It was a sweet September day on the beach, much like the day I'd first sailed into Shoalwater Bay that April. The sun was skipping across the water, and the sky was a bright arc of blue racing to impossibly tall green trees. And for the first time since arriving on this wild stretch of wilderness, I felt lucky again.
You see, I had survived these many months in the company of rough men and Chinook Indians, not to mention a flea-ridden hound, and while it was true that my wardrobe had suffered greatly, one might say that my person had thrived. I had made friends. I had started an oyster business. I had survived endless calamity: six months of seasickness on the voyage from Philadelphia, a near-drowning, a fall from a cliff, and a smallpox outbreak. What was there to stop me now?
Although a life on the rugged frontier of the Washington Territory was not recommended for a proper young lady of sixteen, especially in the absence of a suitable chaperone, I intended to try it. After all, I did make the best pies on Shoalwater Bay. And striding up the beach toward me was a man who appreciated them.
"Jane!" He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen, bluer than the water of the bay behind him. A schooner, the Hetty, was anchored not far out, and it was the reason I had packed all my belongings and was standing beside my trunk. The same schooner had brought Jehu Scudder back to the bay after a prolonged absence. Indeed, when Jehu left, I had doubted that I would ever see him again.
"Jane," Jehu said gruffly, his thick black hair brushing his shoulders, his eyes glowing in his tanned face. I had last seen him nearly two months ago, at which time I had hurt his feelings, and sailor that he was, he had vowed to sail as far away as China to be rid of me.
"Jehu," I replied, nervously pushing a sticky tangle of red curls off my cheeks.
He shook his head. "You're looking well, Miss Peck."
"As are you, Mr. Scudder," I replied, my voice light.
We stood there for a moment just looking at each other, the soft bay air brushing between us like a ribbon. Without thinking, I took a step forward, toward him, until I was so close that I breathed the scent of the saltwater on his skin. And all at once I remembered that night, those stars, his cheek close to mine.
"Boston Jane! Boston Jane!" a small voice behind me cried.
Sootie, a Chinook girl who had become dear to me, came rushing down the beach, little legs pumping, her feet wet from the tide pool in which she had been playing. She was waving a particularly large clamshell at me, of the sort the Chinook children often fashioned into dolls.
"Look what I found!" she said, eyeing Jehu.
"Sootie," I said, smoothing back her thick black hair. "You remember Captain Scudder? He was the first mate on the Lady Luck, the ship that brought me here from Philadelphia."
Sootie clutched the skirts of my blue calico dress and hid behind them shyly, peeking out at Jehu with her bright brown eyes. Her mother, my friend Suis, had died in the summer smallpox outbreak, and since then Sootie had spent a great deal of time inmy company.
Jehu crouched down next to her, admiring her find. "That's a real nice shell you have there."
She grinned flirtatiously at him, exposing a gap where one of her new front teeth was coming in.
Jehu grinned right back and squinted up at me from where he knelt. "I see you took my advice about wearing blue. Although I did like that Chinook skirt of yours," he teased, his Boston accent dry as a burr.
The cedar bark skirt in question, while very comfortable, had left my legs quite bare. "That skirt was hardly proper, Jehu," I rebuked him gently.
At this, his lips tightened and a shuttered look came across his face. The thick angry scar on his cheek twitched in a familiar way. He hunched his shoulders forward and stood up, deliberately looking somewhere over my shoulder. "Ah, yes, proper."
I bit my lip and stepped back. I had little doubt as to what was causing this sudden transformation. I had rejected his affections, as I had been engaged to another man.
"So tell me, how is your new husband?" he asked in a clipped voice.
"Jehu," I said quickly.
He turned from me and stared angrily out at the smooth bay. "If you'll excuse me, I've got supplies to deliver," he said tersely, and then he turned on his booted heel and strode quickly down the beach away from me.
I took a step forward, Sootie's arms tight around my legs. What was I to do? Miss Hepplewhite, my instructor at the Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia, had a great number of opinions on the proper behavior of a young lady. I had discovered, however, that many of her careful instructions were sorely lacking when it came to surviving on the frontier. There was not much call for pouring tea or embroidering handkerchiefs in the wilds of Shoalwater Bay. And I certainly didn't recall any helpful hints on howto prevent the only man one had ever kissed from storming away for the second time in one's life. So I did something that I was sure would have shocked my old teacher.
I shouted. "I didn't marry him!"
Copyright © 2010 by Jennifer L. Holm. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.