Warning: long excerpt ahead…
As I stated in a previous blog post, I’m revising my first book, The General’s Wife. So far, I’m just over halfway through what I call a “first pass” revision, in which I seek to clean up the point-of-view errors and prettify the text. I’ll do several more revisions based on my editing checklist. (One literary fiction friend told me over coffee one day that every novel needs to go through at least nine revisions. Oh my. That’s a lot. But, um, okay.)
I thought I might post an excerpt so those (dozens!) of you who have actually read General’s Wife can see what I’m doing here. The ideas underpinning the plot are all still there, it’s just the wrapper that has changed, and in this excerpt, the sensuality has been heightened. I would be very interested in your comments. The excerpt below is from Chapter 10, just after our heroine Clara has been discovered alone in the woods by the American patriots and questioned by our hero Sam.
And, as romance writer Sara Ramsey says “Also, CAVEAT: anything posted here is subject to change.” Of course.
Enjoy the excerpt!
There was very little peace to be had at the camp, for which Clara was almost grateful. She needed distraction from the anxiety that had begun to build. The captain’s questioning had brought to fore all the awfulness that had transpired that morning.
A steady stream of cadets entered the tent throughout the afternoon to mumble over maps laid out on the captain’s cot, shooting her a surprised glance as they wandered in, and a suspicious one as they marched out. Outside, soldiers ran about shouting orders peppered with profanities. As evening descended, one regaled a sniggering colleague with an obscenity-laced story, his excited tenor easily filtering through the canvas wall. Such things were precisely why her husband forbade her to ever go near the barracks by their farmhouse. Clara paced the length of the tent, observing it all with amusement and apprehension.
Night fell quickly, bringing with it new activity. Soldiers called out sentry duties, or—quite unbelievably—protested said orders. If such flagrant disregard for authority was typical in the colonies, how did the Americans expect to win their war?
Captain Taylor came in carrying a lantern and flashed her a tired smile. “Good evening, my lady. I hope you have not been too bored in your captivity?” He set the lantern on the table.
“Oh, no, captain. There was plenty to keep me entertained.”
He grunted, and went to a narrow side table with a pitcher and basin. He grabbed the pitcher, then hesitated. “I apologize for my discourtesy, Lady Strathmore. Would you like to wash up?”
The dirt and sweat had crusted on her face. She was also in desperate need of a hairbrush, but that was quite possibly going a bit too far. “Yes, thank you, captain. I would like that.”
He called for another basin to be brought to his tent. He poured water in one and when the other arrived, filled that up as well. Then Clara watched in utter shock as he stripped off his tunic and shirt and plunged his hands into the water. He proceeded to splash his face and upper body, wash with a well-used cake of brown soap, then splash some more.
“This is for you,” he said pointing to the other basin, his face and hair dripping wet. He grabbed a dingy towel and vigorously dried himself.
She could not take her eyes off him. Lamplight played off the contours of his muscled arms, his chiseled chest, his rippled abdomen, shadows made all the more prominent by the highlights of dampened skin. A trail of dark hair teased her as it disappeared into the waistband of his breeches. His body was perfection, like that of an ancient sculpture her brother once allowed her to see at a museum.
Confusion and anxiety dizzied her brain. A very attractive man was half-dressed before her, wanting her to join him in a rather intimate activity. She hadn’t really recovered from the heady experience of the cider. Was this how they planned to assault her? Get her drunk then make her take off half her clothes under the pretense of bathing? Up until now the Americans had kept a respectful distance and she was beginning to trust them, to accept they were the ones Paul had said would offer her safe haven. Now, suddenly, she was not so sure.
She stood unmoving, staring at the captain. He put the towel down and regarded her quizzically. He spied the soap, picked it up, walked towards her, and held it out.
Clara jumped back. He was too close to her, much too close. She gaped at his nakedness in horror.
He returned her gaze, his forehead crinkling in puzzlement for only a moment before he colored from his hairline down as far as she felt comfortable looking. He sucked in his lips and calmly placed the soap on the side table, then slowly turned his back to her and shuffled into a clean linen shirt and deerskin tunic.
He said nothing as he strode out of the tent.
* * *
Sam found Pat waiting for him on the dark side of a tree trunk, out of earshot from his tent. “Christ, Pat, she’s really skittish.” He kicked the ground and raked his fingers though his still-damp hair.
“Of course she’s skittish. She’s being held prisoner.”
“Yeah, I know, but, well, I mean—” Sam stopped, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes for a moment. “Look, you heard about those redcoats Andrew and Isaac found today—”
“Yeah? … Oh … God,” Pat groaned in realization, slumping against the brittle bark.
“Exactly! They assaulted her in some way, she didn’t specify how, possibly raped her. And then she somehow turned the tables and castrated them. God only knows what she did to her initial captor, the man her husband owed money to.”
“I’ll keep my ears open for any more reports of missing cocks, sir.”
Sam chuckled. Pat knew how to lighten his mood all too well. He looked out at the busy camp beyond. They were quite alone and tucked away from view.
He sighed. “It’s too bad she’s the enemy. We could use a woman like her.”
“Beautiful?” Pat goaded.
“Cheeky bastard.” Sam smacked him on the hip, letting his palm linger before sliding to cup a firm butt cheek. “No. A woman living by her wits in these troubled times, a woman willing to do whatever she needs to survive.” He squeezed.
Pat shucked him off. “You court danger, my captain.”
Sam slapped his hands against the trunk on either side of Pat’s head and leaned in. “I’m frustrated, lieutenant.”
“As are probably all of your men. You must embrace continence, and set the example.” Pat’s breath was hot against his lips.
“Damn this war.” Sam pulled back. He could really use a frig. “What are the sleeping arrangements?”
“Concerning Lady Strathmore? I wanted to ask you the same question.”
Sam groaned. “You’re right. She’s my responsibility.” He ran his fingers though his hair then drew them across his neck and along his jaw. His rather stubbly jaw. He smoothed his hand down the front of his buckskin tunic.
He looked nothing like the officer he was supposed to be. Some of the privates looked more professional. No wonder Lady Strathmore had been slightly impertinent. She probably thought the discipline as lax as the captain’s state of dress. “She has to be watched, Pat. I want sentries posted on each side of my tent.”
“Then she is to sleep with you?” Pat’s tone dripped with insinuation.
“Not ‘sleep with’ me, you fool!” Sam hissed. But Patrick was grinning, or, rather, trying hard not to grin. “Jesus, this is going to look bad, isn’t it?”
“Not with sentries on all sides of your tent, it’s not.”
“Good. Then that’s what we’ll do. I’ll need an extra cot.”
“That would be prudent.”
Sam glared at him.
“Sir,” Pat added, pursing his lips to tamp down a grin. He called for one of the night watch sentries and requested he commandeer a cot from the medical tent.
“I should check on her,” Sam mused as they waited.
“As you wish, captain.” A tremor of mirth edged Pat’s voice.
“You find this far too amusing, lieutenant.”
He could hold back no longer. “Sam,” he laughed, “you have an amazingly beautiful young woman—still in her lusty adolescence, mind you—in your tent at this very moment, and you are about to go to sleep. You, Samuel Taylor, who can out-perform any and all of Paul Bridgers’s whores, are planning to simply go to sleep. Alone.” Pat pressed forward until his nose tickled Sam’s cheek. “Of course I find this amusing. As much as you find it frustrating, my friend.”
“Perhaps if I were certain she was the maid and not the lady…”
Pat chuckled at his attempt at levity.
Sam sighed. “Look, we don’t know what she’s been through, but something happened. Like I said, she’s skittish.”
Pat’s fingers reached for his in the dark. “You’re a good man, Sam. You know I’m only teasing you.”
Sam squeezed Pat’s hand. “I know,” he said softly.
A woman’s yelp pierced the night.
“I see the cot has arrived. Duty calls, lieutenant.” Sam returned to his tent.
Inside, Lady Strathmore sat fretfully at his desk staring wide-eyed at the two ensigns who carried the cot.
Sam pointed to the side opposite his own bed. “Please put it there.”
Lady Strathmore waited until the subalterns had departed before she spoke. “I won’t go to bed with you!”
Oh, Christ. He shoved his fingers through his hair and gripped the strands as he drew in a breath. “Look, Lady Strathmore, you are to sleep over there.” He pointed to her side of the tent. “And I am to sleep over here. I have posted sentinels on all four sides and at the door should you get any ideas about escaping, or should I get any ideas about ravishing you. As I am positively exhausted, I plan to go to sleep. I suggest you do the same. We leave tomorrow very early in the morning for Fort Revolution.”
And with that, Sam stripped off his spatterdashes and shoes, blew out the candle in the lantern, and plopped down on his cot.