Chapter 1 - 0bssesed by Him


watched her spike it, then added another pint when she wasn’t looking.” Tyler Lee stood with the silver ladle poised over a small silver cup. The handle was ornate, as pretty as anything Raven had ever seen, and she knew the service must have cost a small fortune.

“Maybe just a little,” Raven told him. “And one of those fancy small cakes, oh! And a slice of venison, also.”

“Cake, and venison,” he said with a laugh. “Is that all?

There are hard cooked eggs, and biscuits and gravy, and beets in a vinegar brine. And at least three different kinds of pie.”

“You’re teasing me, m’sieur!” Raven said, delighted at the vast array of delicacies.

“Only a little.” Tyler filled a plate and brought it to her, watching as she took a seat in Meg’s rocker by the kitchen hearth, then placed it carefully in her lap. He brought a chair and sat down beside her, cradling his drink in one hand. “Have you told him yet?”

She’d been about to take a bite of golden egg yolk, and now her fingers stilled. Eyes cast down, she sought for a light tone. “I don’t know what you mean.”

He didn’t press the matter, but shrugged lazily. “I think you do, but that’s all right. I have four sisters, and they all have children but the youngest, so I recognize the signs. It may be indelicate of me to notice, but if you’d been eating like this all along, you’d be big as a barn by now. Babies like their nourishment, and I know Eben.” He was quiet for a moment. “Why haven’t you told him about this? Don’t you trust him to do right by you?”

“Yes, of course,” she said, then just as quickly the doubt crept in. “I don’t know!” It wasn’t something she’d wanted to discuss with him, or anyone, yet it kept cropping up, and that was going to get worse very soon. She could not hide it forever. She took a deep and shuddering breath, fighting back

the sting of tears. “Oh, I hate this! I never cry! And I always managed my life very well until he came along! Now, everything is complicated.”

Tyler Lee took her hands in his. “It doesn’t have to be complicated,” he said, his voice softening, his drawl deepening. “If you tell him about the baby, he’ll take you to wife. He won’t let his child be born out of wedlock.”

Raven shook her head, frustrated that her eyes were pooling with tears. “You don’t understand! I don’t want him like that— forced to take care of me!” Voices sounded in the hallway, near the common room. Raven shot from her chair and turned her back, groaning.

Then, Tyler was there beside her, draping his coat over her shoulders, a strong supportive arm at her back. “Come. We’ll get some air. The night is crisp, and the stars are out. It’ll give you a few moments to compose yourself.”

They went out together, through the back door and across the yard and lower field to the banks of Plum Creek. He’d been right about one thing: the night was cool and crisp with the tang of autumn, of fallen leaves and rich dark loam.

Overhead, the black canopy of the sky was studded with diamond-bright stars. With the lights from the inn at a distance of a hundred yards, some of her emotional reaction faded. She sniffed, and Tyler handed her a clean handkerchief from his pocket. “You must think me overly emotional, m’sieur,” she said, drying her eyes. “I’m not usually given to tearful tirades, and dramatic displays. Truly, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“You’re with child?” he said with a laugh. “And at the moment, unwed—but I assure you that both situations will be remedied with a little time.”

“The pregnancy, yes. The unwed—I am not so sure.” She stared out over the rippling creek, secure in the warmth of his coat, glad for his presence. “He treasures his freedom, Tyler. He has told me himself many times, that he doesn’t want a wife, a family.”

“At this point want may not figure into it,” he said. “It may not be the best way to start a life together, but it isn’t exactly a rare occurrence, either.”

Raven shook her head. “It’s not at all what I want.”

He said nothing for a while, and the night grew quiet. With Tyler, she felt safe and protected, and she was certain that Eben was wrong about him. He was a gentleman, caring and funny. He made her laugh, and at the moment, he gave her a tiny bit of hope that everything would be all right. Glancing up at him, she found that he’d been watching her, and the expression on his handsome face seemed very grave indeed.

“What do you want, Raven? Aside from Eben?”

“Just to be happy. To have someone to love, who loves me. Someone I know will be there when I want to be held, and—”


She ducked her head and hot blood scalded her cheeks. “The marriage bed. I want that, too. It’s blissful, and I find I like it very much.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “Oh, what you must think of me! I should not be saying these things—it’s scandalous!”

“Perhaps,” he said, “in other company, but I’m no stranger to scandal. You can’t shock me, Raven. It isn’t possible.” He shifted to face her, tilting up her chin with one finger. “As for what I think of you… I think you are perfectly delightful, and you can trust me not to tell anyone.”

She smiled at that. “I do—trust you.”

Before she could say anything more, he lowered his head and tested her lips. It was a brief kiss, feather light and full of tenderness. Sweetness. She caught her breath, and when he broke the contact, she found herself lost in his eyes, and in the next breath, it ended.

One minute they were alone, and the next Eben grabbed Tyler by his coat collar and swung him away from Raven, then, as his friend turned to confront him, smashed his fist into the Virginian’s mouth. The blow knocked Tyler back, but he didn’t fall. Staggering a few steps, he shook off the shock and

righted himself to face Eben again. “That one, I may have earned, but it’s all you’re gonna get.”

“Of all the sneaky, underhanded, back-stabbing sons-of- bitches!”

“So, this is about Rafe?”

“I’m not letting you take her,” Eben said.

“I can’t take her anywhere she doesn’t want to go. Why not let the lady decide for herself what it is she wants? Or are you afraid of what she might decide?” Tyler Lee barely had time to put his fists up before Eben lowered his head and dove at him, hitting him square in the midsection, knocking him back into the frozen mud where they rolled in an enraged tangle, trading punches, biting, kicking, and gouging.

“Stop it!” Raven cried. “Stop it this instant!” She caught at Eben’s elbow and nearly missed getting hit when he pulled back his fist to hit Tyler again. The punch connected and knocked the Virginian’s head aside—but Raven succeeded in getting his attention.

“Damn it, Raven, go back to the inn!” Eben shouted. “Eben, stop! Please! You’re hurting him!” Distracted for a

beat too long, Eben took a blow to the chin that knocked him back a staggering step. Before he could collect himself, Tyler hit him again, knocking him over the edge of the steep incline at the creek bank and into the shallows. He came up sputtering, then sank back down, head cushioned on the silt at the water’s edge.

Tyler picked himself up and shook off the after effects of the adrenaline pouring through his system. Blood trickled from his nose and he was covered in mud and bits of leaves. “Rafe, are you all right?” he asked, reaching for Raven’s arm.

She jerked back, shrugging out of his coat, flinging it at him. “Don’t touch me! Either of you!” She turned and ran for the inn as Eben picked himself out of the creek and joined Tyler on the bank.

Eben rubbed his jaw, testing it to assure himself it wasn’t broken. “What’s she so mad about?”

Tyler shrugged. “Damned if I know.” He glanced back at Eben. “Are we finished here?”

Eben met his gaze with stubbornness and determination. “Will you leave her alone?”

Tyler Lee raised one heavy dark brow. “Would you, in my position?”

Eben huffed an impatient sigh, made to turn away, then swung his fist, hitting the man with everything he had, and Tyler Lee stretched out on the cold hard ground as if waiting for the undertaker. “Now, we’re finished,” Eben said, shaking out his injured hand. Without a backward glance, he turned toward the lights of the inn glowing golden in the near distance and the conversation with Raven he’d been planning all day, and which he wanted to get just right.


the servants’ stair without a backward glance. She didn’t know if Eben had managed to crawl from the creek, or whether he’d drowned, and at that moment, she didn’t care. “Damn both of them,” she said, finally reaching her bedchamber, slamming and locking the door. “Why must everything be solved with their fists?”

There was no one to explain the mysteries of why men did the things they did, and she wasn’t even sure she wanted to know. She flopped down on the bed, burying her hot face in the cool pillow, unable even to cry.

Outside in the hallway, determined footfalls sounded. His boot heels rang on the puncheons and the judge’s querulous voice demanded to know what was happening. Meg chimed in, begging them both to use some restraint. “I need to speak to Raven,” Eben said. His fist rattled the panel on its sturdy hinges. “Raven? For Christ’s sake, will you open the door?”

“Leave it alone, Eben,” the older man warned, his voice unforgiving. “I won’t have you cutting a wide swath of destruction through this house.”

t. In the name of all that’s unholy, wo

n the door!” “Go away! I

e of its stridency. All of a sudden, it sounded

Ivory and Patrick Wharton, and not a few gents from the town had come to satisfy their curiosity. Eben was beyond caring.

ld him through the panel. “Now

ve you. I have from

enough! Now

is power of coherent speech to a torrent of dammed up emotion. Soon, he’d be babbling like a lunatic in an asylum, sounds coming

e said through the door. “You canno

lass. I need y

The latch lifted, and the knob turned, and the door opened a very narrow crack. She pressed one wary

dy, and he smelled of the creek and the

t you for my wi

wet from his swim, but nonetheless a symbol of all that h

gold band glinting more brightly than it had

lass. Say

oom. And the crowd outside burst into a raucous cheer. Everyone but Ivory and her h

THAT this is what you wa

everything that comes as a resu

ed brats, I believe? You said that they cried

“Bother what I said,” he told her. “Babies are nice enough, and I’m sure the idea will grow on me. If they come, I wil

s near her, I may have to kill him

is Tyle

nd in a little while.” “Y

got exactly what

sed her gaze on her lap. “He was not being untoward, Eb

one at a time, like raindrops sinking into parched soil. For me, and the baby

it over her belly, below her navel, and above her Venus mo

d staring down at her, his hand on her gently roun

child.” She stepped away fr

s? Where are

bed smelling like a fish.” She went out then, and Eben went to the w

en under the covers. Her enthusiasm for his loving brought back memories of the sundrenched days and chilly Pittsburgh nights, with one exception. Tonight, there was no thought of parting, of giving her up, of being a

couldn’t help thinking it felt like a dream. Tomorrow, he might waken in a bed that was empty, and fin


end their way home b

rmth from the fire. In one hand, he cradled a glass of whiskey. The other was discolored and swelling. Covered in mud and feeling like shit, he should have dragge

ose. In cards, or a

at son-of-a- bitch St. Claire? It scalded him. And h

en a little surprised when Mrs. Wharton emerged from

“I thank you, madam. I see you have

l, though who can say why we are drawn to certain people, certain elements? Suffice to say, we just are.” She ran a tapered white finger along hi

with your husband storming down the stairs and challenging me to pistols at fifteen paces,

ou, sir, you are quite safe, and will not be forced to kill him. It is actually Eben and his

hy is that? It would appear that you

not leave well

hat despite his reluctant-sounding inquiry, he was intrigued. “I am not done with him, yet, Mr. J

traction to Raven wasn’t exactly a secret, and as far as he was concerned very l

bad temp

ked of deceit. “Then, we are in agreeme

Lee murmured. “Exactly

the bed where Raven was sleeping. It pained him to leave her so soon, but he had business to take care of downriver, and it couldn’t wait, so he scrawled a brief note with pen and ink, a

es of his right looked a great deal like Eben’s—swollen to twice their size, battered, and purple with bruising. The face he tu

, and walked with difficulty. He was also the winner of Raven’s affections. It allowed him to be

ring the same clothing he’d worn last night, and it was obvious he h

ied to climb the stairs. From the feel of thin

. He’d snapped the bones on the point of the man’s stubborn chi

r sure,” Tyler said, and grimaced. “Th

wpoint, perhaps. I asked her

“When’s the happy e

ctly. It’s a matter that must be settled before I can make fur

Tyler Lee said. “

etrothed while I’m gone.” Eben went out, more confident than he’d been in years… for on

softly as his form

their ages, Tyler just having celebrated

lready dark thoughts into churning just a little faster. He was finall

kfast, Tyler was freshly washed, and

fitted him neatly, and as long as he made no sudden moves, he appeare

room, but didn’t sit immediately. Instead, she glanced at the doorway, a pensive look on her face. “Meg?” she whispered,

d, managing somehow not to smile, tho

next to his. She sighed and sat down, reluctantly allowing him

ham slices. “Eben went off down the south road a few hours ago,” she offer

han usual. He sought for, and found her hand beneath the table covering, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Don’

en you’d best look elsewhere. Eben will never stay long enough in one place to establish roots. Nor, can he remain with one wo

doorway. “She may sound like an expert where Eben’s concer

e judge cut in.

asp and stood. “If you’ll excuse me,

able, and fixed Raven with his steely stare. “Miss

r fear and followed

another had a bank of windows, outside of which snow was falling. It had turned sharply colder o

o stand beside her, to shield her. But he wasn’t here. And she didn’t understand his absence. He hadn’t mentioned that he would be gone

t, and though she had never seen his writing, something deep inside told her that Eben had written it. Th

“But I don’t understand. Where w

unds to him before he left Ohio, and Eben arra

t to Eben. And Eben

d for her dowry. And he’d entrusted Ze

nd herself saying, and the sudden ache

king the envelope, ran from

ollow, but Meg caught his arm. “I think yo

rposely bland. “I’m not su

ng. There’s an explanation for his absence, and though I don’t know what it is, y

e happy,” Tyler said, w

t them both to be happy. If you’re truly a friend of Eben’s and

ure he hasn’t left h

simply. She turned then

was concerned. If she even suspected that he was working against Eben, sh