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A Path Worth Taking

By: Mariella Starr
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: 2016© Blushing Books® and Mariella Starr
20 Chapters / 95,000 words
Heat Level:
5.0 Out Of 5 (5.0 on 2)   |  Write a review
Price:
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Four years of Civil War have taken their toll on Bethany St. Claire. She is no longer a sheltered young girl. She has lost everything, and duty to her brother has forced her away from what little she had left of her former life. When more tragedy befalls her, she is left destitute. Her choices are few and frightening. She must choose a husband, otherwise a man she despises will decide for her.

The memories of one night of passion have sustained former Lt. Garret Wakefield through the horrors of battle. He returns to find the girl of his dreams, only to be told she is promised to another. A man of honor does not interfere with a betrothal, so he returns to his former profession as a scout for a wagon train.

Fate brings Bethany under Garret’s watchful guard again, but his job takes him away from the wagons more often than he is there to protect her. While he is gone, tragedy strikes. Left with nothing but the clothing she is wearing, Bethany must take a husband to survive.

Garret is not going to allow another man to have what was once his. He wants Bethany for his own, and he will have her. He offers marriage because there is no other way to protect her. She needs a husband, and he needs a wife and a companion to help him build a future. Their new life together will be difficult, but they must form a strong bond to survive in an untamed territory.

Can a forced marriage endure the hardships they must face? Can a Southern beauty find happiness as the wife of a man who believes in spanking? Disobedience and transgressions are not allowed, and Garret has discovered a bared bottom over his knee is a very efficient method of handling a wayward wife.

 

DISCLAIMER: This books contains the spanking of adult women and sexual scenes. If any of these offend you, please do not purchase this book.

 

Prologue

 

February 1863, Barnesville, Maryland [40 miles north of Washington, D.C.]

 

“Miss Beth! You’ve got to come quick!”

“What is it, Lettie?” Beth asked, darting from the drawing room and looking out the window in fear.

“Bluebellies! They’re coming up the lane. We have to hide!”

“Where’s Joshua?”

“I already saw him going to the barn,” Lettie said, opening the cellar door.

“Take this, Lettie. We don’t have time to spare!” Beth ordered as she shoved a bushel basket of provisions in the hands of her friend. She pushed Lettie Mason in front of her, juggling a second basket and a sack of food in her arms as they scrambled down the stairs. Beth ran ahead of her friend across the empty cellar to open a hidden panel in the wall while Lettie lighted a lantern. They wiggled through the panel and closed it behind them.

“What if they set fire to the house?” Lettie whispered. “I never did like it down here.”

“Go! We don’t have anything to fear,” Beth whispered. “We will be far enough away so even if they burn the house, we won’t be hurt, although pray they don’t!” Beth knew Lettie hated dark places. She pushed and urged her friend down the long stone passageway until they came to a wooden door leading to a second tunnel, which ended in an underground room.

Beth set her basket and sack on a small table and turned down the wick on the lantern. They could hear the hoof beats of the Calvary unit above them. They were three hundred yards from the main house underneath the St. Clair peach orchards where they ran along the opposite side of the farm lane.

Beth’s great-grandfather had built the tunnels fifty years earlier. An abolitionist, he had rerouted a creek that ran through their property to irrigate the orchards and used the old streambed to build escape tunnels. If they continued down the tunnels, they would only be a hundred feet from the railroad water tower where trains would stop to refill their water tanks. Those same trains often resumed their journey with hidden passengers in a desperate bid for freedom.

Beth had known about her family’s involvement in the Underground Railroad since she was fourteen years old. Hundreds of runaway slaves had followed a secret route to the St. Claire farm with help from a large network of people holding similar beliefs in freedom for all. These runaways had been spirited away from their southern owners or found their way by word of mouth. Often mistreated, once the runaways arrived at the St. Claire farm, they were given sanctuary; fed and cared for until they were well enough to continue on their northern trek to freedom. When it was safe, the runaways would steal away on a special train car built with hidden compartments big enough to hide a slave. The trains stopped at the water tower on the tracks running through the orchards only a stone’s throw away from the tunnels.

The St. Claire’s involvement with the Underground Railroad had stopped as the war escalated. The tunnels had only been used in dire personal circumstances over the last four years. It was too dangerous to continue since Beth had been left on her own after her father died in in the first year of the war. Now, she only had Lettie and Jacob left to help her.

Maryland was a border state between the North and the South. There were only four slaveholding states that did not secede from the union. With economic and political connections on both neighboring borders, Maryland was not exactly neutral. The state remained in the Union even though many of its citizens sided with the Confederacy, particularly those in the southern counties where slavery was a way of life. As the state was split by the Chesapeake Bay, so was its loyalties to preserve the union.

Caught between two warring armies and ideologies, Maryland was fought over and occupied by both Union and Confederate troops. Parts of the state were captured, surrendered, and then recaptured in the ebb and flow of the war. It was a delicate balancing act for Washington to keep its nearest states allied with the Union. They were so close to the North in Barnesville, Beth had known only a few people who believed in slavery during her lifetime. She knew it was different in the southern counties.

She remembered when slavery used to be an arguable topic of conversation, politely debated among friends with differing views. Not anymore. Four years of war, death, starvation, and brothers killing brothers, had torn families and neighbors apart and pitted them against one another. Any talk of differing opinions now erupted into conflict, usually resulting in gunfire.

Barnesville was a tiny community whose farmers grew corn and planted fruit orchards. The closest the war battles had come to them was five miles away at Sugarloaf Mountain where the Union had erected an observation post. It was the highest point in the area. On a clear day, troop movements could be seen on the Potomac in Washington, D.C., and signals could be relayed as far as Harpers Ferry in the newly formed state of West Virginia. It was common to see large observational balloons floating in the sky above the mountain. It was also common for southern soldiers to sneak across the lines and conduct violent raids in something the newspapers were calling guerrilla warfare.

Skirmishes had taken place in the area as Sugarloaf Mountain was a valuable post, which changed hands several times as it was fought for repeatedly. Both the Union and the Confederacy were willing to fight for anything to give them an edge against the opposing army.

The war had been raging for two years. Still, there was no end or solution in sight. Not many men were left in the area, only the very young, and the very old. Most civilians hid when troops were around from either side.

In the beginning, everyone believed the conflict would be over in a matter of days, or, at the most, weeks. Local residents had offered food and shelter generously. It had not taken long before the niceties of hospitality had given way to necessity. It no longer mattered if it were Union or Confederate troops. Uniformed men were violent regardless of which color they wore—when they came, they took. Provisions were stolen, cattle were slaughtered, and homes were ransacked and burned. Civilians hid themselves and their meager provisions out of sight.

All Beth had left was the land and her home, which was looking tattered and war torn. They dare not repair anything, as it would indicate occupation of the property.

Her only sibling, Nate, her older brother by four years, was fighting in the war. The last she had heard from him, he was serving at the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia. Beth had not received a letter from him in months. Since she had not been notified of his death, she prayed for his safety every day.

Lettie and Jacob Mason had stayed with Beth through it all. Born free, the brother and sister had worked for her family all their lives. The St. Claire’s had no slaves, but rather paid workers, both white and colored. With the Confederates known for mistreating the colored folk and the northern troops not behaving much better, the two stayed close to the farm and out of sight from strangers.

“I’m here, Miss Beth,” Jacob’s voice was heard on the other side of the door, and Lettie opened it to let him in. He had two chickens in his arms, protecting them. “These two were all I had time to grab. The rest will probably be in the soldiers’ gullets by tonight.”

“Hopefully, they won’t find the hogs or the cow,” Beth said, resigned to their fate. “For now, all we can do is wait them out.”

***

Lieutenant Garret Wakefield directed his men to form an encampment in the field behind the farmhouse. He had seen a colored man in the distance as his troops were approaching, but the man had disappeared before the Calvary unit reached the main house. It was not uncommon. If the man were a runaway slave, he would not want to incur the wrath of his owner by being caught. If he was a free man who had not headed north, he was a target for the southern slave owners who cared very little for freedom papers at this point.

Garret’s men were under his personal orders to leave the coloreds alone unless they were in Confederate uniform and armed. Considering the sworn stance of the Confederacy, it wasn’t likely to happen.

“Sergeant Grayson set up the picket lines and let the men rest. See if you can get a message through to Major Cole,” Garret ordered as he dismounted. He pounded on the door of the farmhouse. There was no answer, and the door was locked. He stepped out of the way as his Sergeant smashed the door open with the butt end of his rifle.

He walked through the rooms, noting they were clean and tidy. Someone was living there or had lived there recently and was in hiding. If it were women, he didn’t blame them. He took the stairs to the second floor of the big old farmhouse. It was not a mansion by any means. Still, it was a large comfortable house.

There was definitely a woman in residence. He found a room with frilly ruffled curtains on the windows and a woman’s things neatly arranged on a vanity. He picked up a bottle of scent, sniffed it, and returned it to the vanity. He opened a chifferobe and gazed at a white nightgown, trimmed with a pale pink ribbon. His imagination took flight for a few seconds of desperate longing before he moved on.

If this damned war ever ended, he was heading west. He’d joined the Union Army on a ninety-day enlistment thinking the war would be over in a matter of months. Instead, he’d been sent east, made an officer and he’d already seen action against the enemy eight times in battle and countless times in accidental meetings. Either resulted in bloodshed.

If he lived to see it through to the end, he would find himself a well-behaved woman—a pretty one, settle down, and have a passel of children. He hadn’t had a woman in a while. The ones who followed the camps or showed up winking and carrying on were well used by the troops. He never minded paying for his pleasures, but he preferred the less bold, and a woman with at least a pretense of decorum. Right now, though, his personal needs had to take a secondary priority to his duties as an officer.

Lieutenant Wakefield searched the rest of the upstairs quarters. If anyone had been there, they were gone.

“Do we set fire to it, sir?” Sergeant Grayson asked when his superior returned downstairs.

“There’s no need to destroy everything in our path, Sergeant,” Garret said calmly, unsurprised by his subordinate's thirst for destruction. “Whoever was here is not flying the flag of the Confederacy. Remember, there are as many Unionists in these parts as Confederate sympathizers. Order the men to stay in the pastures away from the house and the outbuildings. These people have little enough left. Anything worth confiscating has already been taken. If you need me, I will be billeting here.”

Sergeant Grayson gave a nod of his head and went to follow his orders. He looked to the skies, as the clouds let loose with a drenching rain. His commanding officer would not be sleeping in the rain tonight.

Several days later, Garret made his rounds, swore under his breath, and returned to the main house. It was still raining and miserably cold. His unit was stalled, waiting for orders. If he did not receive orders soon, he feared enemy scouts would discover their encampment. Living in thirty-degree temperatures with rain or snow falling nearly every day made for wretched conditions. The men were making the best of it trying to get some rest, and repairing their uniforms and equipment if they could. They were sharing pork from a hog found in an old cellar of a building no longer standing. At least, his men would have food in their stomachs.

***

Beth pulled on a pair of trousers and tucked in a shirt far too large for her. She jammed a floppy hat on her head and stomped across the cold, damp stones of the cellar as Jacob took off his boots for her to wear. She, Lettie and Jacob had been hiding in the tunnels for almost a week.

“Ain’t no need for you to go,” Jacob said. “I can sneak out and milk Bonnie.”

“No, you can’t,” Beth said firmly. “If I get caught, it will be a boy milking a cow. If it’s you or Lettie, they will assume you’re stealing it. It could get you into a lot of trouble. Some of the Union soldiers dislike coloreds as much as the Confederates. It’s not safe for you to be out.”

“I don’t like it,” Jacob complained.

“If there is any other way, please tell me what it is. Bonnie has been bawling for days. Why they are letting her be miserable instead of milking her, I don’t know. I guess we should be thankful they haven’t butchered her for meat,” Beth said. “I’ll sneak over and use the tunnel to the barn. They won’t see me.”

“What if men are in there?” Lettie demanded. “Any man in any uniform can’t be trusted! They’ve all gone mean.”

“These aren’t,” Beth promised. “I’ve been watching. So far, they’ve been keeping to themselves. The only one staying in the house seems to be the lieutenant. He must be in charge because I haven’t seen any officers of a higher rank. Stay here and don’t come looking for me!”

Beth tried to sound a lot braver than she felt. Using only a candle, she scurried through the tunnels, trying not to trip in Jacob’s oversized boots, until she got to the barn. She poked her head out of the trapdoor to make sure no soldiers were around and went to work milking the only cow they had left.

When she finished, she climbed into the loft and peered through the cracks in the barn siding. The only soldiers she could see were the men on sentry duty, stomping back and forth through the mud and snow. She guessed the rest of them were sheltering inside the tents. She saw the lieutenant who had quartered himself in her house walk across the fields and disappear inside one of the tents.

Beth fed Bonnie an extra large scoop of grain from a supply hidden under the loose straw in the loft and grabbed the bucket of milk. She hurried through the tunnel to the main cellar of the house.

The secret passageways had been forbidden for family use as long as she had known about them. They had been built for the sole purpose of helping slaves escape to the north. It was of paramount importance for her family’s involvement in the network of secret routes and safe houses to remain unknown. Had their secret been discovered, her family members would have been jailed, fined or hung.

She put the bucket down inside the passageway and argued briefly with herself. The cellar tunnels where they were hiding were cold and leaky. She was tired of being damp and cold. While the lieutenant was gone, she would run upstairs and grab extra quilts.

The house was silent when she peered around the cellar door. The lieutenant had not returned. Beth kicked off the loud clomping boots and ran up the stairs barefooted. She gathered quilts and several warm wool-crocheted bed covers. At the last second, she grabbed her little bottle of scent. The damp earthen smell of the cellar and their body odors were becoming sickening. She was at the bottom of the main staircase when the front door knob clicked.

Frozen in fear, Beth heard two men talking outside. She realized the lieutenant had been halted and was speaking to one of his men on the other side of the door. She bolted across the entryway losing her grip on the little bottle of scent. The stopper came out and clattered to the floor as the liquid spilled over her hand. She had no time to stop and ran to the kitchen to slip through the cellar door and down the steps.

Lieutenant Wakefield smelled the scent as soon as he stepped into the foyer. Smelled it and recognized it. He followed it through the house and heard the cellar door close quietly. He stopped long enough to light a lantern before following. Several quilts had been dropped on the stone floor at the bottom of the stairs. He raised the lantern and saw a small figure dart past him, making a run for it. Garret was quicker and caught the culprit by the scruff of his neck, lifting the boy off his feet.

Seconds later Garret was dodging small fists, scratching nails, and biting teeth. Getting a good grip on the boy, Garret gave him a hard shake. “Settle down, youngster!”

The boy went limp for a few seconds and then with a sudden burst of flying fists, he broke free and scampered to the steps. Seconds behind him, Garret grabbed the boy by the back of his jacket only to have him slide out of it, and the chase was on. He caught the boy again and during the scuffle the boy’s hat was knocked off. Long brown braids fell out of the hat.

“Stop it,” Garret ordered, giving the girl a hard shake and turning her around so he could see her. This was no child. It was a young woman in her late adolescence or early twenties.

“Where have you been hiding?” She didn’t answer, and Garret could tell she was furious by the way her small chest was heaving.

“Answer me.”

“Go to hell!”

“I have already been there, and you should be ashamed of yourself for using such language.” Garret said calmly. “I won’t hurt you. Is there anyone else hiding here?”

There was a defiant shake of her head.

“Then what are you doing here alone?”

“I live here, why should I leave?”

“Because these are dangerous times, you little idiot. It’s not safe for a young girl on her own. Isn’t there anyone who could take you in and protect you?”

There was another negative shake of her head. “I only have my brother. The last I heard he was in Petersburg, Vicksburg.”

The lieutenant’s eyes narrowed. “Is he a grayback or blue?” he demanded.

“My brother is an officer in the Union Army.”

Garret regarded the girl. “I’m letting you loose. If you fight or scratch at me again, I will put you across my knee. Do we understand each other?”

She swallowed and nodded agreement, and he released his hold on her. She scurried a few feet from him.

“How old are you?” Garret demanded.

Her little chin came up in defiance. “That’s none of your business!”

He smiled at her spirit. “You might as well answer me, if you don’t I’ll dust those boy britches you’re wearing, and you’ll tell me soon enough.”

She sucked in a furious breath of air and her chest heaved again. He waited her out, and she turned her head so as not to face him.

“I’m twenty-one.”

“You’re a little liar. Try again!”

She met his eyes, but then dropped hers. “Eighteen.”

“When was the last time you ate properly?”

“When your troops invaded my property without permission. You killed our hog!”

“Spoils of war,” Garret replied.

“What does that mean?”

“Whoever gets here first, takes what they need. What’s your name?”

“None of your damn business.”

His hand gripped her shoulder, turned her around and he smacked her hard across the bottom, hard enough to elicit a yelp. “Enough with the swearing! Have you been living here since we camped outside?” he asked.

Beth remained silent.

“You wouldn’t happen to know the young colored man I saw when we rode in, would you? Is he a slave?”

“My family may live in Maryland, but we have never believed in slavery!” The answer came swiftly and defiantly with a tilt of a small chin.

“Good,” Garret said. He caught her by the shoulders and propelled her through the house.

“What are you going to do with me?” Beth demanded.

“I’m going to let you clean up, so you look and smell considerably better,” Garret said. “Then I’m going to feed you a decent meal. You can keep me company this evening and be sociable, or you can fight me. If you fight me, I’ll blister your backside. All I want is decent female companionship and not the kind following the army camps.

“I want you to present and behave yourself as the young gentlewoman I believe you to be. My intention is not to hurt you, but to have a decent conversation with a pretty girl sitting across the table from me. My troops will pull out in the morning, and your farm will still be standing when we leave. You have my word.”

Beth swallowed and raised fearful eyes to him. “Do you swear you won’t hurt me?”

“You have my word of honor as an officer.”

“I will shoot you right between the eyes if you’re lying,” Beth threatened.

“So be it,” Garret agreed with a wry smile at her threat.

***

Beth watched as the men rode off her land in straight line formations. She saw Lieutenant Wakefield glance once over his shoulder at the house. Then he deliberately turned and spurred his horse to take the lead. She had already memorized his tall, lanky body, his blondish-brown hair, and his dark, penetrating blue eyes.

She was standing in her bedroom window, a ruined woman. According to her upbringing, she should feel soiled and defiled. She didn’t feel despoiled.

At the lieutenant’s request, Beth had put on her best dress, fixed her hair, and joined him for dinner in her house at her table. As far as she was aware, none of his company knew she was in the house. While she bathed and dressed, he had closed the drapes in the two front rooms. Two meals had been delivered to the back door by his troops cook’s helper. It wasn’t the best meal she had ever eaten, but it was the first time she’d been full in a long time. They talked about their previous lives, of politics, music, and books. She only gave him her first name. Lieutenant Wakefield had been a gentleman and Beth had let down her guard. A small jug of wine had been shared between them.

She remembered the exact moment when the tempo of their evening had changed. The lieutenant had wound one of her mother’s music boxes and listened to the song. She had known what he would do long before he kissed her. She had not had a hug or a touch from anyone except Lettie since her father died. It seemed forever since anyone else had touched her.

Beth discovered male contact was warm and seductive, a warm hug was security, and a gentle kiss broke down barriers. One kiss had led to another. She had wanted his kiss, had wanted to be held and to feel safe. She had wanted to feel beautiful in the eyes of a man. He made her feel all those things as she had trembled in his arms. She had not expected to want intimacy. She had not expected to feel passion or to want him as a man. The lieutenant had realized this and had offered to stop. She was the one who wanted to continue. She was the one who wanted to know what it felt like to be desired and cherished by a man.

She looked back to her bed. The dark stain on the sheets was proof of her innocence, although it mattered to no one except her. She had given herself to a stranger.

Beth rubbed a hand over her flat stomach. Lieutenant Garret Wakefield had made her a woman and shown her the delights of her body and his. She had not known such feelings existed. The sudden heat and desire had turned her into a sensuous woman she had not known she could be. He had made love to her several times during their shared hours together, and she wondered if she would be left with a result of his virility. She touched the whisker burns on her face, her tender breasts, and touched her stomach, again. She knew, even if she carried his child, only she would carry the disgrace. She would never see him, again.

She had become Lieutenant Garret Wakefield’s spoils of war.

lillie1922 on 04/20/2017 07:20pm
I received this book as an ARC read.
This is a western DD story of a couple who have an intimate encounter and then go their separate ways until they meet again on a wagon train while travelling west. By the end of the trip Garrett and Beth are married. This a great book. Adventure, love and the trials and tribulations of life in the west.
lillie1922 on 04/20/2017 07:20pm
I received this book as an ARC read.
This is a western DD story of a couple who have an intimate encounter and then go their separate ways until they meet again on a wagon train while travelling west. By the end of the trip Garrett and Beth are married. This a great book. Adventure, love and the trials and tribulations of life in the west.

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