01 August 2013

Excerpt Thursday: A Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

This week, we're welcoming author Susanna Fraser, whose latest novel A DREAM DEFIANT is set in Spain's early 19th century during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of A DREAM DEFIANT to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

Spain, 1813

Elijah Cameron, the son of runaway slaves, has spent his whole life in the British army proving that a black man can be as good a soldier as a white man. After a victory over the French, Elijah promises one of his dying men that he will deliver a scavenged ruby necklace to his wife, Rose, a woman Elijah has admired for years.

Elijah feels bound to protect her and knows a widow with a fortune in jewels will be a target. Rose dreams of using the necklace to return to England, but after a violent attack, she realizes that she needs Elijah's help to make the journey safely.

Her appreciation for Elijah's strength and integrity soon turns into love, but he doubts she could want a life with him, knowing the challenges they'd face. As their relationship grows, she must convince Elijah that she wants him as more than a bodyguard. And she must prove that their love can overcome all obstacles, no matter the color of their skin.

**An Excerpt from A Dream Defiant** 

In this excerpt, Elijah Cameron, A Dream Defiant’s hero, has just witnessed his friend Sam Merrifield take a mortal wound in a squabble over plunder in the aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria in Spain in 1813. When Wellington’s Anglo-Portuguese-Spanish force defeated the French, the French abandoned their baggage train as they fled the field. Since the baggage train in question was unusually rich, containing among other things Joseph Bonaparte’s royal treasures, Wellington’s soldiers, being only human, abandoned their pursuit of their enemies to get in some good looting.

Elijah turned to Merrifield, who sat bent double in the open carriage, gasping for breath and clutching at his wound. Blood pulsed out from beneath his fingers, his face had gone dead white under his sunburn, and his breathing sounded strained and wet. Elijah reckoned he couldn’t last long. All for the sake of a little gold and some shiny stones.
“The necklace,” Merrifield gasped. “Pick it up!”
It wouldn’t do him any good once he was dead, but Elijah did as he asked. Even caked with dirt from the road, the thing shone, enormous stones red as fresh blood, linked in a chain of bright gold.
“They’re for Rose. Give them to her.” Merrifield’s breath was growing more strained, and he labored for the words.
What use would a queen’s ransom in jewels be to a soldier’s wife? Elijah supposed he shouldn’t think ill of the dying, but for all Merrifield’s goodness, he’d never had a steady or practical moment in his short life.
“Knew they were for her,” Merrifield continued. “Red for Rose. So pretty…coins I’d spend…but this…” He swayed, turning yet paler, then leaned forward with surprising strength and grabbed Elijah’s hand, the one holding the necklace. “Give these to her, from me, tonight. She can…be what she wants, now.”
He nodded assent. For Rose Merrifield’s sake, he would’ve agreed to far more onerous tasks. But before he could speak, Merrifield’s grip slackened, his eyes rolled back, and he collapsed into the carriage.
Elijah shut his eyes for a moment. To lose a man like this, a soldier he’d trained from a raw recruit, with the battle over… He bent over Merrifield’s body—the breath and pulse were gone—and laid a hand in benediction on his friend’s forehead. “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” he murmured. He remembered, but left unspoken, what followed in the burial service: We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.
“He’s dead?”
Elijah started and turned around. He tried to hide the necklace, crumpling it in his hand, but it was too big to wholly conceal.
It was Adam Lewis, another private from his company, staggering under the weight of his own overloaded packs and gaping at the gory scene.
“Yes,” Elijah said shortly. “A Frog stabbed him.”
“Over that?” Lewis nodded toward the necklace. “That’s very fine.”
“I promised to give it to Rose.” Of all the people he would rather not know about the thing, Lewis came near the top of the list, but it couldn’t be helped now. Elijah quickly glanced about to make sure no one else was looking, then reached inside his open uniform coat as if to scratch, tucking the necklace away. It made an uncomfortable lump pressed between his shirt and trousers, but the coat concealed it. He’d find a better hiding place for it later. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“Why not? You are going to give it to her, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am. I keep my word. But if everyone knows about it, it won’t do her any good, don’t you see? There’s men who’ll try to steal it from her, or else force her into marriage so they can claim it for themselves. It must be a secret. Don’t you understand?” he asked, for Lewis was staring at him with a vacant expression.
“I reckon I do…”
“Promise you’ll keep it secret then, for Rose’s sake. You like her, I know you do. You wouldn’t want this thing to be a curse to her instead of a blessing, would you?”
He hoped Lewis was finally beginning to think. Elijah would have to warn Rose that Lewis knew, so she’d know better than to say yes if he attempted to court her. She deserved a better man, one as good and clever as she was, who’d value her for more than a handful of gold and sparkling stones. “Swear it, then.”
Lewis blinked. “Very well. I swear to God I won’t tell anyone.”
“Good.” Elijah hoped it was enough, and that Lewis would remember even after he got drunk tonight. If Sam Merrifield had given his life trying to win a treasure for his Rose, the least Elijah could do was guard it well and pass it to her in secret. The new widow would have half the company buzzing around her for the sake of her beauty and her cooking already. He didn’t like to think what sort of courtship she’d endure if everyone in the regiment knew her husband had, in an odd sense, left her a fortune.
Five more soldiers from their company drew near and gaped at Sam’s body.
“Poor Sam,” Roberts said.
Pritchard, ever morbid, leaned around Elijah’s side for a better view. “Poor Rose.
“Wonder who she’ll marry next?”
That was Yonge, who had hopes of being the happy bridegroom himself if Elijah didn’t miss his guess. Surely she wouldn’t pick him, though. She deserved so much better. But what if she’d never seen Yonge’s cruel streak?
 “Show a little decency,” Elijah ground out. “Can’t you wait till her first husband is cold before you speculate on her second?”
“But she’ll have to marry someone, and soon,” Pritchard said.
“I was born and brought up in this regiment. I know the rules,” Elijah said. Soldier’s widows generally did marry again within days, especially when the regiment was on campaign. They needed one man’s protection to save them from falling prey to the many.

Learn more about author Susanna Fraser:

Twitter: @susannafraser