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A single day shattered her life and set in motion, events that would change the Sullivan family for generations.
Marnie Joe Sullivan had the perfect life as the daughter of a wealthy Virginia businessman, but perfection wouldn’t last. As the War Between the States ends, she is struggling to keep her family together. After a botched robbery, fleeing rebels leave her mother dead and Marnie at the mercy of a killer. The year is 1867 and Virginia is still home to Confederate conspirators and a killer that must be stopped. Loyalty and love run deep in the Sullivan family and Marnie is no exception. As the eldest Sullivan, she feels obligated to rescue her father from the hangman’s noose. But a jailbreak at midnight lands her in the arms of Marshal Mason Kane.
Death is never fair. Mason Kane is proof of that. The horror of war and the death of his brother made him a drunk. Consumed by guilt and grief, he finds himself occupying Richmond saloons and starting fights. But a forgotten promise to his brother forces him to put down the bottle and accept a friend’s plea for help. Mason has no idea that the scrawny, mud covered boy he just hit is Sullivan’s daughter and he has no idea just how tempting she is until he tries to mend her wounds. Bound by honor and promise, Mason sets out to find a killer. What he finds is the outlaw Marnie Sullivan. A woman he can’t live without and secrets that lie in the way.
February 2, 1868
Sullivan Settlement, Virginia
Them Damned Confederates
Marnie Joe Sullivan, a well-bred woman of Virginian wealth, sat at the head of her father’s table. Despite her cool exterior, she felt civility’s firm grip slip and a white-hot anger coil its way up her spine. The beast threatened to burst forth in a rage of unladylike vulgarities of which the gentlemen across from her would undoubtedly recoil and offer a hideous clicking sound of disapproval from their forked tongues! No, that wouldn’t do.
“Damn it Marnie! You can’t go!” The abrasive voice manifested itself from the older man sitting across from her. He heaved one foot upward and slammed it against the smooth cherry floor of the great room. The dull clap of the heavy boot vibrated against the stone walls of the Sullivan house, “We have to wait for Lucas. He’ll be back anytime now.” The stub from his missing first finger wiggled uncontrollably as he ran his gnarled fingers over his thinning, silver hair, creating a wild mess. The missing digit was Ike Ritchie’s trophy for his victorious fight in the Battle of Buena Vista in ’47, “Your Pa was crazy for going to Silver Creek!”
With an unwavering face of authority, Marnie lifted her chin and leveled her gaze. A delicate blush of pink rushed over both cheeks, “My Pa is not crazy! He’s grieving.” Her small fingers anxiously examined the delicate embroidery of her handkerchief as her eyes burned into Ike with disapproval. The midnight black of her silk dress couldn’t quench the green fire that raged in her eyes. Since her mother’s death, Marnie had adorned black in every sense of the word, her soul, her spirit, and her will were all shaded black by that day, but not today. Today was a day of action!
An indignant “humph” escaped the edge of her full lips. As if being prompted by the sound, a petite black woman stepped from the hall and stood with folded hands as they waited for their guests to arrive, her slate stare burning relentlessly into Marnie. Yes, yes, I know, Tillie! Ladies always remain calm! As leaders from the settlement below entered the room one by one, Marnie took a deep breath that generated a small look of understanding and approval from the housekeeper.
Marnie’s skin itched and burned from the laces of her corset, causing her to shift in her seat. Thanks to Tillie’s diligent efforts, she was presentable. It infuriated Marnie to know that over half the morning had been devoted to tying, lacing and buttoning her unmentionables just so she might look presentable to the men in front of her. In the time it had taken Tillie to carefully style her unruly blonde hair into the neatly formed chignon, she could have been half-way to Silver Creek. This is ridiculous! I don’t need their help! Will Roark, Louis Porter, and Charlie Wilcox, represented only a handful of families that homesteaded on her father’s land. The men had taken council at this house since Marnie had donned pigtails and played with dolls. They weren’t use to answering to anyone but her father, “Thank you all for coming on such short notice.”
Will looked confused, “Marnie, I don’t know what we could possibly do to help your Pa.”
Ike eased forward and rested his elbows on the table, “Marnie thought you gentlemen might accompany us into Silver Creek.”
Charlie frowned, “Why would we do that?”
“To help me break Papa from jail.” Marnie said hopefully.
Her statement provoked a laugh from Louis, “You want us to help you stage a jailbreak?” He glanced at the other men, “Is she serious?”
“I don’t find anything funny about it. It is possible.” Their snide smiles added to her frustration, “If we go in after dark, there’ll be only one or two guards.”
“That’s insane!” Louis interjected.
“No, it’s not!” With her fists clinched tightly at her side, she demanded an answer, “How can you sit there and do nothing to save him?” Their silence infuriated her. They weren’t taking her father’s capture seriously. “Papa’s been rotting in that jail for three days and God only knows how long Lucas will be gone!” It had been two days since her adopted brother, Lucas, set out for Richmond to find her Uncle, and Marnie’s confidence in the law and Maxwell Richardson was diminishing, “I haven’t seen my Uncle Max in years. How can we be sure he’ll even help Papa?”
“Maxwell won’t think twice about it.” With a dismissive hand, Ike waved her fears aside, “Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if old Maxwell dynamited the jail himself to free your Pa!”
It was because of her father’s selfish act that she sat like a plucked turkey, stitched and tied for the presentation at hand. Her father, Daniel Sullivan never left anything to coincidence. Why had he allowed himself to get caught by the law in Silver Creek? Haven’t I dealt with enough tragedy? Less than a year ago her mother lay lifeless on the floor as Marnie and her sister were ripped from their home and taken for ransom.
Tight lips controlled Marnie’s words. She lifted her chin and fought to steady her breathing. Back straight, shoulders square, you’re a Sullivan, baby girl! Her father’s voice echoed in her mind and unconsciously her posture straightened. Defiance rushed through her as the authority in her eyes demanded attention from each man.
“We can’t wait! Are you going to help me or not?” Marnie gave the table a single strike with her fist, “Someone answer me! My father gave you a roof over your head, and never asked for anything in return. Without his help, none of you would have anything. If Talon Dougal hangs Papa, nothing will prevent him from taking the mountain and everything around it!”
Louis adjusted his collar, “Marnie, we’re all concerned about your father, but he knew not to go. He was safe here. He knew if he went to town he would risk getting caught.”
“We could protect him here, but not in Silver Creek. Hell! We could be hanged right along with him!” Will shouted and Charlie nodded.
Ike agreed, “They’re right, Marnie.”
Twenty-five years ago, through dense forests and jagged rocks, her father carved out a life for not only his family, but for the families in the valley below. Now when he needed them, they cowered in fear like children, “So it will be the same as before? He needed you last year and you didn’t lift a hand to help him. You all wanted to run and hide.” She tapped the table with a finger, discarding the truth for her cause. The people around her father’s table were loyal, but fear made her desperate.
“Now wait just a damn minute little girl!” Her accusations brought Ike up out of his seat. In his younger day, he’d been a boxer, broad in the shoulder and narrow at the hip. Legend of the “Fists of Fury” spread through Texas like wildfire. Even now, his withered frame towered above Marnie. When his expression changed, she braced herself, “You seem to forget I was riding right alongside your Pa when them damned Confederates took you girls, and I helped him bury your Ma!” He shifted his weight from one leg to the other in agitation, “So don’t you go lecturing me about helping spring your Pa from jail!”
The outburst sent a silence over the men. Ike shook his head, “I’m sorry Marnie. I know you miss your ma, but−” Marnie watched him rub his furrowed face and produce a tender smile, “you girls, feel like you was my own and I don’t want to see ya get hurt.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, “We’ll wait for Lucas.” he instructed softly.
Marnie’s head shook feverishly, “We can’t wait. They could hang him at any time. Lucas might persuade the Governor to intervene in the charges against Papa, but Talon is a coward. He won’t wait for a judge or jury.” Marnie forced a wave of moving tears as she let out an, “Oh!” and pushed the handkerchief against her nose. She sniffed and dropped her head. Papa’s running out of time!
Ike eased down in a chair beside her, “Look Marnie, we can’t just go into the jail and ask for the key. He’s a wanted criminal, they’ll be guarding him close.”
“I won’t be moved by tears young lady.” Will interrupted Ike’s careful words, “I’d give my life for Daniel, but our actions have to be thought through. We wait.”
The firmness of Will’s words stilled her tears. I knew it! They’re not going to help me. Marnie refused to lose the fight. She calmed herself and raised her head, “I’m sorry, you’re right.” Her head nodded slightly in agreement and then bent forward with humility, “I know without your loyalty Papa would have been caught a long time ago, and Callie and I would probably be dead.” When she met Ike’s concerned face, the storm in her green eyes cleared, and a crafty smile eased its way onto her pouty lips, “Forgive me.” Her voice was soft, “I’m just scared. I had to try.”
Ike cocked one bushy eyebrow upward and sighed, “Well girl, Lucas will be back from Richmond tomorrow.”
A half an hour later Marnie walked the last remaining man to the door. Ike shifted awkwardly and moved towards her. When the others had gone, he called Marnie by her childhood name, “Joe, in nineteen years I ain’t never seen you give into a fight. I saw them green eyes clear, and that means one thing. You’re up to something!”
Wilhelmina Stolen is the pseudonym for romance writer, Shannon Hayes. Shannon is a native of Kentucky and makes her home in a small southern town close to the Tennessee line. During her adolescence, her mother’s free spirited nature became restless causing the family to embark on a slew of adventurous moves across the country. The moves provoked a hunger for adventure and romance and introduced her to a wonderful world of history and beauty.
As with most writers, her stories began at an early age with long sessions of seclusion and secrecy. While her classmates and friends were outside playing, Shannon was locked away in her room hammering out ideas on an old 1940’s Royal typewriter.
After finding Mr. Right, Shannon found herself wanting the comfort and security of the small Kentucky town she longed to escape as a child. Fortune smiled upon her and she became the family historian; gathering pictures, wills, marriage certificates and everything else that somehow managed to fall into her lap. Stories flooded her mind and writing quickly became an obsession that turned into the Way of Hearts Saga. The saga spans six generations and three families.
Shannon holds an Associates in Applied Science in Technology, a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration and Management as well as a Masters in Educational Leadership. Visit her author page at www.wilhelminastolen.com to learn more about the saga.
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