Godsend (Hell Yeah! Heritage) by Sable Hunter
Godsend is the first novel in the Hell Yeah! Heritage series. If you ever wondered where those
McCoy men came from…these historical novels will take you to their beginnings. Deeply sensual stories of romance and adventure, they will capture your imagination and your heart.
History is definitely worth repeating.
Thrust from his home, Austin McCoy travels west to build a new life for himself in the wilds of Texas. Civilization has not yet arrived to the wilderness where he settles and his nearest neighbor is more than two days’ journey through Indian territory alive with bear, cougar and wolves. While difficult, carving out an existence amidst these dangers is not what weighs heavily on his heart. With nothing and no one to share his days, Austin is lost. The answer to his prayers comes from a very unexpected source…
Jolie Dumas has also been torn from the only home she has ever known. The beloved daughter of a plantation owner and his quadroon mistress, she is horrified to be sold into slavery after the death of her parents. Bought and paid for, she is chained and walked from New Orleans to Texas. Before she can be delivered to her master, the slave trader is killed and Jolie escapes. Alone and vulnerable, she seeks a safe place to hide, not knowing the sanctuary she finds may end up being the one place she truly belongs.
When Austin opens his heart and home to the beautiful woman, he has no idea the future she faces. Knowing what awaits her if anyone finds out the truth, Jolie hides her identity from him. Having been betrayed before by those she trusted, she has no idea that in Austin’s eyes she could not be more perfect.
She is his Godsend.
“Come on, Sandy. Time to lock the door and call it a night.” Austin McCoy urged his dog to join him inside. “We’ve had a hard day. Time to rest.”
The big hound stepped over the threshold, making for the hearth and flopping down in his usual spot.
“We made good headway today. I think we’ve cleared another acre, soon we’ll have enough room for a few more cows.”
Sandy’s only response was to roll over.
“Are you hungry? I’ll hang this pot of stew over the fire to warm it. Tomorrow, I think maybe we’ll put some corn in the coals to roast.”
Austin’s voice rang in the empty space. Taking off his hat, he chunked it on the table. Yes, he was going crazy. The only live creature he had to talk to was his dog and Sandy was a poor conversationalist. He sank down in a ladder back chair with a cowhide bottom and let his gaze rove around the small log cabin he’d built with his own two hands. “Home, sweet home.” The simple dogtrot structure was made from pine logs he’d cut and stripped of their bark. After he’d peeled them smooth, he’d notched the logs on the corners, then set them together, filling the cracks with a mixture of red clay and pine straw. This humble abode was nowhere near as fancy as the home he’d left in Tennessee, but Austin was no longer welcome in his family home. After his mother died, his father had remarried. When his young wife’s wandering eye had fallen on Austin, his father quickly decided it was time for his only son to venture west and make his own fortune. Stephen McCoy had given Austin his inheritance early, wishing him well and sending him on his way.
The lure of adventure was strong and the prospect of his own land in the rich territory of Texas had been some consolation for walking off and leaving everything he’d ever known and held familiar. Now, six months since he’d broken ground six miles south of the spot the Indians called Red Mound, he was fast beginning to regret the decision. Hard work and the dangers he encountered daily were not the cause of Austin’s deep depression. No, it was the isolation. The loneliness. The complete and utter void that seemed to surround him, made Austin want to throw his fists in the air and rail at the heavens. What he wouldn’t give for someone to talk to, someone to hold at night–someone to love.
Austin longed for a wife.
How many nights had he lain alone in his bed and ached for release? He’d not been with many women, but since becoming a man he’d not gone so long without feeling the sweet relief that only a woman could give. And what scared him more than anything, was that there was no end in sight to this exile. Months and years of loneliness stretched before him. How would he endure it? Where would he find a wife in this wilderness? He’d made the long journey to Nacogdoches, only to find women as scarce a commodity as silk. And if there was one, he was no prize. His mind returned to his home in Tennessee, the women he’d courted, the plans he’d made. All of that was gone. What did he have to offer a lady?
Only love, only to be cherished.
Running a frustrated hand through his long hair, he stood up in disgust. “No use wishing for something I can’t have, is there boy?”
Feeling rested enough to feed his hunger pains, Austin hung the cast-iron pot on the hook over the flames. While he was there, he stoked the fire and added another log. Sandy raised up and cocked his ear. “Did you hear something outside?” Austin grew still to listen also. He heard howling in the distance, but nothing out of the ordinary. “Just that big old timber wolf and his pack, nothing unusual.” Sandy lifted his nose to take a whiff, giving Austin a long look from his limpid brown eyes.
“You want to check it out?”
Just voicing the question gave them both a jolt of energy. The dog and man both rose to head for the door. Austin picked up his rifle, just to be on the safe side. “Let’s go see what we can find.”
…In the small lean-to, full of tools, Jolie nestled down in the straw. She was scared and hungry, but at least she had shelter of a sort, enough to give her a chance at a few hours of sleep. The scratches on her body made her feel raw and achy. As she closed her eyes, the sorrow in her heart knew no bounds. With no food, no money, and nowhere to go, Jolie didn’t think she would make it. She’d tried to find some berries to eat, to no avail. The only sustenance to be found was the raw turnip she held in her hands, which she would attempt to eat as soon as she rested enough to have the energy. As she laid her head against the rough wood, Jolie tried to reason with herself about all that happened. What had she done to deserve this? Was she less than her Aunt Lisette or Grandmother Dora? Was she not a human being like they were?
Jolie hugged herself and tried to reason the mystery of slavery. All that her Grandmere and mother had told her, the whispers that she’d heard from Eula and her papa, all the things that she’d seen while at Oak Hill came back to her. The tiny cabins the workers had lived in, how they lined up for water and food to be doled out to them, the men who guarded them on horseback with dogs at their sides–all of the things that she’d chosen to ignore and not see. If she didn’t acknowledge the injustice, it wasn’t real. Closing her weary eyes, she knew there would be no more avoiding the travesty. The nightmare had become her reality.
…Sandy took off ahead, his nose to the ground. Austin followed closely, his rifle loaded and ready. Not too many days ago, he’d seen a panther. He had no wish to kill the big black cat, but it could take down one of his oxen, not to mention a full grown man. Austin cocked his ear toward the area where the three head of cattle were penned. There was no unrest, so he didn’t think there was a predator about. When they came even with the shed, Sandy veered over to nose around. The closer he came, the faster he walked, tail in the air. “What is it, boy?” Austin asked. “Something there?” He figured it was an armadillo or a possum, hopefully not a skunk. The last run-in the mutt had with a skunk, Austin had dipped him in the creek four times, scrubbing him with lye soap until they both could tolerate the stench.
With only the light of the moon to guide him, Austin drew closer to the shed where Sandy was now nosing his way past the door that had somehow been left ajar. Hearing the dog’s whimper, his curiosity rose to a high level. His animal wasn’t reacting the way he would expect if there was prey or some type of threat. No, Austin was confused to see Sandy’s tail begin to wag. “What have you found?”
Coming close, he pulled the door open a bit wider so the moon’s rays could filter into the near darkness. “What?” he whispered. At first he thought the intruder was a man. The hat pulled down over the face and the jacket obscured his view, but the long hair and bare legs sticking out from what appeared to be a dress of some kind convinced him otherwise. He blinked once or twice. Were his eyes deceiving him? Perhaps this was some kind of cruel joke that his mind was playing on him. This was a woman. Going to his knees, he knelt by the small trespasser. “Ma’am? Are you all right?” He shook her shoulder gently.
The touch jerked Jolie awake. All she could think was that Coffi or the bear had her. A scream erupted from her lips before her eyes focused on the face in front of her.
The sudden noise caused Sandy to bark. Austin sat back on his hills, giving the girl a little space. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”
Before, Jolie would never have thought to fight for herself, but after what she’d been through, having been sold into slavery, defending herself had become second nature. But without a weapon or light enough to see her surroundings, all she could think about was running. Jumping to her feet, she tried to figure out a way to get past the big man who blocked her way. “Please, just let me go. I’ll leave. I promise.”
Leave? He took in her tattered clothing and bare feet. She was so small. “You don’t have to leave. Come into the cabin where it’s safe. Aren’t you hungry?”
The turnip she’d taken from his garden still lay at her feet. “Yes.” Could she risk it? There was the possibility this man could hurt her, but what choice did she have? “If you’ll let me rest for a little while, I’ll be on my way soon.”
Austin didn’t know what to think. “Are you alone? Where did you come from? Those questions and more were racing through his mind. He rose and offered her his hand. “The ground’s rough. Do you want me to carry you?”
Jolie would’ve laughed if she’d felt more confident. “No. I’ll be fine. I’ve walked a long way already.”
He couldn’t fathom what she was saying. Knowing what lay beyond his small clearing, Austin was flabbergasted to find this tiny female seeming to be at the mercy of the world. “Please, come in and let me check your feet and get you something to eat. Sandy and I were just about to have supper. Somehow, he knew you were out here.”
“He did?” Jolie laid her hand on the big dog’s head. “He’s soft.” The memory of the vicious dogs used on the plantation to keep the slaves in line caused her to jerk her hand back. “He won’t bite me?”
“No, he won’t bite.” Austin was anxious to get his guest inside. “We’re glad to have some company, aren’t we, Sandy?”
His dog answered with a bark, which made Jolie smile. “Okay, for a little while.”
As Austin led his guest back to the cabin, he tried to make her feel more comfortable. “My name is Austin McCoy. What’s yours?”
“Jolie.” She answered automatically, then immediately regretted it. Would her buyer look for her? Did he know her name? She really had no way of knowing one way or the other.
“Jolie.” Austin said it, savoring the way her name sounded on his lips. “That’s a beautiful name. Where are your folks? Were you attacked by Indians?” The thought of her just barely escaping with her life made his blood run cold.
“We were attacked. My parents are dead.” Both of those things were true, albeit unrelated.
“I’m so sorry.”
When he opened the door to the cabin, the smell of food caused her to sway. She hadn’t realized how weak she’d become.
Austin shot out a hand to stabilize her. “How long since you’ve eaten.”
“A couple of days.” She tried to remember. Coffi hadn’t really cared whether the women had eaten or not.
As soon as he got Jolie inside, Austin began to do everything he could do to make her welcome. “Here, sit here.” He gave her the more comfortable chair, a rocker that sat next to the fireplace. “And water, let me get you some water.” Moving to the bucket of well-water he kept on the small cabinet in what passed for his kitchen, Austin ladled a cup full and carried it to her.
Taking the water, she gratefully took a drink. “Thank you.” It tasted so good, she greedily drank it all.
“I’ll get you more.” He hastily refilled the cup, then found a bowl to dip up some of the stew. “This is rabbit, but I’ve added some potatoes and onions I raised in the garden. I think it’s edible.”
“You’re very kind.” Jolie sat the cup on the floor and raised her hands to grasp the clay dish with the tin spoon.
“My pleasure,” Austin said and he meant it. Even by the light of the kerosene lamp, he couldn’t make out her features. The hat cast a shadow over her face, but from what he could see of her neck and arms they were covered with mud and numerous scratches. “I think I’ve got an herb salve that might make those sore places on your face and arms feel better.”
Jolie heard him, she just couldn’t stop eating long enough to answer.
Raised a lady, she managed not to shovel the food between her lips–just barely.
It did Austin’s heart good to watch her eat, but he couldn’t stop worrying about what would happen to her if she left again. “Where will you go? Do you have relatives?”
Swallowing the last delicious bite, she licked her lips, then hung her head. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do.” Just the thought of trying to find a place to live, some way of making a living, was more than she could comprehend.
Austin wanted to offer help. He wanted to do something. Noticing again her tattered clothing, he spoke quickly. “Do you have any other clothes?” He hadn’t seen any type of satchel, but she might have left it at the lean-to.
Jolie glanced down at the rag she wore. “No, I must look a mess.” What could she say? “I ran to get away.”
He nodded. “I’m sure you were terrified. Would you like to wash up and change? I could pour up some water for you.”
Cleaning herself sounded like heaven. “Please, yes. But I have nothing else to wear.”
“I’m sure I can find something.” He rose to find her anything of his that would come close to fitting. “A shirt, I’ll find a shirt for you. As small as you are, the length will be almost like a gown.”
As Jolie sat there by the fire, her belly full, with a dog at her feet, she was transfixed by the big man with the long honey blond hair moving around the room, doing his best to make her comfortable. As she waited, she trembled. Residual shock from all she’d endured still echoed throughout her body.
“Jolie, you can come and clean up.” He snapped his finger. “Sandy, get up. We shall wait outside. When you finish, we’ll return.”
He gave her a kind smile, then left her alone. As soon as he was gone, she glanced around. After Oak Hill and even the bungalow, his home was simple and barren. But for the first time in weeks, she felt safe. Taking the rag he’d given her to use, she dipped it in the lukewarm water and began to clean the mud and blood from her body.
Outside, Austin leaned against the side of his cabin, flummoxed by all that had happened. How different this evening had turned out to be than the one he’d envisioned. For a little while, he was no longer alone. When a smile played upon his lips, his selfish feelings shamed Austin. How could he take pleasure when this woman had suffered so much loss?
Standing in the darkness, he kept an eye on Sandy who explored a few feet away. “Don’t go far, boy.” Austin was aware of the dangers that lurked in the darkness. The knowledge that Jolie had been exposed to those same dangers and soon would be again caused a shudder to rip through him. How could he let her return to the wilderness? The very idea was intolerable. He’d have to accompany her to a settlement, see that she was safely delivered to…his mind clamored for answer. Perhaps the Spanish mission in Nacogdoches could offer her sanctuary until she could find someone or…
“Mr. McCoy, Austin? You can come back in now.”
Her soft voice broke into his thoughts. “Very well.”
“Sandy.” He called his companion and they reentered the cabin. Aware she had changed into his clothing, he cautiously let his gaze move up her body, starting at her small feet, which were now clean from the mud that had been caked on them. By the time his eyes climbed to her face, Austin was speechless. He’d never seen a more beautiful woman. Her skin was the color of gardenias, and her eyes were a purplish blue that reminded him of a delphinium flower that had grown in his mother’s garden. The hat was gone and now he could see she had dark hair which fell to the middle of her back in long, loose curls…and her lips, her lips were the color of a pomegranate. Her beauty almost brought him to his knees.