Time travel trilogy, 2nd book in the Women of Strength trilogy. copyright 2012 by Grace Brannigan
Prologue ~ 1807
The thin boned hand pressed the scented cloth gently across a fevered brow, then continued soothingly along a rounded jaw.
Aleanna’s rich brown hair splayed against stark white pillows in a luxuriant, waving mass, framing once radiantly alive features. The eyes were now dull, stripped of the spirit of life, the complexion pale and waxen.
“Aleanna, my Aleanna.” The young woman responded to the sorrowful whisper, her head turning on the pillow.
“My baby?” Aleanna’s voice was a mere thread of sound quickly lost in the hush of the room.
“She is here.” Into her line of vision a small bundle appeared, warmly swaddled in soft blankets.
Caring hands shaped Aleanna’s limp arms into a cradle, and a weight suddenly lay against her breast. A warm, wanted weight.
With immense effort, Aleanna looked down at the child in her arms.
“My darling,” she whispered. A pleased smile was upon bloodless lips, then she leaned her weary head back into the pillow.
She was so tired . . . she wished only to close her eyes. She fought the sensation, for she knew there was something she must do.
Weakly, she lifted one hand, caught the thin boned hand of the woman who hovered beside the bed.
“Mandine, you must –”
The dark garbed figure bent closer to catch the words Aleanna could barely get out.
“Tell me Aleanna,” her caregiver, the woman named Mandine, urged, “tell me of your wishes. Do you wish vengeance?”
“Protect my daughter.”
“I shall protect her from that one,” the figure hissed balefully. “I shall take her away this night.”
“No.” Aleanna clutched the thin forearm with surprising strength, her face, if it were possible, growing even more ashen. “You know she must stay here, in these surroundings. I wish it were otherwise, but –” She lay back, utterly exhausted. “I ask that you guide her. Shield her as best you can.”
The dark garbed figure picked up the infant, held her closely against her breast.
“You know I will do what is best for your child.” Mandine bowed her head, dark eyes burning. “I will protect the wee one as if she were my own.”
“Yes,” murmured Aleanna faintly, her eyes flickering for the last time, “I know you will take care of my Elise.”