Hands grabbed for her, strong arms pinned her down. She could smell the vile scent of sweet lozenges. She tried to wrench herself free, but the faceless man held her firmly. She tried to cry out, but terror paralyzed her.
Somehow she managed to scramble free, running toward escape, but darkness pervaded the room, and she couldn’t find the door. And then the hands found her again and dragged her back to the bed, pinning her down. Please don’t hurt me. Please. Help! Please, someone help! Her sobs brought no mercy from her assailant.
Suddenly Hannah was awake. She sat upright in bed. The room was dark. Where was she? Shivering with emotion, she wiped damp hair off her face and pulled her blanket up about her neck.
There was movement in the bed. Someone was with her! Panic bolted through Hannah, and she jumped out of bed and moved through the dark room like someone blind. The only light was that of dying embers in the hearth. She stumbled over something, and it clattered to the floor. Feeling her way, she sought escape. Where was the door?
“Who’s there?” came a familiar voice out of the darkness.
More asleep than awake, Hannah kept trying to find the door.
Instead, she bumped against a table and nearly toppled it.
“Hannah? Is that you?”
Still trapped within the nightmare, Hannah was confused. She recognized the voice. Did she dare answer?
“Hannah. What is it? Is something wrong?”
John! It’s John. She let out a breath of relief. It wasn’t Mr. Walker. It was her husband. “Thank you, Lord.” Hannah couldn’t hold back tears.
She heard him move from the bed, and then the room was illuminated as a candle was lit in the hearth. John held it aloft, and his eyes found her. “What is it? You’re white as a ghost.”
Hannah fumbled for an explanation. She’d hidden her past
from her husband. How could she explain her nightmare? “It
was just a dream. I’m sorry I awakened you.”
John moved toward her. “Oh, luv.” He pulled her tightly against him. “You’re quaking. What were you dreaming about that frightened you so?”
“It was nothing. I . . . I’m fine now.” In truth, she was far from it. He was still close --- Judge Walker and his attack still too real. Hannah melded into John.
“Come back to bed, then.” He draped an arm about her shoulders and walked her back to their bed. She climbed in, and he gently covered her with the light blanket and then moved around to his side, set the candle on the night table, and lay beside her.
Hannah closed her eyes. Why would she dream about Judge Walker on her wedding night?
Her thoughts returned to the previous evening. As they’d prepared for bed, she’d been anxious. But there’d been no need. John had been tender, very unlike Judge Walker who had forced himself upon her. And her new husband seemed to have no notion that she’d come to their marriage bed tarnished.
Remorse jabbed at her. Mrs. Atherton had beseeched her to tell John the truth, but she’d not done so. Had her mistress been right? Should she have confessed her sin?
Hannah had gone to John, but he’d shushed her. He hadn’t wanted to know the truth.
Even while justifying her decision, she knew her choice had been deceitful. But if she had told him, she might have lost him. She glanced at John in the glow of the candle and her heart fluttered. He was exceedingly handsome and a fine man. How was it that she had been so blessed?
He has a right to know. He’s my husband. Until I tell him he
doesn’t truly know who I am. She closed her eyes, and an image
of his shock and revulsion erupted in her mind. Trepidation
wrapped itself about her, and she pulled the blanket up more
tightly under her chin. I can never tell him. Never.
John pulled Hannah close. “Are you better now?”
“I’m fine. Truly.”
“Good.” He kissed her. “I love you.”
“And I love you.”
John kissed her forehead and then pressed his lips to one cheek and then the other. He gazed at her in the flickering light. “How is it that I’m the lucky one who wedded you?”
“It is I who am fortunate,” Hannah whispered, barely able to find her voice.
“Mmm, to wake up beside you every day for the rest of my life . . .” John let the sentence hang in the air. “God has shown me great favor, though I am undeserving.”
“It is you who are a gift to me.” Hannah cradled his face in her hands and kissed him and then held him as tightly as she could, and still it wasn’t enough.
John’s embrace became more powerful, and his lips sought hers.
Love drove away the nightmare. Passion flamed inside Hannah, and all she knew was her husband.