in silence again.

“Please tell your father I will have my…horse off his property by nightfall.”

Her eyes softened for a moment and she nodded. Then she spun and walked in the opposite direction.

“And…” he started, calling after her. Why did he do that?

She turned.

He looked away, his face heated. But he needed to say it. This was only right. So, he faced her once more. “Thank you.”

She gave him a nod and walked away.

It was likely he’d never see her again.

* * *

Claire Crawford stretched her aching muscles. The tension was real. And the sting was real. How could it be that her body still protested the daily tasks she undertook?

Grabbing for her basket, now nearly full of vegetables, she stood and moved toward the row of tomatoes. It didn’t matter that her father despised her little garden. She loved it. Everything about it—working with her hands, producing life from the soil, tending to the seedlings, all of it.

Kneeling, she spread out her skirt. This was one of her plainer dresses. Mother would not be happy she had been in the dirt, but Mother was never happy with her or anything she did.

Claire grasped the tomato closest to her—plump, full, and a brilliant shade of red. But it wouldn’t break away from the vine. Twisting it, she pulled more firmly. Still, it persisted. She tugged all the more. The tomato gave way, throwing her off balance and exploding all over her dress.

Her elbows stung from her collision with the ground and she had been showered with bright red pulp.

Mother would be livid.

“You might should use a knife,” a voice said from behind her.

She jerked her head around.

The young man from the previous week’s encounter stood tall and proud, a crooked smile on his face. He was almost handsome.

A tingle shot through Claire. Excitement? Concern? What was he doing here?

Righting herself, she brushed off the worst of the tomato juice. Her dress would be stained for certain.

Shifting to stand, she leaned forward to push herself up but noticed the outstretched hand.

The young man had walked to where she sat and now stood over her.

She slid a hand into his and let him help her.

“Thank you, sir.”

The corners of his mouth lifted.

Claire offered him a kind smile. Then she remembered where she was. And who she was. Her brows furrowed. Was he stalking her? “What are you doing here?”

His smile fell. “My apologies. I have business with your father. That is, I presume he’s your father. The plantation owner.”

She nodded.

“I have just rented one of the fields.”

A tenant farmer. So that’s why he was on her father’s land last week.

His brows gathered. “You didn’t think I was following you, did you?”

Claire's face warmed. “No, of course not.”

“That’s the kind of empty-headed self-absorbed thing I would expect from a woman of your…” His sentence trailed off.

“A woman of my what?” she challenged him.


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