Freedom’s Embrace

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LongandShort

Freeedom’s Embrace

Graham’s Goddesses, Book 1

Blush Sensuality Level: This is a suggestive romance (love scenes are not graphic).


Jonathan is the only doctor within several days’ ride of Graham, Pennsylvania, and he’s desperate for a nurse to assist him. His salvation comes in the form of Naomi, a runaway slave who shows up ill on his doorstep. When she agrees to be his nurse in exchange for treatment, his world lights up. Unfortunately, not everyone in town approves of Jonathan’s new nurse. His mother and some of his patients express their distaste, but she’s captured Jonathan’s heart, and he’ll defend her at any cost.
When Naomi’s former master rides into town, Jonathan discovers just how far he’ll go to keep the woman he loves from being torn from his arms, and from freedom’s embrace.
A Blush® historical romance from Ellora’s Cave

Excerpt:

Dr. Jonathan Doyle sat in his office, reading over the records of one of his patients. At times like this, he dearly wished there was another doctor to serve the people of Graham. He rubbed his hand over his weary eyes. In his tiny corner of Adams County, almost a day’s ride from Philadelphia, medical professionals were in short supply.

When he’d graduated from National Medical College in Washington, he’d chosen Graham because he knew he could live his life as a free man while remaining close to his aging mother. His mixed ancestry allowed him to pass for white, and he’d done that when the situation called for it. Still, the workload was heavy here, and he often found himself working late into the evening. In addition to his long days, he fielded late night requests from the townsfolk to attend at births and care for the gravely ill.

It was a wonder he ever slept. Because he was without a wife, nearly every unattached woman in the county was looking to yoke her wagon to his. As a doctor, he had the money and status that many of them craved. Still, he wasn’t keen on marrying some empty-headed young girl just because she made herself available. He wanted a woman of substance, intelligent as well as beautiful. Until that woman presented herself, he was content to let medicine be his only mistress.

As he slid the papers into his desk drawer, he felt an odd sensation. There was a presence in the room, one that made the air vibrate with intensity. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end, and he looked up from his work to see who, or what, had just altered the atmosphere of his office.

In the doorway stood a petite, mud-caked woman gripping a worn carpetbag. For a moment, their eyes met as she leaned against the door’s wooden frame for support. The sorrow and exhaustion in the brown orbs touched his very soul.

My, even beneath all that grime, she’s a beauty.

For a long moment, their eyes held, and he felt his heart turn over in his chest. Despite her obvious tiredness and the dirt-streaked clothes, she appeared to his eyes like a sun-burnished goddess, an Aphrodite in rags.

While he admired her, she swayed precariously and as he rushed to her aid, she crumpled to the floor like a dropped sack of apples.

Kneeling beside her, he opened his medical bag. Carefully, he cradled her upper body in the crook of his left arm. Bringing out his smelling salts, he waved the vial beneath the nose of his patient.

She sneezed with such force her petite frame shook. Her eyes popped open, and searched frantically as if she was trying to ascertain where she was. “Who are you?” she croaked. “And where am I?”

“You’re in Graham, and I’m Jonathan Doyle. I’m the doctor here.”

“Graham,” she repeated. “Pennsylvania?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He saw the joy light her chestnut eyes and the sight touched him. “A runaway, I presume.”

Her face fell; her entire body tensed. “Sir, I…”

Jonathan smiled knowingly. He knew his café au lait tone and dark, wavy locks had likely made her assume him white, as most people did when they first met him. “Don’t be alarmed, Cheri. I’m a man of color.” Noting her shocked expression, he continued. “My mother is mulatto, and my father was a white Frenchman.”

Relaxing, she noticed, seemingly for the first time, that he was holding her. Her eyes widened, and her cheeks reddened. “I’m Naomi. Thank you for your kindness, Dr. Doyle.”

He fought the rising temptation to trace his finger along her mud-streaked cheek. “You’re most welcome, Miss Naomi.” He laid the back of his hand onto her feverish, damp forehead. “You’re ill, my dear.”

“I’m fine, “ she insisted, trying to sit up. She grimaced in pain, then returned to her prone position. “Oh…”

Her symptoms and the pallor hanging over her bronze skin pointed to serious illness. “Fever, body aches…” He shook his head grimly. “Looks like you’ve fallen victim to the ague. I need to treat you.”

She raised a hand to her forehead, a frown creasing her brow. “I can’t stay here. I’ve got to get to Canada.”

“It’s not a request, Naomi.” He let his seriousness be known. “You must be treated. People have died from the ague. When you’re recovered, you’ll be free to go on your way.” As the words slipped from his mouth, something inside him protested the idea. They had just met and he already knew he would be bereft if she exited his life.

She slumped a bit, sighed. “I’m too weak to argue. But how will I pay you? I don’t have any coin.” Her eyes swung low, as if she were ashamed.

He shifted his gaze upward for a moment, thinking. A solution revealed itself, one that would ease her mind as well as his workload. “I am in dire need of a nurse to help me around here. You can work off your debt that way. Is that agreeable?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded.

Her agreement pleased him much more than he’d expected. He could feel the smile spreading across his face. “Good. Then I’ll show you to the washroom, where you can freshen up.”

He extended his hand to help her up. She accepted his assistance, struggling a bit before she got to her feet. She gathered her carpetbag and followed him down a short hallway.

When she stepped out into the front of the doctor’s office again, wearing an old, but clean shirt and dark skirt, Naomi felt renewed. The clothes she had traveled in were a soiled bundle inside her carpetbag. Since she only had two sets of clothing, she’d need to avail herself of a washboard once she was settled.

Was it fortune or fate that had brought her to the doorstep of this painfully handsome doctor? Whatever it was, she thanked the ancestors for him and his kind nature. She still hobbled a bit from the body aches gripping her muscles, but at least she would have his care to keep her in the land of the living. After she recovered from her sickness, she vowed to be as helpful to him as she could.

As she passed the doctor’s desk, she could feel his green eyes on the back of her head. He seemed to be looking at her hair. Realizing it was unbound in front of a man, she quickly began to braid it down the center of her head.

He chuckled softly. “I don’t mean to cause you embarrassment, Ms. Naomi. You’re quite—enchanting.”

His description of her gave her pause. She’d never been referred to that way, and didn’t quite know how to react to it. She milled over it as her fingertips worked her hair into a braid.

Now he, on the other hand, looked like a man who was likely told by women daily how gorgeous he was. If that wasn’t the case, then the women in this town were obviously blind. His smooth, caramel skin, those intense deep hazel eyes, and the neatly trimmed mustache framing his full lips all added up to one of the most beautiful faces she’d ever beheld. Finished with her braiding, she hazarded a glance his way and found him smiling at her. That made her stomach leap inside her until she swore it was in her throat. Swallowing, she let her hands drop to her side.

“Please, follow me.” He led her to a small room across from the washroom. A small bed sat in the center of the space. “Please, lie down. I’ll administer some quinine.”

She nodded, and lay on the bed. The feather mattress was heavenly.

“I’m sure you’ve many plans to make, now that you are a free woman. Do you have relatives nearby?”

She shook her head. “Not that I’m aware of. I’ve an uncle and cousins farther north.” She gazed off through the fancy glass-paned window, watching the sun dip low on the horizon. “I suppose I’ll need to work here for some time. As soon as I have earned the funds, I must continue on to Canada.”

His handsome face filled with sympathy. “I understand.”

Silence fell between them. Not wanting to dwell on the subject that caused her so much anguish, she closed her eyes, hoping to fend off the pounding in her head. She opened them again a moment later, hearing the sounds of him moving around the room.

He produced a thermometer from the pocket of his white shirt, and slipped it into her mouth. “Under your tongue, dear.”

She held it there, and he counted time. Satisfied, he took his reading. “One hundred and one degrees. Not terribly high, but we’ve got to get that fever down.”

He strode across the room and exited.

She watched him walk out, and felt the heady sensation of his presence fade a bit after he left the room. Was the fever affecting her, or was she enjoying watching his stride, and the way his fine broadcloth trousers gripped his rear end? She couldn’t ever remember encountering such feelings, even around Paul, the field hand considered the most strapping and attractive on the Weathers plantation. Paul, with his gigantic frame and strength to match, went about his work shirtless, and still had left her largely unmoved. But this man, just a bit above average height and covered by a shirt, a black coat, and a pair of trousers, seemed to stir something inside her that was both unfamiliar and exhilarating.

The fever tightened its hold on her and she felt a wave of sleepiness. She was drifting off when she felt a wonderful coolness soothing away the heat from her brow. She wanted to stay awake, to thank the doctor for taking care of her, but exhaustion ruled. She opened her mouth, but before the words could escape, she slipped back into the embrace of sleep.

 

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