“You will go to Savannah and confer with Colonel Hawking on how to resolve the problem they’re having with the militia groups,” Lord General Cornwallis instructed. Tavington stood before him, listening to his latest orders.
“Very well, sir,” Tavington said. “How many men shall I take with me?”
“None,” Cornwallis emphasized, “I don’t want to alert the rebels to our movements. I want this to be discreet. We need to make it look like a casual trip, for leisure. Take a carriage. I’ll send you a driver, but that’s it. You should probably take a servant with you to keep up appearances.”
“Yes, my lord, I understand,” Tavington said.
“I’m sure you already have someone in mind,” Cornwallis said. Tavington remained silent, but Cornwallis continued. “Your girl – what’s her name?”
“Juliana, sir,” Tavington replied.
“Yes. She’ll do.”
“Of course, sir.”
Tavington stood, waiting, wondering why Cornwallis hadn’t dismissed him yet.
“You and … Juliana seemed close last week at the last party.” Cornwallis had observed Tavington’s interaction with the slave girl. His curiosity had piqued that night because he’d been so different with her then than he had been on earlier occasions, better than he’d ever seen him act with her. “I don’t believe I’d ever seen the two of you share a dance before.”
“Yes, well, it was the last big event of the social season, sir,” Tavington said, beginning to formulate his excuse. “I felt that she was entitled to at least a little entertainment for once.”
“How kind of you. I feel I should remind you, however, of the need to conform to standards of behavior becoming of a gentleman.”
Tavington’s dark brows knitted in confusion. “Sir?”
“I don’t have to tell you that while you’re in that uniform, Colonel, you represent Britain and more importantly the Crown. We musn’t give the appearance of any improprieties. ”
“Sir, I don’t see how one dance could be mistaken for impropriety,” Tavington said.
“It can, Colonel,” was Cornwallis’s reply. “And I would very much appreciate it if that one mistaken impropriety is the only one that I hear of. Do I make myself clear, Colonel?”
“Yes, my lord,” came the reply from a bewildered Tavington.
“Well – now that that’s all taken care of, have a good trip.”
The coach came to a stop after about two hours of rigorous travel. Juliana peered out the window, but she couldn’t determine a reason for the stop. They weren’t near any towns, as far as she could tell.
“Don’t worry, we’re just stopping for a little rest,” Tavington said, allaying her concerns. The coach door opened, and he and Juliana emerged.
Juliana looked around and found that there wasn’t much to look at. There was plenty of forest greenery to see, and they had come to a halt alongside a flowing stream that wound and bent on its course alongside the land.
“How long are we gonna to be here?” Juliana asked.
“Probably about an hour or so. Long enough for a meal, I’m sure. We’ll stop here and let the horses rest before we move on.” He looked up at the sky and realized that they should have left Charles Town earlier. It would be dark soon. “We might even have to stop over here for the night if the light goes,” he added. His eyes turned to Juliana. “I’m going for a little walk. I’d like to think that I could trust you not to run away from me.”
“Colonel, we are in the wilderness, and I can’t even begin to guess our whereabouts. Where would I run off to?” The time had passed for escape attempts, Juliana concluded. She’d been offered an easy way out with Eleanor’s plan, and she’d probably realize that she’d been a fool for not taking it.
Satisfied, Tavington nodded, turned, and was off. Juliana looked at her remaining companion, the British soldier who’d actually been driving the coach. He was their usual driver, the one who typically drove them to social functions they attended.
“I s’pose I’ll go for a walk, too,” Juliana announced. We’ve been traveling for so long, I’d like a chance to stretch my legs, if that’s all right with you.”
“Of course it is,” the driver answered. “I heard what you told the colonel, and you’re right – you don’t really have anywhere to go, now do you?”
Juliana turned and walked along the river, away from the coach. The truth of it all was that she wanted some privacy. It was an unusually warm day for February, with temperatures that felt more like springtime than winter. Juliana wanted to take full advantage of it by taking some time out to enjoy a quick dip in the stream.
When she was confident that she’d put enough distance between herself and the driver, Juliana stopped walking. She’d stopped at a little inlet that was mostly obscured from view of anyone who might happen to pass by. She looked around once more to make sure she was absolutely alone. Then, she began to undress, laying her clothes out on an old tree stump. She crouched down and splashed the cool water up on her face before slipping in.
The water was a shock at first, but Juliana quickly adapted. The gentle current massaged her skin and felt like heaven. She stayed to one side of a large tree root that grown up from the river bed and effectively divided Juliana’s little watery haven into two distinct sections. She waded along the length of the oversized root away from the land and into deeper water. When she got to the point where the water came to just beneath her chest when she stood upright, Juliana completely submerged herself to get her head and shoulders wet. When she surfaced, she heard something that she hadn’t expected to hear – splashing that wasn’t coming from her. It sounded like it was coming from the other side of the tree root that she was currently behind. Who – orwhat – was it?
Whatever was on the other side of that log, Juliana didn’t want to find out, and she didn’t want it to find out that it wasn’t alone. She looked over to the stump where she’d placed her clothes. Maybe if she moved very slowly, the noise of her moving through the water would blend with the newcomer’s own splashing and the sound of the soft current. Deciding to chance it, she began to move, slowly, and was about halfway across when something on the bottom of the stream moved past her foot, startling her. It caused Juliana to move suddenly, despite herself, and a loud splash resulted. She froze, praying that she hadn’t been discovered. But the splashing from the other side of the log ceased, causing Juliana even greater cause for concern.
“Who’s there?” a male voice rang out.
Juliana was absolutely still and silent. Maybe this person would just go away.
Nonetheless, the man continued, “Whoever you are, I would advise that you leave immediately. I have a gun within arm’s reach, and I will not hesitate to use it.”
Juliana listened. This person on the other side of the fallen trunk sounded very familiar. Though she had an idea of whom it might be judging from the tone of voice, she didn’t want to take any chances. She took a deep breath and began to move toward land again. She gained confidence with every passing second that the man on the other side remained silent. It suggested to Juliana that he’d turned his attention back to his own tasks and was no longer concerned with her.
Juliana hadn’t waded two feet when Tavington emerged from the water in front of her. They both froze and looked at each other for a few awkward moments, not being able to do anything else.
Tavington had thought he was about to be the victim of an ambush. The last person he’d expected to see on the other side of that log was Juliana. He couldn’t say that he was disappointed. Transfixed, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. He actually found himself unable to speak at the moment. She was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.
And she was apparently terrified. When Tavington had thought someone was about to attack him, he’d grabbed his dagger before crossing underwater beneath the root. He’d come out of the water with it just now, ready to attack. He lowered the weapon, relaxed, and tried to slow his racing heart.
Juliana visibly calmed. She had never seen Tavington like this before. His hair was loose about his broad, bare shoulders. He was as naked as she, and now she saw the firm, muscular body that had always been hidden from view by the impeccable uniform he always wore. When she realized that he was staring at her as much as she was him, she self-consciously lowered herself into the water, so that everything but her head was obscured. “Colonel,” she said, forcing the syllables from her mouth and forcing herself to away from him.
“Juliana,” Tavington said. When he realized that he’d been staring he politely turned away. A rosy tint flushed his cheeks. “I had no idea it was you on the other side,” he continued. “Why didn’t you say anything? Didn’t you recognize my voice?”
“I did, but I didn’t know if it actually was you,” Juliana replied. She looked at Tavington again, and he at her. For a moment, it seemed as if everything around them stopped and as if they were in a world all their own. Then there was something to pull them back into the real world.
“Colonel?” It was the carriage driver calling from the water’s edge.
Juliana, still mostly underwater, instinctively moved closer to Tavington to shield herself from the driver’s line of sight. Tavington turned and looked at the driver. “What is it?” The tone of his voice made it clear that he was annoyed at the intrusion on a very private moment.
“Sir, should we prepare to make camp for the night?” the driver called. “The light’s going quite fast.”
“Yes, go ahead,” Tavington called in response. He watched the soldier disappear back into the forest and then turned back to Juliana. Again, he found it hard to look away. He had this urge to reach out and touch her, pull her close. It was an intense desire that took him by surprise and scared him half to death, but she spoke before he got the chance to act on it.
“I’m gonna go see if they need any help,” Juliana said. She waded past Tavington wanted to be a gentleman and give Juliana at least a little privacy, but his desire won. He turned his head in time to see her emerging from the water, and he caught a glimpse of her nude form. He looked away again when Juliana looked his way. He was thoroughly embarrassed by this whole incident.